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Broad Art Museum at MSU displays the human effects of climate change through contemporary art

Steven Bridges, Kirk Heinze

Michigan State University’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum presents two exhibitions showcasing the often disheartening relationship between climate change and societal misfortune internationally. Steven Bridges, the assistant curator, meets with the host, Kirk Heinze, on Greening of the Great Lakes to discuss the social and cultural pillar of sustainability represented in art.

Former South African photojournalist now contemporary artist, Gideon Mendel, travels the world chasing flood disasters and captures the distressed but also hopeful emotion in survivors’ faces as they re-enter their home for the first time. The series of digital prints and video portraits is called Drowning World, the exhibition of which is curated by Caitlín Doherty, curator and deputy director of curatorial affairs at the Broad MSU.

“You can see a glimpse of the devastation, but most importantly, you have a human face to these kind of disasters,” says Bridges. “Often times these sort of events get spectacularized in the media and we don’t understand the human impact on the ground.”

Watermarks, another series by Gideon Mendel accompanies Drowning World. The series features old family photographs found in flood victims homes that have been transformed into abstract contemporary art by their interaction with flood water. These pieces also help to portray the deterioration of cherished belongings by a natural disaster in an aesthetic way.

“It’s a strange thing for me I guess to call them beautiful, though they are, knowing the backstory and the struggle that lies beneath their surfaces in a sense,” he adds.

Bridges continues by introducing his most recent curation, To Be Here, from British filmmaker, Sam Jury. The never before seen video and sound installation depicts the harsh living conditions Sahrawi refugees endure living at Boujdour Camp in South West Algeria. The tribe was displaced from its homeland in present-day Morocco in 1975 and has braved the Sahara desert ever since, forced to live in blanketed buildings with little light to protect them from the extreme environment. Sam Jury was only able to capture these scenes using a handheld device due to the conditions, giving her art a unique viewpoint.  

“The handheld technique lends a much more improvised, first person perspective to the videos she created,” Bridges points out.

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