We are living in the age of the Anthropocene—the geological epoch marked by humans’ effect on our planet—in Louisiana, where the oil and gas industry is a major part of the state’s economy and culture despite threats to our ever more vulnerable coastline. I create artwork that explores what it means to live in an era of global warming with an uncertain future, and specifically what that means for those of us in southern Louisiana. I connect my message with my medium by divesting my work from fossil fuels through transportation and material choices and in the way I power my studio and artwork. Believing that art has the power to make people feel deeply and question their perspectives, I use my artwork to reach and engage people on the issue of climate change in an increasingly oversaturated information age.
My work connects fossil fuel extraction and plastic production to their roots in the white supremacy and capitalism that have fueled the exploitation of people and the landscape from the times of colonization and enslavement. I draw viewers into an experience that bridges past and present with visions of the future ecosystems that might emerge from our culture’s detritus if we fail to change course.
In art pieces ranging from works on paper to large-scale installations, I bring together unlikely materials in combinations that are often beautiful; they draw viewers in to stay with a work that, on closer inspection, has a deeper burn that implicates them in our collective new realities—challenging them to think critically about their place in this greater network as we coevolve together. My work creates space to imagine what else could be possible now and beyond; it inspires viewers to think about what individual and collective changes are needed for a just transition to a livable future.
Becoming-with: a rhizomatic solar cart. Metal, wire, plastic, cement, sugarcane, recycled paint, soil, Louisiana native and locally adapted vines, LED grow-lights + solar panels, batteries and electrical components, rain-water collection tank, and water pump, 2019. Becoming-with explores what it means to live in Louisiana in a time of global warming. One half of the structure harvests solar energy and rainwater to feed plants on the other side of this portable renewable resource. The installation moves throughout New Orleans powered by humans, becoming a performance piece and an important part of the creative process. Photo by Rush Jagoe
Chalew and friends transporting her work. Photo by Claire Bangser