These days, phrases like "global warming" and "climate change" seem to have lost their edge. Once we get past the increasingly silly debate over whether or not the threat is real, it seems like the problem and its causes are just too huge for any one person to grasp. Start talking about carbon footprints or cap-and-trade agreements and the general populace decides that this is all way too confusing and changes the channel to something along the lines of VH1's Rock of Love Charm School (oh no she didn't!!!).
Christel Dillbohner's work forces us to change the channel back. While it might not be the stuff of VH1's Celebreality, it offers something that is too often missing from any discussion about the environment: an expression of one's personal relationship with Planet Earth. No longer is the idea of climate change some nebulous concept; with Dillbohner's work it becomes an experience filled with texture and movement. Dillbohner has said that the idea of a journey is central to her artwork, and that philosophy is apparent in Ice Floe, her latest exhibition at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.
Ice Floe is a site-specific installation of thousands of pigment-dipped cones that is meant to conjure images of melting ice packs in the Arctic. It is a multi-sensory experience, described by the artists as a "three-dimensional painting." Bright blues and greens disappear into pure whites and the entire installation can move with the slightest influx of air, or with a haphazard brush by a patron. The physical quality of the installation inherently makes it more personal; any given person's presence forces this piece into a new direction, beautifully mirroring an individual's impact on their environment.
Another Dillbohner installation, Arctic Circle, consists of nine panels of framed assemblages placed side-by-side. This arrangement suggests some sort of chronology, another journey that flows like the imagined ice pack on the floor below. These panels are filled with natural objects, like dried flowers found near Dillbohner's studio in Berkeley. However, the wax covering over the panels dilutes these images, creating a barren landscape. Like the cones in Ice Floe, these panels are textural, strangely inviting the viewer to come inside the arctic world that Dillbohner has created.
Polar Journey, a collection of 62 monoprints Dillbohner created during a two-week residency at ICA, invite visions of a dreamy passage through a forsaken land. Again, the tactile nature of the display offers a relatable and tangible representation of a part of the world that is rapidly slipping away.
I find it really exciting to see artists like Dillbohner address this subject matter in such a finessed, yet accessible way. And she's not the only one! The exhibition in SJICA's main gallery, called NextNew: Green, features more perspectives on environmental issues in really interesting mediums (raise your hand if you like Frankenstein-esque bird creations made from parts of different children's toys... that chirp).
Chris Dillbohner: Ice Floe is on display at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art through September 20, 2009. For more information visit sjica.org.