Artists for the Earth

Artist Justin Brice Guariglia elevates climate change conversation through vivid messaging

Climate change art can transform science-based facts about the environment into something vivid and accessible, becoming a powerful tool that capitalizes on our tendency to value experience on a personal and emotional level. 

In this way, #ArtistfortheEarth Justin Brice Guariglia helps us to visualize and feel what’s happening to our planet through his highly inventive artwork and his commitment to climate action. In a recent interview with EARTHDAY.ORG, Guariglia talked about his work and the role of art in the climate movement.

EARTHDAY.ORG: What do you think works well with the arts as a form of scientific communication?

Justin Brice Guariglia (JBG): Art is about binding to the unknowable in a way that transcends reason and being… That’s the power of art in the climate change conversation how do we take something that is exceptionally abstract, operating on multiple non-human scales and give it a face, body, substance and scale that is relatable to humans? That is the job of the arts and humanities. 

Five years ago, Guariglia gave up a career as a well-established photojournalist to concentrate on climate change. He became the first embedded artist on missions with NASA’s IceBridge flights over the Arctic and their Operation Melting Glacier (OMG).  Above the ice at 1,500 feet he takes pictures of the glaciers and, with the help of a UV printer and a copyright process he calls Plasticenetm, transfers the pictures onto polystyrene or aluminum sheets using many layers of ink.

Baked Alaska, 2018
Acrylic, 6 high density polystyrene panels, epoxy, hand carved text
96 x 192 x 1.75 in | 243.8 x 487.7 x 4.4 cm
Text: Timothy Morton

The result are beautiful wall-sized pictures that appear textured like a relief, detailing the craggy ridges of the glacier’s surface. They tell the story of the earth’s fragility; the ice he’s photographed could be 100,000 years old, but may have already melted by the time the artwork is completed.

EARTHDAY.ORG:  When did you realize that your love for the environment could tie into your artistic talents? 

JBG: In 2008 my first son arrived, and I came to the realization that I wanted to focus my work exclusively on how humans were transforming the planet… I was more interested in creating a feeling than sharing a photo. I wanted to make our impact feel tangible. To do that, I needed to expand my vocabulary and began making objects. 

One day when stopped in traffic, Guariglia looked at the large blinking orange lights of a highway message board and realized that similar signage could be used to great effect in addressing the climate crisis. His creations transform these neon lights into warnings about climate change; whimsical, thought-provoking aphorisms; and eco-haikus on large, solar-powered LED highway message boards, theater marquees, billboards and lawn signs.

Biosphere BBQ, 2019
Text, neon sign
26 x 36 in | 66 x 91.4 cm
Text: Timothy Morton

“Climate change at work,” “500,000,000 climate refugees” and “No icebergs ahead” flash viewers with the bitter truth, leaving them with nowhere else to turn.

Guariglia has also debuted an app to experience climate change through augmented reality, After Ice, and is working on two new shows in Europe at Kunst Hause WEIN in Vienna and Kunsthal KAdE in Amersfoort, NL.

EARTHDAY.ORG: What we can do to act on behalf of the planet? 

JBG: We need to talk about these inconvenient truths with family and friends. We also must demand that corporations we shop from or work for adopt environmental initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint. We can march and protest. Most importantly, we must vote for politicians that put people and the planet over profits, the welfare of humans and the natural world over corporations and make decisions based on science, not financial interests.

Earth Day Network’s Artists for the Earth campaign connects artists and arts organizations around the world for climate action: Sign up today.

Photo credit for image at top: Reduce Speed Now!, 2019

10 solar powered LED highway message boards, Text

Text: Justin Brice Guariglia, Greta Thunberg, Marian Womack, Zadie Smith, Craig Santos Perez, Bruno Latour, Timothy Morton, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner & Aka Niviana, public contributions, 12 indigenous elders (Kgao Qamme & Kgamxoo Tixhao (Botswana); Floriza Da Cruz Pinto (Brazil); Lyudmila Khomovna (Siberia); Atome Ribenga (Gabon); Mamo Evangelista Mojica (Colombia); Barbara Gibson-Thorbe (Australia); Rita Blumenstein and Marie Meade (Alaska); Aoki Hiroyuki (Japan); Julieta Casimiro (Mexico); Aama Bombo (Nepal))

To mark Earth Day 2019, American artist and environmental activist Justin Brice Guariglia presents REDUCE SPEED NOW!, a new project commissioned by Somerset House bringing together international perspectives on the world’s ecological crisis.