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.

Photo Friday: Juneau Icefield Expedition

Hands-on experience visiting glaciers is crucial for students pursuing a career in glaciology. The Juneau Icefield Research Program is one of the longest-running glacier research programs with a 70-year history of bringing young people to the glaciers of Alaska and British Columbia. In 1948, Maynard Miller, one of the climbers on America’s first Mt. Everest expedition in 1963, led a group of explorers on a first expedition to Juneau Icefield, which includes some 50 outlet glaciers. Ever since, the program has been leading young students from high school to the graduate level to Juneau Icefield, offering opportunities to conduct field research with faculty and explore various glacial landforms and features.

Students begin their traverse from Juneau, Alaska, making their way up the Coast Mountains of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. During their expedition, students interact with the other members of the research group and faculty advisers to collect field data and analyze the data in camp sites, where various tools are provided to assist the analysis. They finish their expedition in the small town of Atlin, Canada, where they give presentations about their group research conducted on the icefield. 

Below are some pictures taken by students, staff, and faculty during their time on the Juneau Icefield.

For more information on the Juneau Icefield Research Program, visit juneauicefield.com.

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Northern Lights appeared above the grand junction of Gilkey and Vaughan-Lewis Glaciers (Source: Deirdre Collins).

 

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Gilkey Trench overlooked from on a nunatak located in the junction of Gilkey and Vaughan-Lewis Glaciers, both tributary glaciers of Juneau Icefield (Source: Deirdre Collins).

 

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A student from 2016 Juneau Icefield Research Program exploring a crevasse (Source: Lucas Foglia, Deirdre Collins).

 

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Arête overlooking the Gilkey Glacier (Source: Deirdre Collins).

 

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Sunset seen from Camp 17, located on a nunatak in Gilkey Glacier (Source: Deirdre Collins).