Art and Climate Change

We have all seen telephone or utility poles to which countless advertisements, announcements and “for sale” notices have been pinned, stapled or pasted.  Their messages are for the present, and we expect them to deteriorate or to be papered over in short order.  But what do we make of it when an artist chooses these poles as the place for the exhibition of art?  So Paul Roorda, in his recent “Take Notice” exhibition in Ottawa, has used these commonplace settings for hundreds of paper cards on which have been mounted pictures from encyclopaedias that present images of the marvels that were the show pieces of the “age of progress”.  The purpose of the exhibition: through his art helping us understand his insights on climate change.

In his website Roorda explains that “ . . . what was once the post war optimism of a vintage encyclopaedia is now re-contextualized as an anxiety over the consequences of the unsustainable progress we have a compulsion to pursue.”

Roorda comments on another similar collection of his works, entitled “Sky Notice”, in which

“. . . polaroid photos of clouds are used to create art that is prophetic and poetic, full of both whimsy and catastrophe. The photos suffer colour distortion or overexposure and are scarred by rust and water damage reflecting the increasing anxiety with which we have come to view the sky: Global warming, intensifying storms, increasing UV warnings, and smog alerts have cast a shadow on our once bright and optimistic upward view.”

For me, Roorda’s message is that the great works of modern engineering are as much subject to decay and destruction as the impermanent paper that he has used to warn us of these consequences.   What may be different is the scale of decay and destruction if we cannot avoid the consequences of climate change.

Paul Roorda lives in Waterloo, Ontario and has exhibited extensively including shows at the Toronto School of Theology, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and Wilfrid Laurier University. He was the Artist in Residence for the City of Kitchener in 2007 and has been the subject of an episode of “The Artist’s Life” which aired on Bravo! TV. He has received grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts and his work is found in numerous collections including the Donovan Collection at the University of Toronto. Paul is one of the directors of CAFKA, the Contemporary Art Forum of Kitchener and Area.

For more on the Artist and for images of his work go to his Website:

Peter Jones

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