A Man on an Eco-Mission in Mixed Media

A Man on an Eco-Mission in Mixed Media

Ted Loos for The New York Times - 29 August 2017

Earlier this year at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, the artist Justin Brice Guariglia fell into conversation with a stranger.

“I got stuck on a gondola ride with a climate change denier,” Mr. Guariglia said recently. The stranger clearly had no idea who he was dealing with.

Not only had Mr. Guariglia previously talked his way into joining a NASA scientific mission over Greenland so that he could photograph melting polar ice caps. He also had even created a mobile app called After Ice, which allows users to take a selfie that is overlaid with a watery filter indicating the sea level projected in their geo-tagged location in the 2080s.

So when the man on the gondola said the earth’s warming temperatures were just part of a cycle, Mr. Guariglia recalled, “I took off my jacket and I said, ‘Does this look like a cycle to you?’”

Along his right arm is a tattooed wavy line that is actually a graph charting the average temperature of the earth’s surface over the last 136 years; on his left arm, a similar line reflects 400,000 years of carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere. It shoots upward at the end and curves around his wrist.

Mr. Guariglia’s role as an alarm-ringer on such topics is more subtly evidenced in his coming exhibition, “Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene,” at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., from Sept. 5 to Jan. 7. (The term Anthropocene was coined by the atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen to refer to the current, human-influenced geological epoch.)

Even though the issue is personal for him, the 22 large mixed-media works in the show — all based on photographs by Mr. Guariglia, a former photojournalist — are elegant, abstracted and somewhat mysterious.

It’s hard to tell at first glance what they depict. Stars in the sky? A moonscape? Some images appear from a distance like a three-dimensional sculpture but all are in reality perfectly flat, falling “somewhere between a photograph and a painting,” in Mr. Guariglia’s words.

All the works depict parts of the landscape that have been changed by the presence of humans, from the scars of strip mining to the shifting topography of ice sheets.

“They are beautiful but terrifying,” said Beatrice Galilee, a curator of architecture and design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who follows Mr. Guariglia’s work.

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