Q & A with Artist Activist Diane Burko

Diane Burko, Coral Life Cycle 4, version 2, 2018, Acrylic on Canvas, 20″ x 20″

Diane Burko is an artist whose practice is situated at the intersection of art, science and the environment, embracing issues of climate change. Burko began almost 15 years ago by investigating glacial melt and sea level rise and now focuses on our oceans and coral reef ecosystems.

“The impact of climate change all of over the planet interests me, as a research-based artist, I collaborate with scientists by visiting their labs, studying and incorporating their data in my work. I also bear witness. I’ve investigated the ice fields of Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard and Alaska as well as the southern polar regions of Antarctica, Argentina’s Patagonia, and the melting glaciers in New Zealand’s southern alps. I’ve investigated our ocean’s coral reef eco-systems in Hawaii and American Samoa. In October 2019 I explored Chile’s Rapa Nui and Atacama Desert – other areas of the world also threatened by climate change.”

Burko’s inclination is to witness, translate, and communicate scientific information through her paintings, photographs and time-based media. “It’s how I personally and professionally counter climate doubt – my way of entering into the public discourse with the goal of moving the viewer to reflect, take responsibility and act.”

Left: Diane Burko, Grinnell Glacier Overlook #3 1920 NPS Archive, 2010, oil on canvas, 24″ x 48”
Right: Diane Burko, Grinnell Glacier Overlook #4 2008 after Steven Mather, 2010, oil on canvas 24″ x 48”

As you began your early career as a painter, what was the defining moment that led to the leap into photography and presenting your work through both mediums?

The camera has always been part of my tool kit. As a landscape painter who’s attracted to large monumental geological phenomenon – taking photographs onsite and from the air is my main method of recording the experience.  Those images along with on-site sketches are the sources I reference back in the studio.

Around 2000, I realised that some of my photographs were strong enough images themselves, and so I began to print from slides and then later process 4×5 film. I became more enthusiastic and productive when digital processing became available. Recently I’ve added time-based media, lenticular’s and video to my practice.

Diane Burko, EQI SERMIA CALVING 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2014
Diane Burko, Morning Sail, August 6, 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2014
Diane Burko, Spert 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2013

Having visited so many isolated areas of the world within your field of work, what has been the most alarming viewpoint or information you have gained whilst documenting the areas you have visited?

The glaciers retreating is so obvious and compelling as evidence of global warming. All you have to do is just reference earlier views of the same spot to see it before my eyes.

Diane Burko, Nunatak Glacier 1, 2, 2010, oil on canvas 60″ x 134”

Is there a pivotal moment within your career that led you to create informative art?

My art always informed the viewer of the landscape which enthralled me. But connecting that site with issues of climate change first occurred to me in 2006 after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s book: Notebook on a Catastrophe, and having seen Al Gore’s movie: Inconvenient Truth, all in the same year. Because I had painted many images of the alps way back in the ’70s, I wondered if the snow and ice was still there. I began to seriously read and study more about global warming. 

Diane Burko, UNESCO National Heritage 2, 2015, oil and flashe paint on canvas 42″ x 72”

Can you explain your relationship with scientists and how you use their information to influence your art?

I see scientists as kindred spirits. We are each involved in a creative process:  curious, wanting the challenge of solving problems, making connections and discoveries, trying new methods/materials, thinking outside the box, connecting the dots and taking risks.

While both Art and Science are basic for a civilisation to thrive, I see Science to be more crucial. It has advanced our lifespan through vaccines, life-saving drugs, and implants, taken us to the moon and given us the internet, although we need Art to help keep us human, empathetic beings.

I am a “science-curious” person. Caring about our planet requires more than an emotional desire – it requires knowledge. Scientists provide that for me by sharing research, which I deeply appreciate. They in turn appreciate how I fold that into my work and into my public engagement. We have a symbiotic relationship.

Main Rongbuk Glacier Series, 1-3, 2010, oil on canvas, 48″ x 74”, 48″ x 74”, 48″ x 60”

Who are your biggest inspirations within your areas of work, as an activist and as an artist?

As an activist: people like Greta, Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Naomi Oreskes, Elizabeth Kolbert, Rebecca Solnit, Lucy Lippard.
As an Artist: Mel Chin, Mary Frank, Ólafur Eliasson, Helen and Newton Harrison, Eve Mosher, Edward Burtynsky and James Balog

Arctic Peninsula, 2015, oil and flashe paint on canvas, 20″ x 20”

Explain your thought & process behind the lenticular series.

This lenticular medium is basically made from an animation comprised of 30 frames from videos of liquid paint moving and flowing on a surface. That animation is then digitally interlaced and printed onto film laid over a lenticular lens. That’s what makes it appear to move as one passes by, thus being an interactive experience inviting the viewer to wonder and engage.

It is the perfect format to communicate the fluidity of my underwater experiences as well as the multiple perspectives from which I observed the reefs. It allows me to express the various colour experiences collected on my expeditions in the Polar regions as well as the Pacific.

These circular images provide multiple interpretations, ranging from a “portal” view underwater to the aerial perspective of a satellite, to a microscopic glance into the movements of polyps – the living organisms of a coral. The series was created in collaboration with Anna Tas, an artist whose métier is “lenticular”.  Together we combined Anna’s technical knowledge as well as aesthetic skills with my on-site impressions.

Diane Burko, Kumimi Beach, Molokai, video simulation of a lenticular print and lightbox, 13.5″ x 13.5″ framed

A note from the artist, Diane Burko

This series was created in collaboration with Anna Tas, an artist whose métier is “lenticular.” Together we combined her technical knowledge as well as aesthetic skills with my on-site experience.

