EAC showcases eco-inspired art

Lara Takenaga

Picture a time in the future when the polar ice caps melt and water begins to flood the planet.

This is exactly what Chicago artist Lee Tracy wanted to depict in “FOUND,” a life-size installation of a room left in tatters by a flooded Lake Michigan.

“For me to imagine that the lake floods, I don’t need to know why,” she said. “I just know nature’s that powerful, and it is possible.”

Tracy’s piece is part of the Evanston Art Center’s most recent exhibition, “Heating Up.” More than 100 people attended the show’s opening on Sunday. Many came to see environmentally-inspired works, talk to artists, and view ecological problems from a different perspective.

“We wanted it to be both provocative from a visual standpoint and also to suggest ways people could, through their own lives and through singular acts, improve their (ecological) footprint,” said Beth Hart, the exhibition’s co-curator.

Plans for “Heating Up” began two years ago when the center’s director proposed the idea of combining art and ecology. The show’s curators chose 10 artists to display their environmentally conscious work.

“Now is the time when we still have the chance to fix things before they are irreparably harmed,” said Lisa Truax, an artist whose ceramics featuring recyclable materials are displayed in the show. “Now is the tipping point for choosing to change things or to let them fall apart.”

From ceramics to photography to leaves, a variety of media can be seen in the exhibition.

Strewn across a water-logged desk in “FOUND” are Tracy’s journals from the future that describe the extinction of wild polar bears and a policy that mandates plant life on each balcony in the city.

“I wanted to approach this realistically,” she said. “It’s not all bad. This is not doomsday.”

Other pieces also exhibited less traditional materials and beckoned audience participation.

“Loop Limited” displays 140 neatly stacked paint cans that the show’s visitors can take for free. People Powered, a group of three artists, put together the piece as part of the Paint Project.

The initiative “started with thinking about how many leftovers there are after consumption,” said Lora Lode, a collaborator with People Powered.

The group collects leftover paint, uses it to create new colors and then repackages it. People are encouraged to take the recycled paint in an effort to consume less.

“It could be a point of conversation with visitors to talk about the reasons for doing it,” said Kevin Kaempf, another People Powered collaborator. “There’s a continuation of the conversation around the issues.”

Once visitors realized the cans were up for grabs, more and more began walking around the show with paint in tow.

“It’d be nice to see more exhibits like the paint where you’re reusing something and making art out of it instead of just taking a picture of it,” said Ben Sterling, a resident of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.

Not everyone saw an explicit environmental message in the exhibition’s pieces.

“Some of the pieces directly addressed the issue, and some of them were just skirting it,” Megan Sterling said.

One Evanston resident sees “Heating Up” as a way of reaching new groups with the environmental advocacy message.

“I’m hoping that through the work of the artists, people will start paying more attention to it,” said Nancy Braund-Boruch, who visited the exhibition’s opening.

“Maybe this is a media some people understand.”

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