Sarah Nelson Wright is a New York City-based, socially engaged media artist and educator. Eve Mosher is a New York City-based artist and interventionist at the forefront of engaging art to tackle climate change in local communities. Through email exchanges, they discussed the role of art and digital technologies in expressing climate crises.
Sarah Nelson Wright: For your project HighWaterLine (2007), you used a sports field marker to trace the border along seventy miles of Manhattan and Brooklyn shoreline that would be severely impacted by increased megafloods if climate change continues. The area you marked was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. You’ve since collaborated with Heidi Quante to expand this project into a toolkit for coastal communities everywhere to visualize the impact of climate change. Based on your experience, what power does art have to address these issues?
Eve Mosher: Art provides so many ways into a very complicated and overwhelming conversation. It can simplify complex data, or make the invisible visible. Art and culture can create emotional and visceral responses, which leave a lasting impression. Art can inspire change through imagination and presenting modes of collective power. It can also make climate impacts personal and local through experience and curiosity. HighWaterLine was—and is—so much about having conversations about local impacts of climate change in the actual places they are happening, in neighborhoods at risk of increased flooding. It provides an opportunity to share personal experiences and local resources.
Wright: As a media artist concerned with the environment, I am struggling with the impact of using digital technology to make and promote my work. How can artists reconcile the environmental impact of our work with our desire to be leaders in addressing climate change?
Mosher: That’s a really hard one to answer, in part because there are so many life choices that have an impact that is irreconcilable, and we do them anyway. I think it’s a collection of your actions, and a thoughtfulness with which you approach the work. If you never consider it, that’s a problem, but if you consider the impact and work towards the best possible outcome, while also communicating about that struggle, that’s a good thing to model.
Wright: In an age of climate crisis, is there a place for art that doesn’t engage with the environment or other pressing social issues?
Mosher: I think work like that is fiercely valuable. Art can be a place of solace, reflection, escape, curiosity, and playfulness. We need those to be able to cope with the complexities of our times. I hope that some of my work, even while addressing pressing issues, continues to embody some of these aspects. As serious as the undertaking of marking a line denoting climate change impacts is, pushing a sports field marker through the city is a playful act—and leaves, at times, an aesthetically beautiful line.