Introduction by Dr. Alexandra Rahr on the occasion of a talk given by Diane Burko at the University of Toronto to the Environmental Humanities Working Group on October 12th, 2018
It's a particular pleasure to welcome our guest today to the EHN - Diane Burko is a renowned artist and activist and she's here today to speak to us about the conjunctions between those two roles.
I think it's fair to say that Diane has long been fascinated by landscapes. Her remarkable work re-imagines the long, venerable and - as we know as environmental humanists - troubled painterly landscape tradition. Her images shake up, interrogate and destabilize the pastoral ideal. Countering the familiar nostalgic romance of an American Eden - that is such a persistent element in the republic's artistic heritage - Diane's work instead gives us a very different view of the aesthetic world.
Turning away from the longing, backward-looking glance, Diane's work is insistently present: she creates landscapes of the now - of the right now - and even of the American environmental future: of the already made, already determined, but somehow not yet quite wholly visible. Truly, she shows us the Anthropocene. In all its urgent futurity and its present immediacy.
As you know, Diane makes us see in a very particular way: she brings together the seemingly disparate practices of art and science. Her work treats data like chiarascuro, like POV, like a vanishing point: like an essential artistic methodology or material.
And so, projects like the much lauded 'Politics of Snow' show us climate change by way of incorporation: by making art and activism out of geological fact. And the conjoining of statistics and image, of information and painterly skill, is activism as well as fine art.
We are lucky indeed to have her here today, and to share with us her journey 'from landscape artist to explorer activist.'
Diane Burko focuses on monumental geological phenomenon. Since 2006 her practice has been at the intersection of art, science and the environment, devoted to the urgent issues of climate change. Her work about glacial melt reflects expeditions to the three largest ice fields in the world. In 2013, she sailed around Svalbard (400 miles north of Norway) with artists and spent four days in Ny-Alesund with scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute. In 2014, she returned to the Arctic, exploring Greenland's Ilulissat and Eqi Sermia glaciers. She first traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2013 and again in January 2015 with the non-profit “Students on Ice,” after which she flew from Ushuaia to El Calafate to discover the Patagonian ice field of Argentina.
Diane is now focusing on the world’s oceans and the dramatic bleaching of coral reef eco-systems. The increased acidification and warming waters caused by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is one of the primary reasons for this dire situation.
She first flew over the Great Barrier Reef in 2017, then continued her exploration in 2018 with a month-long expedition to the South Pacific. There, she explored reefs along the coast of Oahu, Molokai, Lanai and Maui in Hawaii and American Samoa.
Diane’s explorations in all these locations profoundly inform her work as she bears witness to the Anthropocene.
Aside from experiencing the environment, Burko continually gains knowledge through visiting research labs and engaging with scientists at institutions such as the Norwegian Polar Institute, INSTAAR in Boulder, Colorado, theInstitute for Marine and Antarctic Studiesin Tasmania, the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Erik Cordes Lab at Temple University in Philadelphia. She speaks at various conferences such as the GSA (Geological Society of America) and AGU (American geophysical Union). Diane Burko is committed to public engagement. She makes herself available to wide audiences in an effort to convey her experiences and share her knowledge about the ways global warming impacts our planet. She uses both facts and images to make the invisible visual and visceral.