Artist Diane Burko Shows Us Our World, and It’s Vanishing

“Vast and Vanishing” exhibition sign at the Rowan University Art Gallery (Source: Diane Burko).

The environmental artist, Diane Burko, has been on the forefront of documenting the changing landscapes of climate change for several years, as GlacierHub has documented. Her latest exhibition, “Diane Burko: Vast and Vanishing,” will feature large-scale paintings and photographs that offer a striking look into the contrasting world of beauty and despair. It Is currently on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, New Jersey, until April 21, 2018.

Diane Burko is well versed in combining art and science to communicate a message of urgency to those who view her work. She has long collaborated with scientists and researchers to accurately depict their work as well as our world in its state of impending change. She recently spoke with GlacierHub about her current exhibition, as well as her upcoming project on coral reef degradation which promises to take her work, and viewers, into new territory.


GlacierHub: Has the message of your latest exhibition, ”Vast and Vanishing,” evolved since your last series, or is it meant to be a continuation?

Diane Burko: The message is very much the same: we “live in perilous times.” What has changed is the dramatic intensity and speed with which we are all experiencing the effects of global warming on our planet. I guess you could say my personal sense of urgency has grown.


GH:  What served as your main source of inspiration for ”Vast and Vanishing”?

Diane Burko speaking at the opening of her newest exhibition (Source: Diane Burko).

DB: The work in this show summarizes my exploration of how data about melting glaciers can be used to explain climate change visually. Repeat photography, recessional lines, and Landsat imagery are sources I draw from to this end. By borrowing from scientific research, I am translating and transforming such devices into my visual lexicon.


GH: How do you choose which glaciers or landscapes to focus on?

DB: I work with some of the most dramatic examples of how climate change is affecting our landscapes – such as Columbia Glacier, Grinnell, and Jakobshavn in Greenland. These locations and their diminishing volume makes the need for urgency clear.


GH: Your recent work has involved heavily contrasting colors, especially white and black. I’m curious to know, what provoked this change?

“ELEGY FOR GRINNELL GLACIER, Montana” by Diane Burko, as part of the “Elegy Series” (Source: Diane Burko).

DB: You may be referring to a specific group of works I made in 2016, the “Elegy Series.” I chose to use stark and somber contrasting forms of white and black or dark blue to invoke what an elegy is: a poem or lament for the dead. Each painting in this series is a fabrication that I created–and while they are not literal images of glaciers, their abstract, crackling forms reference aerial views of glacial landscapes. Each print is named after a glacier or area in the world whose existence is being threatened dramatically.


GH: I see in one of your Instagram posts that you have changed your cold-weather gear for diving equipment and flippers! How will your art change? Also, how does your new exhibition fit in with your new direction?

DB: My exhibition at Rowan covers paintings I’ve made over the past few years about climate change in glacial regions— and although I may return to the subject in the future, it is a really nice and well-timed bookend for that project. My glacial work is focused on looking at the past–the landscape in years prior— which contrasts with the present state in climate change.

Diane Burko in the process of creating art for her upcoming project “Kai ‘Apapa” (Source: Diane Burko).

I am now working on a new project called “Kai ‘Apapa,” investigating coral reef degradation alongside musicians Evan Ziporyn and Christine Southworth and scientist Samiah Moustafa— we’re producing a multimedia performance and installation with original music, which we hope to present over time at various venues.

I’m also working with the phenomenon of reef ecosystems in my personal painting practice where the challenge and attraction for me is to use this underwater imagery in a way that garners awareness and empathy for a threatened component of our planet.

This work is still evolving— leading me to l experiment with new materials and media such as lenticular images, light box presentations and video.


GH: I noticed you will be presenting your work and participating in an upcoming panel on April 5 at Rowan University. What are you most looking forward to?

DB: My work is deeply indebted to the support of members of the scientific community— as such, I’m so excited to learn from the other individuals on the panel, and from the discussion with the audience. Exchanging knowledge and learning from scientists really exists at the core of my artistic practice. I believe that engaging in conversations with people from a multitude of disciplines can lead to new depths of meaning aesthetically as well as intellectually.

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Be sure to check out Diane Burko’s new project, “Kai ‘Apapa,” as well as her recent book, “Glacial Shifts,” which features 40 of her past pieces and more.