A semester-long project unveils six plain concrete globes transformed to depict artistic representations of the climate crisis aimed to spread one message: “We can solve this.”
The project, titled Cool Globes, allows local artists from around the world to create pop-up exhibits that feature unique sculptures of globes. Late last year, the project approached two classes in the environmental studies department at Dornsife College of Arts, Letters and Sciences, as well as the Roski School of Art and Design about the chance to design their own sculptures.
Assigned to interdisciplinary teams, students from the two schools cooperated to design their own globe.
According to the Cool Globes’ website, founder Wendy Abrams established the nonprofit organization to encourage people to confront the issue of climate change and raise awareness about climate change solutions. The Cool Globes Project began in 2005 in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation and premiered its first exhibit in Chicago the following year, with other stops including Geneva, New York and Amsterdam.
Environmental studies professor Victoria Campbell-Arvai, who supports students in this project, helped the members of the class entitled “Cool Globes: Re-imagining Scientific Information Through Design” to identify a global environmental problem they wished to address in the project. She facilitated a conversation about abstract representations of climate change, straying away from plain statistics to evoke emotional responses.
“[We want to help] people to use emotion to bring a meaning to numbers,” Campbell-Arvai said, “to get people to care about [global environmental issues], to want to do something about these issues through their ... individual and political action.”
In turn, Roski students in the design class entitled “Special Projects in Design” developed their own representations of this research, providing a three-dimensional approach to the globes. Design professor Brian O’Connell helped his students make a strong connection between the concrete structures and the larger environmental issue pertaining to the general community.
“The degree to which those have activated a space that has been empty for two years has been really gratifying and fun,” O’Connell said. “It sort of reaffirms the prospect for these kinds of public, physical interaction with the space. They’ve made a huge difference as they’ve been changing and students have interacted with them and sat around and had conversations they haven’t been able to have for two years.”
Both professors said their students gained valuable experience from the interdisciplinary project. Campbell-Arvai said environmental studies students engaged in the issues they learn in the classroom outside of graphs and data, while O’Connell said design students used this project to lean deeper into creating art with more sustainable practices in mind and to design issues like overconsumption.
Two of the projects specifically focused on fast fashion from two different perspectives, O’Connell said. One piece focused on the global scale of trade, labor, and production, and another one focused on the hyperlocal scale of local textile consumption.
Many environmental issues that the Roski students are highlighting in their work are directly linked to design practices. One study from the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion reported that fast fashion companies are the second-largest consumer of water and create 8 to 10% of all carbon emissions. Another study, from the Environmental Health journal of BMC, found that 3.8 billion pounds of clothing are sent to landfills every year.
This globe supported torn pieces of fabric depicting water and landmasses. Students recycled garments to portray abundant waste as a result of rapid fashion consumption.
Other students focused on non-design-related environmental issues as well. Sophomore environmental studies major Katie Robinson’s group planned their globe around the point of view of a bee. She hopes that the globe, which has been painted to be a ball of pollen covered in plants, serves as a commentary on the importance of bees in society.
“Currently, human perspective can be just that bees are meant for us,” she said. “They help support our farming like they work for us. But basically, the bees are just working for themselves, and we’re a byproduct.”
Campbell-Arvai said that the project is all about taking ideas from different academic disciplines to communicate environmental issues that students care about.
“It’s not just the environment,” she said, “it’s about the social impact as well, of global environmental change.”
The globes will be complete and exhibited on Bloom Walk in mid-May.