At Benefit 2016, February 5 – 6 at Crane Arts, vie for work by artists at all levels – from local to international – including Shepard Fairey, Jacque Liu, Jon Manteau, and Diane Burko, just to name a few.
Burko works in powerful vistas of snow and ice, documenting and translating the ravages of climate change on the glaciers she explores herself. In between photographing aerial views while strapped into helicopters, and painting for her upcoming show in Houston, she took a few minutes to discuss her work in the Benefit.
Erica: You describe your work as an intersection between art and science. When did your fascination with climate change first come about, and how did you decide to incorporate it into your work?
Diane: I’ve been painting and photographing the landscape all my life. And around 2006 when there was all that stuff going on about climate change – that was the same time as the Inconvenient Truth film and Elizabeth Kolbert’s book Field Notes from a Catastrophe – I had just completed a project on volcanoes and had come back from Iceland and was having a show at Michener. And the curator wanted to [add] a painting of mine that was done in 1976. And that painting was ice and snow, and there I was in Iceland doing the same thing. So she saw the visual comparison. So when I was giving a gallery talk, [it hit me that] I was talking to these people in 2008 about a painting I’d done 30 years earlier. So while I’m giving my spiel, I’m thinking about the snow on Calderas – which is a mountainscape in the French alps – and wondering if that snow was still there. And that’s what got me started, I just started thinking about melting snow. I decided I had to find out about it.
I discovered a whole group of images that geologists had been using for years, which are called repeat photography. And what they’re doing is going to a glacier for a period of time – 40 or 50 or 60 years – and then recording visually what’s happened. Most of the glaciers around the world are melting. So I started doing a whole series of projects based on that information. And that led me to exchanges with scientists, glaciologists, geologists, which then led me to go to the Arctic Circle in 2013. One thing leads to the other, and at this point I just am an expedition person going to the North Pole and the South Pole to bear witness. And I continue to work with scientists. I’ve been really fortunate in going with a group of scientists in 2013 to a glacier, climbing it with them and flying over it. I’ve also been asked to talk a great deal at these conventions, where all these scientists get together, because they appreciate an artist’s being able to communicate their science. Because they do it through graphs and statistics. By doing it visually they believe and I believe it hits a different nerve in people. Communicating with people on an emotional level sometimes gets the idea across.
Erica: What’s your favorite story from the expeditions you’ve been on?
Diane: There are a lot of stories. I guess the first time I stood on top of a glacier wearing crampons and looking at crevasses all around was a pretty memorable occasion. And that was in Svalbard with these scientists. It’s 400 miles north of Norway and ten degrees south of the North Pole. So that was my first major experience. And then I followed that up by going to Greenland and climbing those glaciers. The next exciting adventure happened in 2015 when my husband and I were in Patagonia, and we were exploring the third largest ice field in the world. The first one is Antarctica, the second one was Greenland, and then you have Patagonia, which is part of Argentina and Chile. It straddles both countries. So there I did the same kind of thing, where I was climbing on a glacier with crampons and it was extremely dramatic and scary. I get a little adrenaline rush from these things I must admit. And I like aerial views so I’ve been known to hang out of helicopters, shoot volcanoes, and things like that. But I’m always strapped in. I’m not a foolish adventurer, I’m a careful one.
Erica: No parachuting onto glaciers then.
Erica: Do you think it’s important for artists to continue to engage and challenge the world in this way?
Diane: For me, having been an artist for quite a long time, I’m no longer satisfied with making art that is beautiful. I need more of a purpose, more of a mission. I think I’ve found a place by doing this. I still want to make beautiful pieces, and I hope my paintings and my photographs are, but there’s an underlying message. You can see art on many levels, and that’s what I’m hoping people do with my work.
Erica: Did you start in the 70s or was it earlier than that?
Diane: I started in the 70s, yes. I came to Philadelphia for graduate school and never left.
Erica: How would you say the scene evolved in Philly from the time you started out?
Diane: It’s grown exponentially. I’m always touting it. I’m a new Yorker. Other people who don’t come from Philly I think appreciate it more than Philadelphians do. It’s like the Little Apple. Artists are moving here because the real estate is cheaper. That’s one of the reasons I stayed here, I like space. I’ve been able to have a lot of space to do my work and to live.
Erica: Do you have any upcoming exhibits or projects?
Diane: I have a show opening in Houston on March 18, and it’s going to feature new prints that are related to what I’m giving to InLiquid for the auction.
Erica: Can you tell me about the piece you’ll be donating to the Benefit this year?
Diane: The piece I donated to the Benefit is one of the early studies of this new project I’m doing called Elegies, and for the first time I’m presenting aerial views of their melting – not from actual photographs of glaciers, but through a hybrid mix of my painting and my photography. I’ve made paintings, small ones that I’m saving and using on plates – as in lithograph plates or woodcut blocks. And for some of these plates I’m taking parts and I’m manipulating them and enlarging them and making prints. So the ten inch study that InLiquid has is related to 30 x 30 inch prints that I’ll be showing in Houston.
I’m having a really great time doing this. And as I’m talking to you I’m working on them right now.
Press Bid to Play at Benefit 2016, February 5 – 6 at Crane Arts.