Art exhibit showcases impact of water issues

By Sheelagh Doe
Fiorello LaGuardia High School

Matthew Nyman
Babylon Junior-Senior High School

Art creates conversation, and the Zuccaire Gallery’s most recent exhibition, “Connecting the Drops: The Power of Water,” has created a space for dialogue on the planet’s rapid loss of water and declining environment.

The show, curated by gallery director Karen Levitov, incorporates the work of seven environmental artists.

“Connecting the Drops: The Power of Water,” is running at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery though October 29th. Artwork above is by Courtney M. Leonard, and is called BREACH: LOGBOOK 22 | CULL, 2022. The materials are ceramic, oyster shells, pallets, wood, paint. (Photo by Daniela Zheng)

One of them, Jaanika Peerna, born in Estonia under Soviet occupation, spoke about creating art under repressive conditions.

Personal freedom and finding the space to express herself has always been of the utmost importance to Peerna. She first found freedom of expression in ice skating, and ice remains a prominent theme in her work.

Peerna initially envisioned she would become a figure skater after becoming captivated by the movement of the sport. “I really wanted it to be my tool for freedom and beauty,” she said.

She turned to art instead because of its ability to “connect people and to give you a chance to imagine something that isn’t there and to have the tools to create it.” The collaborative aspect of creating art is also important to Peerna, who involves her audience in the creation of her works.

Peerna creates traditional art work then melts blocks of ice over it to create her desired effect. Her art highlights the impermanence of ice and, by extension, a healthy environment in a world affected by climate change.

The temporary nature of her work as the ice begins to melt creates a tragic image of the reality of glaciers around the world today. “The melting is such a rapid thing,” she said of the rising temperatures around the world.

Glacial melting would result in a catastrophic sea level rise that could flood coastal communities, including Long Island. Noting that scientists predict the sea level could rise up to 20 feet, Peerna continued, “just imagine if any coastal area where you are, the water only rises two feet, that’s already a lot in many areas. What if it rises 20 feet?”

Peerna also spoke about the importance of glaciers as a source of fresh water for Peruvians. She explained that the melting of glaciers due to climate change endangers their access to potable water. “Now, as the glaciers have been receding and melting, they don’t have the access or they have to hike really far to get that water.”

When envisioning this exhibition, which runs through Oct. 29 at the gallery in Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, Levitov said she hoped to find artists like Peerna who draw their inspiration from their activist experiences. She decided that the exhibit’s theme, which took more than three years to assemble, should be the importance of water.

“Water is crucial to every aspect of life – to plants, to animals, to people, to everything,” Levitov said. “Keeping it clean and doing what we can to improve it is going to help everything that lives on the planet.”

Artist Betsy Damon explained the importance of freeing water from mankind’s efforts to control it. Damon argued that countries should allow rivers to flow freely rather than damming them to generate electricity and stockpile water for farming and other uses. She said damming rivers leads to the degradation and loss of water and its aquatic life.

Photos from the exhibit

“Now we have so many bodies of water that have been trapped that the trans-evaporation rate is so fast that the earth is losing a lot of water to the sky, and then it’s deposited on the North Pole,” Damon said.
She added that channeling rivers creates a different problem. “If you straighten a river, it doesn’t nourish the land. If you put concrete on its edges, it will deteriorate really quickly.”

Levitov said education is the best first step for addressing these issues. “I’ve learned a ton from these artists,” she said. “A lot of these artists are researchers themselves, and they have gone to great extent to research the issues. They’ve been in touch with scientists,” added Levitov, who said “I reached out to a number of scientists here on campus to have conversations.”

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