This series invites the viewer to wonder and engage by utilizing this time-based, lenticular medium to provide visual references to my experience bearing witness in the field and in the lab. Thus each circular image provides multiple interpretations, such as a “portal” view underwater, the aerial perspective of a satellite, a reenactment of melting glaciers, or a microscopic glance into the movements of polyps – (the living organisms of a coral.)  The interactive quality of these metaphors invite the viewer to contemplate and discover.

50% of all proceeds from this collaboration will be donated directly to 350.org, an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.

This post originally appeared on Tomorrow Creates and was republished with permission.

Video of the Week: Hiking at Glacier National Park

This week, journey to Glacier National Park in Montana through videos taken this August by Natalie Belew, a GlacierHub writer and recent graduate of Columbia University’s Master of Arts in Climate and Society.

Earlier this week, Belew hiked the Grinnell Glacier trail to catch a glimpse of the rapidly shrinking Grinnell, Salamander and Gem glaciers. The Grinnell glacier, along with Salamander Glacier and Gem Glacier (one of the smallest remaining glaciers in the park), has substantially retreated in recent years. Between 1966 and 2005, Grinnell Glacier lost 113 acres, 45 percent of its total acreage. The videos have been taken from the overlook point and on the trail to the glaciers.

To learn more about Belew’s adventure, watch out for this week’s Photo Friday post.



Read more glacier news here:

After ‘Peak Water,’ the Days of Plenty Are Over

Barsuwat Glacier Causes Flooding and Artificial Lake in Pakistan

Alpine Photographer Reflects on Changing Face of Mountain Landscapes

Hiking Through Glacier National Park for a Cause

Walking the Talk

Shifali Gupta hiking along Trail Crest going to Mt. Whitney on July 4th, 2017 (Source: Shifali Gupta).

The effects of climate change may be overwhelming, but Shifali Gupta is showing us how to take a step in the right direction.

Shifali recently signed up for Climate Hike Glacier, a charitable hiking challenge in which she will hike up to 50 miles in four days to raise a minimum of $3,000 in donations for a cause of her choosing. The hike will take her through Glacier National Park in Montana, one of America’s favorite national parks.

The four-day challenge begins with a hike up to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. On the second day, Shifali and her team will hike from the west side of the Continental Divide to the east side to Many Glacier Valley. On the third day, her team will explore Grinnell Glacier, an iconic receding glacier within the park, a spot for Shifali and her team to witness first hand the effects of climate change.

Climate Hike Glacier aims to raise awareness about climate change impacts as an event sponsored by Climate Ride, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring environmental action through bike rides, and more recently hikes, to raise funds for important causes.

And what better way to raise awareness about climate change than to promote a hike through a national park that is quickly losing its namesake glaciers to global temperature rise? On the final day of the hike, Shifali will be given the option of hiking to a beautiful alpine lake or climbing up to a vantage point with a panoramic view of the park’s changing landscape.

The loss of glacial formations in Glacier National Park have been worrisome: The park went from about 150 glaciers in the 1800s to only 26 glaciers today. According to a U.S. Geological Survey study, some of the remaining glaciers have lost 83 percent of their mass, while the average loss across all glaciers has been 39 percent.

Grinnell Glacier (Source: Lisa Soverino).

The Inspiration Behind the Hike

This is Shifali’s first Climate Hike. She grew up in India and came to the United States for graduate school, earning her master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University. The program helps professionals and academics understand and cope with the impacts of climate change on society and the environment.

GivePower Project 2016 (Source: Shifali Gupta).

For Shifali, applying the knowledge she gained in graduate school meant working at SolarCity, where she had the opportunity to give back to a community in Nepal.

“I was given a chance to be part of a GivePower team to install a solar battery system in a village that is so far removed that you can only get there by hiking about 5 miles from the nearest road,” Shifali told GlacierHub. “The idea was to use these clean energy sources to power their grain mill to provide a more secure source of food, as opposed to when villagers would have to travel roughly 10 miles in rain or shine.”

Shifali explained that she was inspired to participate in Climate Ride by her teammates at GivePower, a nonprofit focused on giving clean energy to otherwise neglected communities in developing countries around the world. Having participated previously, her colleagues were able to raise roughly $5,000 per-person in past Climate Ride events. Shifali said she finally decided on her birthday last November to sign up herself to raise money for GivePower.

Climate Ride, which started in 2008, has already inspired over 1,986 participants like Shifali to raise more than $3.5 million in donations for causes all over the world.

Shifali with her Tesla/SolarCity hiking group (Source: Shifali Gupta).

Shifali decided to join the hike instead of the traditional ride because she was more confident in her hiking skills than her biking skills. She says that the hike also allows her to check “going to Glacier National Park” off of her bucket list.

Simultaneously, she gets to support a cause she believes in. When speaking to GlacierHub, she said it was a “no-brainer” for her to select GivePower as her partner nonprofit.

GivePower currently has projects in Haiti, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Congo. Solar installations power water pumps to improve access to water, and GivePower installs microgrids in local communities to power mills or refrigerators. They also use solar panels to power schools, medical centers, and increase connectivity through mobile network access.

Shifali is looking forward to the hike and says that it couldn’t have come at a better time.

She plans to pursue further studies and hopefully join more rides and hikes in the near future. She also hopes that more people will join the hike. As of writing this article, Shifali is $2,258 away from her goal. To support Shifali’s cause click here.