This year’s Earth Week will feature the kickoff programming surrounding an art installation about Climate Displacement that will go up April 8th. “Displaced: An Art Installation for Climate Justice” is the joint effort of student artist and environmentalist Kristen Patino, student environmentalist Julia Widmann, and Green Action, the student group for environmental justice (particularly their subsidiary, Fossil Free WashU). The project was funded by Student Sustainability Board. The kickoff event on Wednesday, March 28th is co-hosted by the Environmental Studies Department, who will be providing food.
The painting activity will be paired with a screening of the documentary Thirty Million on Wednesday March 28 at 8:30pm. Thirty Million confronts the realities of global climate change, rising seas, and natural disasters for the thirty million residents living in Bangladesh, often cited as one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change. Additionally, Green Action will screen a film that they produced while visiting a local coalmine in unrecognized Native American land.
The painting activity will support an artistic creation that will then be installed on the lawn in front of the Women’s Building and Lab Sciences from April 8th until April 14th.
Kristen Patino and Julia Widmann responded to a few questions to help us understand the concept of their artistic approach.
Can you briefly describe the art installation you are preparing?
“Displaced: An Art Installation for Climate Justice” is a visual representation of the number of people displaced by climate disasters each year. We wanted to emphasize the anthropogenic ties that amplify these catastrophic climate disasters. Each of the 215 miniature “homes,” made from cement and coal fly ash, represents 100,000 people displaced each year for the 21.5 million total (according to the UN).
What do you hope for people to get out of the installation?
We want to bring attention to the international injustices caused by climate change and connect them to campus. We hope to educate and raise awareness about 2017’s storms, floods, mudslides, droughts, famines, and fires – some of the worst in history – and the people whose lives were changed as a result. We wanted to make the connection between daily activities using energy and coal burned in St. Louis and St. Louis County that impact global climate and the displacement of people in coastal cities and island nations in the United States and abroad. This is just one of the many ways in which climate change is a social justice issue, but we hope to call attention to climate displacement in particular through this installation.
Additionally, coal fly ash is a dangerous, toxic byproduct of burning coal for energy. Powerplants carelessly pollute water, air and land in areas typically populated by poor people or racial minorities. One of the only safe ways to dispose of coal fly ash is by turning it into cement.
Why did you decide to do an art installation?
We wanted to draw attention to the lives of people around the world who’ve already felt the effects of climate change and the burden of pollution from fossil fuel extraction and burning. We felt that an art installation would be a powerful way to grab people’s interest, affect emotion, and share information.
Why do you think Earth Week at WashU is so important?
It’s an opportunity for student environmental groups and environmental justice groups to be loud and draw attention to some really important and pressing issues. But it’s not just about Earth Week! These problems deserve attention all year round!
Kristen is a senior studying Architecture with a minor in Environmental Studies and Landscape Architecture. Julia is a senior studying Environmental Policy with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and a member of Fossil Free WashU and SSB. Both are office associates at the WashU Office of Sustainability.