Contemporary art, by its definition, engages with the concerns of the now. And climate change is undoubtedly an alarming and key issue of this era. ART + CLIMATE = CHANGE 2019, an initiative of CLIMARTE, is a festival held across numerous museums, galleries and public spaces in Melbourne and regional Victoria. The festival aims to harness the power of art to spark conversation about climate change, and hopefully incite action. “CLIMARTE is critical thinking by the curators and artists on exhibition and through forums, keynotes and events that provide a unique and innovative way to communicate, understand and feel the enormity of the environmental and climate challenge before us,” says festival director Bronwyn Johnson.

The scope of CLIMARTE extends beyond art to include scientists and environmental thinkers.

“It’s only in the last 100 years or so that the arts and sciences have been so separately siloed,” explains Johnson. “This festival brings together experts in art and curatorial practice with some of the foremost researchers in climate and environmental science, alongside prominent thinkers on the cultural, philosophical and psychological consequences of climate change.”

With over 30 curated exhibitions, two theatre premieres, keynote lectures and more than 50 public programs by leading Australian and international artists, curators, scientists and policy experts, there’s a lot to see. Below is an overview of three selected exhibition highlights.

Steven Perrette, Not titled (KFC, Sale Wheat, trucks…), 2003, pencil on paper, 50 x 66cm. Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia.

Curated by Sim Luttin for Arts Project Australia, the group exhibition Our Life, Our World considers how human development affects climate change. Many works suggest narratives, including content such as cities bustling with industry, a lizard fossil and text. Luttin notes that the show is an organic emergence of an ongoing dialogue. “We have robust discussions at Arts Project around various environmental, social and political issues,” she says. “Concerns raised don’t only get discussed, they filter up through the research and artwork created by artists working in the studio. As a curator, I’ve seen these themes evolve and permeate through a creative filter, and I wanted to highlight the fact that so many artists are thinking about these issues – whether it be consciously or subconsciously.”

Two shows held at Monash Gallery of Art, Dombrovskis: journeys into the wild and Swell by Katrin Koenning, express different approaches to photographing the natural world. The late artist Peter Dombrovskis was known for his photographs of the Tasmanian wilderness. This strand of photography, seen in the likes of National Geographic magazine and David Attenborough episodes, marries art photography with environmental activism. Emerging contemporary photographer Katrin Koenning’s approach to the landscape is psychological, subtlety revealing its fragility.

In her exhibition Swell human activity is interspersed in the natural world, sometimes through a physical body or a human-made object, at others the flash of the camera.

A quiet approach to the relationship to the environment, grounded in Indigenous voices, exists in Katie West’s exhibition Clearing at TarraWarra Museum of Art. West collected plants from Healesville, Wurundjeri country, which she used to dye fabric then formed these into textile works: a draped floor-to-ceiling cloth and cushions laid out on the gallery floor. “Clearing is a space to recall with our bodies that this is a world that emerges through reciprocity—the infinite instances of chemical exchange and dialogue between plants, animals, microbes, natural elements and phenomena,” says West. The exhibition also includes text by Indigenous writers including Kerry Arabena, Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin and Bruce Pascoe.

The full ART + CLIMATE = CHANGE 2019 festival program is available online.

Various venues
23 April – 19 May

Preview Words by Zara Sigglekow