What is Climate Art?

What is Climate Art?

We all know the phrase “climate change,” but have you heard of climate art? And what is climate art exactly? The Waterfront Alliance’s Art at the BlueLine in the Seaport District exhibition explores and helps us answer this very question.

“Climate art is art inspired by the current climate crisis and global warming,” says the Waterfront Alliance’s President and CEO, Cortney Koenig Worrall. “It’s generally intended to overcome humans’ hardwired tendency to value personal experience over data and to disengage from data-based representations by making the data ‘vivid and accessible.’”

“The Waterfront Alliance and New York–New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) partnered this year to explore the BlueLine—the 2100 high tide line—as part of City of Water Day,” Koenig Worrall continues. “The Blue Line is the location of the future high tide line, six feet above today’s high tide. At the art installations, participants will experience walking by and visualizing the Blue Line, and see the potential impact of sea level rise in the future.”

The approaches of the three artists exhibiting as part of Art at the BlueLine may vary, but they can all help us understand how science and creativity come together to offer unique perspectives on climate issues. Here’s a sneak peek of their work, which you’ll find here in the Seaport District this month.

We Are The Asteroid II, 2018
Sandblasted solar-powered LED message board by Justin Brice Guariglia
Photo courtesy of Ian Douglas

We are the Asteroid consists of LED traffic signs with words of warning about the proximity of climate change—such as, “Triassic Weather Ahead”, says Koenig Worrall. “The traffic lights are intended to stop people in their tracks while getting them to think differently about the future. Justin Brice Guariglia was once called one of the most prominent climate artists of his time by Sotheby’s.

While the artist himself doesn’t necessarily use the term “climate art,” he admits that he is “pretty overwhelmed by the notion of a changing climate and fascinated by the science behind it. Ultimately, it’s inspired a lot of the art that I make. I find the natural world to be infinitely fascinating and extremely explorable.”

Fabric flags affixed to poles by Kamau Ware
Photo courtesy of Ian Douglas

“This is a truly beautiful—and educational—piece of work,” says Koenig Worrall of Ware’s WAVES. Seaport locals and visitors may be familiar with Ware’s Black Gotham Experience studio and immersive walking tours. Now, he focuses his lens on the natural world with WAVES—four flags with messages of resilience and social justice placed six feet apart, that will wave in the wind and tell a story about how the water waves brought people to the Seaport. “It’s a story of the racial history of our waterfront, and of the indigenous people who lived here for centuries, intersecting with the arrival of Africans in 17th Century Manhattan.”

36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea
Video performance work by Sarah Cameron Sunde

This large-scale temporary video installation projected onto the side of the tall ship Wavertree is part of a larger project by Sunde, which the artist explains, “began as a poetic response to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York City.”

“Her work radically asks viewers to reconsider their relationship with the water as individuals, community and species,” says Koenig Worrall.

For Art at the BlueLine, Sunde is installing outdoor video projections on Pier 16 & 17 across four evenings, September 12, 17, 25 and 26. It’s a thrill, she says, to project these works at the Seaport, where the memory of high the water came during Sandy is ever-present. “I hope passersby take some time to pause and consider their current relationship to the sea, eight years after Sandy.”

While the oeuvre of these three artists may extend beyond a definition of climate art (Sunde, for example, says her work may be best described as “Water Art”), there is no mistaking their intentions to pose questions that tackle our relationship with the world around us. Don’t miss the chance to experience their works in person this month—and share your thoughts on social media using the accounts and tags below.


Justin Brice Guariglia
IG @justinbriceguariglia
Twitter @xjbgx

Kamau Ware
Twitter @kamaustudios
Facebook @kamaustudios

Sarah Cameron Sunde
Twitter @scsunde
Instagram @scsunde  or @36.5durational