Changing Minds About Climate Change
Zaria Forman and Nick Pedersen are helping to reinvigorate the conversation about climate change by presenting its truths more artfully.
Zaria Forman is a well-regarded visual artist known for using art to document climate change.
Born in South Natick, Massachusetts, in 1982, Forman grew up in Piermont, New York. She studied at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, and the Student Art Centers International in Florence, Italy.
Forman’s mother was a fine art photographer who brought Forman on travels to remote natural locations, inspiring her focus on delicate ecosystems and landscapes. She continues to visit far-flung regions of the world, drawing inspiration for pastel drawings of landscapes threatened by climate change. Her work has been featured by The New York Times, BBC News, National Geographic, Elle, The Wall Street Journal, and other sites.
Nick Pedersen is a photographer and digital artist whose work focuses on the effects of climate change.
Born in Salt Lake City in 1983, Pederson studied at the University of Utah and the Pratt Institute in New York and had residencies at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and the Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Iceland. He works as a freelance designer and photographer specializing in documentary travel and adventure images.
Pederson’s artistic work focuses on degraded natural views or cityscapes affected by climate change, as in the Floating World series, which depicts street scenes partially underwater. He has published two books: Sumeru (2011) and Ultima (2015), which shows scenes of decayed beauty. Pedersen’s artwork has been shown in galleries across the country and internationally, and been featured in Vogue, Create Magazine, Juxtapoz, and many other publications.
Climate change is a pernicious force quietly eating away at the future of the human race. The extreme unprecedented weather events we’ve been experiencing with increasing regularity point to the hard truth that we’re burning way too much stuff. Global warming may already have passed the point of no return. 2015 was the hottest year on record, until it was surpassed by 2016. So the scientific debate has been settled, but the artistic discussion goes on.
Nick Pedersen: What really motivates me is to create artwork that is about the time that I live in and is reacting and raising questions to important issues like this.
Nick Pedersen’s work as a photographer and digital artist is driven by the idea of change.
Pedersen: So I like this one phrase that “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” I interpret that in my own work, and my goal is to raise these questions and get people to think about the future that we’re creating.
Zaria Forman: The point of my work is to try to offer people a time, and a place, and a space to connect with these landscapes that are changing so drastically.
Zaria Forman’s giant pastel drawings document her explorations of some of the world’s most vulnerable and rapidly changing environments.
Forman: I’m sort of freezing them in time in my drawings, because it won’t look the way that it looks when I saw it, even the next day. There were places in Antarctica where I got to revisit a week later, and the entire bay looked completely different. I wouldn’t have recognized it. The glaciers are caving, icebergs are flipping, breaking, melting, cracking. There is a sense of documentation, I think, in that where I’m holding a moment in time, stretching it out, expanding it. Then I do sometimes change, you know, the shape of the ice a little bit—or maybe the water was really choppy and dark that day, and I want a nice reflection, and so I’ll make that up. But in general I try to stay as true as I can to how I remember the landscape being in that moment in time when I saw it.
And whereas Forman’s art is a representation of a recent past, Pedersen’s imagines the future.
Nick Pedersen: It’s mainly a contemplation of time and our place in the world, and just showing that the world as we know it might not last forever. And is creates a setting for what could possibly come next. I like to say that it’s “hyper real,” because it’s taking images and piecing them together to create a different, new reality that doesn’t exist in the real world, but still has the weight of photographic believability and truth to it—which is what I think makes it powerful.
Pedersen: The Arctic series is about interpretation. The idea is that these future people are mythologizing the old world and creating sacred spaces to perform these rituals based on their unknown ancestors.
But how do all these fantastical futuristic creations change attitudes in the present?
Pedersen: There’s been a lot of scientific studies about the idea of fear, and how humans are hardwired to react instinctively to more immediate threats like terrorism, but we are pretty much unable to conceive of aslow moving catastrophe like climate change.
Zaria Forman: Psychology tells us that we as human beings take action and make decisions based on our emotions more than anything else, and I think what art can do is reach our emotions. So that’s why I’m drawing the beautiful things that I see. I mean I love beauty, that’s just something that’s a personal thing too. I recognize the beauty, and I want to bring it in front of as many people as I can, so they see it and they fall in love with it the way that I have. You know you can have a different kind of emotional reaction when you see destruction, and I think, in a way, that’s just as important. It’s just not a path I’m taking.
Pedersen: You see a lot of post-apocalyptic imagery in art and in the media that really, like, hits you over the head with these scenes of doom and gloom, but I think, to me, the most interesting artwork has real aesthetic beauty. And so those are the kind of images that I try to create, that really draw you in with composition and color and fine detail. But then, once you arrive, it leaves you with really important questions and thoughts to consider.
AJC: And what about the idea that it’s not a question of “if now,” it’s a question of “when?” That we are past the point of rescue.
Pedersen: That’s, that’s what I think inspires this urgency in my work, and what compels me to try and create as much as possible — because we are facing a lot of tipping points, if we don’t change.
Forman: We have reached a point of no return, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot we can do to turn the ship around and to make things better in the future.
AJC: Does it ever get put in your face that there are people who still blithely disagree with the biological facts of what you’re documenting?
Forman: Yes. I try to educate myself as best I can so that in these kinds of situations I can come back with the best response and at this point I think my best response is what’s the harm in taking precautions? It’s far more dangerous to just sit and wait and see what happens and it’s far more expensive. It’s still going to be expensive, but we’re going to lose a lot less if we prepare ourselves so I don’t really understand why we shouldn’t do anything about it.
Pedersen: Whatever happens to us, the Earth is going to be around for another 4.6 billion years. So the question is whether we can maintain a habitable climate, or how do we adapt to its changes?
Ultimately, both of these artists believe that their best hope for impacting climate change is in motivating changes in attitude.