Work of Glacier Artist Burko to be Displayed at the UN

Diane Burko at work (source:INSTAAR)
Diane Burko at work (source:INSTAAR)

Works by the artist Diane Burko depicting glaciers and ice sheets will be featured at the United Nations headquarters in New York from September 27 to October 8.  They will be displayed in a digital exhibit “Save the Earth, Save the Land,” in which a screen 50 feet long will be installed in the first floor lobby of the headquarters.  

The images to be shown on this screen include several of Burko’s paintings, along with other works, including a piece by the German artist Joseph Beuys, named 7000 Oaks, for the trees he planted in the city of Kassel, Germany, each accompanied by a basalt column. Other works in this exhibit also suggest the urgency of addressing environmental degradation. Among these are photographs of  the columns which Ugo Rondinone installed near a freeway in the desert outside Las Vegas, David Maisel’s  photographs of  polluted mine sites and Chris Jordan’s images of crushed cars, spent bullet casings and cellphone chargers.

Elegy for Grinnell (source: Burko/Lisica)

This exhibit closely follows the September 21 meeting organized by the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The meeting is bringing leaders from countries around the world to deposit their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession to the Paris Agreement on climate change, accelerating the entry into force of the agreement signed in Paris last November.

Burko’s training as an artist began with painting.  In the late 1970s, she and the artist James Turrell took a flight over the Grand Canyon. This experience was a turning point, leading her to explore landscape imagery and to include aerial photography.  She has traveled widely in Greenland, Svalbard, Patagonia and Antarctica,  and has spent time in high mountains as well, particularly the Rockies. In 2011 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.  

Her recent work engaged directly with climate change. In addition to taking photographs of glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets, Burko makes paintings whose cracked surfaces evoke crevasse-filled glaciers. These were displayed recently in a solo show earlier this year at the Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston.  

Portals of Zion (source:Burko/PAFA)
Portals of Zion (source: Burko/PAFA)

Burko continues to produce and display art actively. Her pencil drawing, Portals of Zion, was included in an exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for the centennial of the national parks.  She took part in a two-person show with Paula Winokur, titled Glacial Dimensions-Art and the Global Ice Melt, that ran from February through April at the Karl & Helen Burger Gallery at Kean University in Philadelphia.    

Burko’s photographs and Winokur’s porcelain sculptures presented the beauty and fragility of ice and snow. Burko wrote to GlacierHub that she particularly enjoyed a “lively panel discussion” in which she and Winokur took part, along with several scientists, leading to active engagement with the audience. “Art, as opposed to reading a newspaper or looking at a graph, can hit the viewer on an emotional level and help them connect,” she commented

Her work is on display at other settings as well. The National Academy of Sciences recently bought pieces from her Elegy series for their permanent collection.

The public will have other opportunities to see exhibits of Burko’s work. She will take part in an exhibit Polaris: Northern Explorations in Contemporary Art at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Running from January 11 to April 30, 2017, it will present works about the Arctic from 19th century explorers to the present, emphasizing the rapid pace of environmental change in the region.  It will include Burko’s Morning Sail 2, 1 photograph of a recently-calved iceberg off Greenland.

Morning Sail 2 (source: Burko)
Morning Sail 2 (source: Burko)

Later in 2017, she will have a solo show Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives, Paintings and Photographs at the Walton Art Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In an email to GlacierHub, Burko described this exhibit, opening on May 4 and continuing to July 15,  as “my most important solo show.”

Readers who are interested in learning more about Burko’s work can see an interview with GlacierHub and a discussion of her recent solo show at Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston.

Marking ‘Traces of Change’ with Artist Diane Burko

Burko, Traces of Change exhibition at Cindy Lisica Gallery, as part of Fotofest Biennial 2016, source: Lisica)
Burko, Traces of Change exhibition at Cindy Lisica Gallery, as part of Fotofest Biennial 2016, source: Lisica)

Traces of Change, a solo exhibition by the painter and photographer Diane Burko, features a number of images of the cryosphere. It is currently installed at the Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston, and will remain open until April 16. Burko’s sustained engagement with geological phenomena on many scales has led her to travel to glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica, where she observes and records with cameras and sketchpads from the air and from the ground.  GlacierHub has presented two projects of hers from 2014, Politics of Snow and Polar Investigations, and conducted an interview last year on her reflections on the relations of art, science and public life.

This exhibition features recent large-scale photographs, paintings, and photo-based works, many of them drawing on collaborations with glaciologists. The Deep Time project, included in this exhibition, draws on the artist’s January 2015 travels to the Patagonian ice field in Argentina. These pieces contrast objects—often quite different ones–from the remote past and from the immediate  present, and invite viewers to recognize both the great age of our world and the presence of forces operating on it at the current moment. This exhibition also presents the Elegy Series with printed works that are enlargements of details from her paintings, and that bear a striking resemblance to aerial views of glacial landscapes. In this way, these works establish connections between the surface of a painting and the surface of a planet.  These works serve as elegies through their sustained reflections and their laments for locations threatened by climate change, but they are not simply works that mourn: rather, they suggest the urgency of attentiveness to the world, and the potential of creative work to transform our awareness into action.

