Interview: Patricia Carr Morgan — 22.02.21
Sublime Visualisations Of Ice Embodying Loss, Life And Fragility In Nature: With Patricia Carr Morgan
The sheer size, wonder and complexity of ice photographed by conceptual artist Patricia Carr Morgan is exquisitely captured in her latest series i love you don’t leave me. The series, curated over several years and shot in Greenland and Antarctica, fuses together the real, drastic and disregarded changes these polar environments are facing. The ice, embodying victims of climate change, presents itself across the series through simultaneously haunting yet encapsulating visualisations. Blue Tears, an intricate accompanying installation, merges movement and emotion to realise these environmental changes. Through powerful fluid moments using falling silk layers, the artistic performance mirrors the heavy loss nature is facing.
Where climate change is increasingly associated with fear and ignorance, i love you don’t leave me and Blue Tears instead powerfully traverse these expanses of rapidly changing nature, depicting the narrative in a more memorable and emotional light.
Mesmerised and moved by the body of work, we asked Patricia Carr Morgan to hone in on the emotions that both arose and were significant throughout her series.
Memory is always present. Traveling across the Southern Ocean, I thought of the Bering Sea and saw the same turbulent, mesmerizing midnight blue. I remembered the diminishing Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau, Alaska, and I wondered, if I hiked up the Chilkoot trail, would I see how far the glacier rebound had moved the Taiya River.
At home, with vivid memories, I began printing my images from Antarctica and Greenland. The first few months they were beautiful and romantic with varied and vibrant blues and subtle greens. The more I printed, the more I felt sad. I printed the small details of the crevasses and thought of their delicacy and fragility. They were disappearing. Reality was setting in, and I had to discover how to express the loss.
Reality is difficult. Global warming is real. It is real that no one can follow my path and photograph a “now” to go beside my “then.” My “then” is no longer in existence. The delicate tracing of glacial flour that marks an iceberg, the unique shapes formed by the wind, are gone. They haven’t the reality of a pharaoh’s tomb; the reality of the ice is transitory, and I only captured a brief moment in time.
After immersing myself in the transient beauty of ice, I began to mourn its loss and began searching for a way to express such a feeling. My first response was to start sanding off the images of completed prints and covering some sections with coal and carbon. As my feelings sank and scientists reported more rapid melting, I continued experimenting and began using expired film, printing its unexpected results. All this time, I was exploring the different ways I could express these emotions in a large scale installation. After I knew how I wanted Blue Tears to look, another lengthy period of experimentation took place as I searched for the right materials. It had to be a natural fiber prepared for digital printing, preferably endangered, elegantly beautiful when hanging flat, sheer enough to see through and to gently and sadly fall to the floor. One supplier made the perfect silk organza.
Although ice carves through mountains to create prairies and lakes, its strength diminishes everyday as it melts and drips away. The fragility and elegant details in the changing ice are highlighted in many of my photographs.
In Antarctica, as I went around in the zodiac photographing, the leopard seals, with their sinister smiles, reclined on the ice floes and ignored me while they waited for a tasty penguin. Onshore, the Adelie penguins were busy fishing for krill while up the hill, their mates were caring for their round, fuzzy young. Among the birds flying above were Skua and Petals, making this an active wildlife community. At the bottom of the food chain, and necessary food for life in Antarctica, is krill. The Blue Whale and some smaller birds and penguins eat this as their primary food. The main food source for the krill is algae that grows on the bottom of the ice shelves; as they melt, there is less food for the krill, which is exacerbated by increased krill fishing.
Humans are suffering a similar fate. Drought will cause large sections of arable land to become nonproductive, causing starvation of large populations that will need to migrate. Global warming causes ocean acidification, increasing the threat to sea life. In North America alone, since 1970, three billion birds have been lost. The list of dangers and losses for wildlife as well as humans is long. In Blue Tears, among the glaciers and icebergs, there is an explorer, as well as wildlife. All species on earth are threatened.
A hopeful future is filled with climate-friendly energy, water preservation, and seeds that can thrive in our changing climate.
ALTERED STATES / Images with applied carbon-based pigments and coal particles.
In light of the powerful message behind this series, how important is the role of art in relation to climate change?
Artists have used landscapes to express their beliefs and emotions for centuries, and likewise I hope this work enlightens and magnifies the viewer’s relationship with the environment. In 4th century China, landscape painting was very popular as a poetic expression of the literati’s longing for the natural world. Jumping to the 17th century in the West, Poussin’s goal became to paint Arcadian landscapes that conveyed powerful emotions previously limited to history painting. In the 19th century, the Hudson River School painted the landscape as a romantic, rugged, yet sublime sacrament created by God. While other artists were also painting and photographing the sublime majesty of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and increased tourism, Ansel Adams had a direct influence on wilderness preservation. His portfolio “Sierra Nevada” was presented to Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, who shared it with President Roosevelt. Soon, the Kings Canyon National Park was a reality. While my historical references are brief, they point out that art both spawns and reflects the sublime majesty of nature and our feelings of longing, loss, and love. I believe this is an important factor in the impact Environmental Art has on global warming.
For many people who fear a new, unknown world of climate-friendly technology or acknowledging the idea of a climate dystopia occurring in a few decades, an emotional connection to our planet will help them become concerned. Everyone has seen beauty and experienced loss, and when seen through those eyes, activism can be inspired. This was (and is) my goal for my installation Blue Tears, and when it first exhibited the audience responded with rapt attention, sadness, and tears when the eighteen silk veils of the installation began to float down to become part of a sea of blue. On subsequent tours, school children viewed the exhibition and talked about climate change with docents. Tavares Strachan’s The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want (Arctic Ice Project) takes a very different approach. His landscape is a two-and-a-half-ton block of ice from the Arctic viewed through the freezer’s windows. It reminds one of a treasured specimen in a natural history museum. It tells us: this must be saved, this may be all that is left.
Museums often focus on community outreach and eschewing ideas of elitism by offering free family days and events, so their role is pivotal in this, too. Climate change art will continue to have more exposure and be an important part of creating a personal connection to the changes taking place and encourage action.
Watch BLUE TEARS ︎︎︎
THE ARTIST / PATRICIA CARR MORGAN
Patricia Carr Morgan is a conceptual artist based in Tucson, Arizona. Her encapsulating work explores themes of memory, loss and reality through the mediums of photography, sculpture, performance and interdisciplinary installations. Her art has been featured extensively in exhibitions across the U.S. and China.
i love you don’t leave me and Blue Tears fuses visual elements, immersive performance and haunting photography to raise important questions about the change, loss and fragility faced by the bodies of ice in the polar environments of Greenland and Antarctica.
IMAGES COPYRIGHT © PATRICIA CARR MORGAN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
MORE OF THE ARTIST / IN WEB
Traversing the ice sculptures and black sands of Diamond Beach, Iceland. A visually stunning photoessay on art and landscapes.
An interview with designer and business owner Claire Harper, on sustainability, ethics, inspiration from nature, and designing for the future.
Documenting materials, changes and spaces in the environment by Artist Abigail Doan.