A few weeks ago, I was teaching a class involving collage, and the students were using a bunch of old National Geographics. In one corner, a few students came across an article on the Red Panda. "Aren't they extinct?" I heard one of them ask. "Yeah, I think they are extinct," another agreed.
Yet...they aren't extinct. However, what struck me most was their nonchalance towards such an idea. They are so accustomed to such events, that they are barely worthy of note to them.
Last week I was part of a discussion (picture above) at the Spare Change Artist Space, as part of the OFFspace exhibition Brave New World, (pictured above). One of the questions Emmanuelle asked of the group was,"What is the role of art regarding climate change?"
Regarding the works in the exhibition, (such those by Alan, Alicia, and Andreanne), I responded that I felt that one role art can serve in this changing world is an outlet for mourning.
(I also feel strongly that art can suggest solutions, but that is another discussion.)
The discussion ranged more broadly than just the idea of mourning, but it was something I've been thinking about since. I'm not sure we as a species are psychologically capable for the losses that are predicted, such as the potential for mass extinctions, global warming refugees, even changes in the food supply. This is an overwhelming subject, one that many people feel helpless against, and would rather avoid. For my students, it's become something that is normal. Most of them have never even seen a Red Panda, or say, a Western Black Rhino, so why should they care?
It's cool not to care, to not be impressed, to not be moved (especially to teenagers). And when you do care...there is so much to care about. It's overwhelming.
Yet we will need to mourn. We should mourn the black rhino, the baiji, the golden toad. We should mourn the loss of diversity, things that will never been seen again, which is also to me, a loss of wonder and possibility. But I'm not sure we will know how. Extinctions and dramatic shifts have happened before, but not on the scale that is currently predicted, and not in such a measurable and documented fashion.
I'm not entirely comfortable with this role that art is taking on - it seems in part, a form of giving up. Yet, it seems a vital role that will be needed in the time to come. I think right now what I am witnessing in this trend is mourning, but also the looming knowledge that there will be more to come, if we let it.