GlacierHub: The title of your show is “Traces of Change.” This could mean that the images show traces of change, or that the images themselves are traces of change. Do you lean towards one meaning or the other–or towards both?

Diane Burko: I wanted “traces” to stand for the idea of recording, marking and indicating change, as in the rapid melting of glaciers. The lead piece in the show that speaks to this is the Jakobshavn-Ilulissat Quartet, which actually includes one panel (the third) which quotes the recessional maps used by glaciologists to indicate such change over time. The one I referenced for my painting traced change from 1850 to 2012.

Jakobshavn-Ilulissat Quartet, D. Burko, 2015, Oil on Flashe Paint on Canvas, 42"x228" overall. Installed at Cindy Lisica Gallery. (source: Burko/Lisica)
Jakobshavn-Ilulissat Quartet, D. Burko, 2015, Oil on Flashe Paint on Canvas, 42″x 228″ overall. Installed at Cindy Lisica Gallery. (source: Burko/Lisica)

GH: A number of your images show paint that has dried and cracked, and that look like crevasse-filled glaciers photographed from the air. What associations do you see between paint and ice?

Elegy for Grinnell, Montana, D. Burko, 30"x 30" (source: Burko/Lisica)
Elegy for Grinnell, Montana, D. Burko, 30″x 30″ (source: Burko/Lisica)

DB: The pieces you are referring to are part of a current series called “Elegies.”  My intention is to provoke an uneasy visual tension in response to these fictional images, where the viewer struggles to make sense of the material as if they are actually seeing photographs of aerial views of melting glaciers.

I found a painting material which indeed mimics patterns reminiscent of the cracking of ice revealed in aerial images of polar seas, glaciers, and ice fields. I’m particularly pleased with this development because it joins both my practices, painting and photography, in a unique combination.


GH: Some of the images in your show are pairs–two images, both the same size, placed side by side. Other images are hung separately, though there are other images of the same size. How do these two approaches work together?

DB: The paired images you are referring to are part of a series of another recent project called “Deep Time.” All ten pairs, based on a 2015 expedition to Argentina’s Patagonian Ice field, are a metaphoric exploration contextualizing geologic time. The past and present are contrasted in these large scale images. The left represents the history of evolutionary planet memory, where change happens over millions of years. The right conveys the idea of “now,” where melting glaciers threaten devastating change. The right hand images taken on top of Patagonia’s Viedma glacier are emblematic of all the melting glaciers I witnessed in the Polar Regions.

I tend to work in series, pursuing an idea to its conclusion. That’s why you see a number of same-sized images displayed together. They are usually clustered around the same concept.

I’m thrilled that his exhibition presented both my practices with the Quartet and four images from my Landsat series representing painting, along with two of my most recent photography projects, Deep Time and the Elegy Series.

Seabed Fossils, Upsala and Viedma Traverse II archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40" x 60" (source: Burko/Lisica)
Seabed Fossils, Upsala and Viedma Traverse II, D. Burko, archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40″ x 60″ (source: Burko/Lisica)
Bedrock, Ilulissat Glacier II and Viedma Traverse II, D. Burko, archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40" x 60" (source: Burko/Lisica)
Bedrock, Ilulissat Glacier II and Viedma Traverse II, D. Burko, archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40″ x 60″ (source: Burko/Lisica)


GH: Some of your images include maps that show the location of the objects they depict, and some include the sites in their titles. Others lack these identifiers. How do you see these as complementing each other?

DB: My work is about climate change. My goal is to communicate the urgent threat it poses to our environment.  I endeavor to do this through the knowledge I’ve gained studying geology, collaborating with scientists, and bearing witness in the polar regions. I translate all this experience into my language as a painter utilizing various visual devices. Sometimes I introduce a map into painting as a visual prompt, like this one of Greenland which informs but also connects aesthetically with the painting in terms of color, etc.

I always use titles that acknowledge the original source of the image, which can include the date an image was taken and the agency or individual who provided the data.  In my Landsat series (four of which are included in the exhibition), each tile identifies the particular agency (usually NASA) and what you are seeing.

GH: You have shown your work about ice in a number of cities. What has been your experience showing them in Houston, with its warm climate, coastal location, and vulnerability to hurricanes?

DB: I do hope the audience in Houston does make the connection you have! That is one of the reasons I enjoy exhibiting all over the country— and having the chance to speak to the viewers. I understand from my gallerist Cindy Lisica that people were indeed reacting not only to the art but the message it conveyed.  She told me how one patron was showing her friends the recessional lines and explaining what they actually meant.