Climate Conversation: Smart Art

by Jen Stevenson

Meet Alisa Singer, a Chicago-based environmentalist and artist who has found a way to merge these two passions. Alisa launched Environmental Graphiti in 2014 with her series The Art of Climate Change. Her striking art was featured on the cover of the IPCC “Global Warming of 1.5C” report.

In light of our recent blog post “Climate Conversation: Let’s Talk” we wanted to continue to explore how people talk about climate-related issues. Read on for our conversation with Alisa!

Climable: How did you get into environmental graphiti? What inspired you to use climate science as the basis for your art?

AS: I found the general public’s lack of alarm about the compelling facts regarding climate changes somewhat bewildering. It seemed likely that many people were confused or intimidated by the charts and graphs depicting the science and it occurred to me that art could become the vehicle for “delivering” the facts in a more “user friendly” way. I created Environmental Graphiti – The Alarming Art of Climate Change, a series of digital paintings that use contemporary art to enhance public awareness and understanding of the science of climate change. Each piece in the collection of over 75 pieces uses as its “blueprint” a chart, graph, map, word or number relating to a key fact about climate change.

Climable: Where are you getting the graphs/data from? Where do you draw inspiration for your color schemes?

AS: I try to be very selective in my data sources because I don’t want skeptics to be able to point to a questionable or overly partisan source to challenge the credibility of the science. I get most of my charts and graphs from US agency publications, for example NOAA, NASA, US Global Change Research Project’s periodic national climate assessments, and the UN climate organization the IPCC.

With regard to color schemes, I almost never have a preconceived idea of what I am going to do with a piece. I try not to relate the art too much to the underlying message, preferring the extra impact that comes when the art looks very different from the underlying science and I want the art to stand on its own from an aesthetic standpoint, not just as an illustration of the data.

The description for  Warning- The Many Plagues of Climate Change  reads: “The effects of climate change are far-reaching. Though global warming is an essential element of climate change, other significant impacts include intense heat waves, melting ice caps and glaciers, rising and acidified oceans, and increased risk of drought, famine, forest fires, powerful storms, flooding, vector-borne diseases, species extinction and detrimental impacts to human health.”  Image: Environmental Graphiti

The description for Warning- The Many Plagues of Climate Change reads: “The effects of climate change are far-reaching. Though global warming is an essential element of climate change, other significant impacts include intense heat waves, melting ice caps and glaciers, rising and acidified oceans, and increased risk of drought, famine, forest fires, powerful storms, flooding, vector-borne diseases, species extinction and detrimental impacts to human health.”

Image: Environmental Graphiti

Climable: At your shows do you include explanations of what each piece represents? How do you go about explaining things?

AS: Though each painting appears to be abstract it is displayed with a wall plaque depicting the underlying climate data source, and explaining its significance. Once the viewers realize they are not looking at mere abstract images they are intrigued and a kind of “double take” occurs. Moving back and forth from art to graph, and from one piece to the next, they try to decipher how the data is reflected in the art. As a result of this process, the viewer becomes more engaged in both the art and the underlying message.

Climable: What has been the (range of) responses to your work?

AS: I believe that people are initially attracted to the work because it is vivid and striking but they really connect to it when they realize what it’s based on. I like to say that art makes the science more accessible, and science makes the art more meaningful. It’s a potent combination.

Climable: Is it important to talk about climate change? Why?

AS: I think it’s critical to continue the dialogue about climate change. And I believe art can serve as a unique, non-confrontational way to attract people to the issue. Art, like science, is universal. It can cross borders and bring people of all backgrounds into the conversation. We need to keep talking and we need as many different ways as possible to tell the story.

Climable: Anything else you want to add?

AS: I am not a scientist, but I believe the basic facts about climate change can be understood by all of us. The challenge is to find new and powerful ways to communicate the urgency of the situation to everyone – those who believe and those who are not yet convinced.


More about Environmental Graphiti:

“Environmental Graphiti is a venture that uses ART to dramatize the critical SCIENCE of CLIMATE CHANGE in an effort to expand public awareness of this urgent issue: Why is our climate changing, how is our planet impacted, who is at risk and what can we do to address this critical challenge?

ART makes the SCIENCE more accessible. SCIENCE makes the ART more meaningful. Together they tell the story of CLIMATE CHANGE in a unique and powerful way.”

@environgraphiti (FB & Twitter) @environmentalgraphiti (Instagram)