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How one artist is raising awareness about the world’s most imperiled natural places
As wildfires rage in the West and glaciers vanish across the world, the effects of climate change are unfolding on a global stage. The LA Times reported that in the Alaskan town of Kivalina—83 miles above the Arctic Circle—people are literally fighting to stay afloat as the sea swallows the island they call home. Rising temperatures and the dangerous impacts that avalanche from them, the newspaper explained, have robbed the island of its major source of protection: ice.
But unlike the Alaskan villagers of Kivalina, many people who are not yet confronted with the immediate threats of losing their homes or livelihoods seem fatigued by cautionary climate tales. The scope of the problem is too vast, too confounding, some lament. Where pragmatic science-based messages about climate change fail at shifting behavior, however, art has the ability to step in and stir a visceral response.
“When I was young, if you asked a Swiss, ‘What do you do for fun?’ they would never say skiing or snowboarding because that was always understood.”
Swiss artist Corinne Weidmann grew up in a small village in the Alps, where life has always hinged on the gifts the mountains bestow. “When I was young, if you asked a Swiss, ‘What do you do for fun?’ they would never say skiing or snowboarding because that was always understood,” said the 33-year-old artist who is a part of the Asymbol roster.
Wiedmann has watched with alarm as her beloved Alps—which are exhibiting more pronounced effects of climate change than mountain ranges in other parts of the world—grapple with melting glaciers and shrinking winters.
“Climate change is affecting the Alps from the composition of the permafrost that holds the rocks together, to the volume and quality of snow,” warns the European Environment Agency. “Glaciers are retreating and ice and snow bridges are disappearing. The art of guiding in the mountains is changing as traditional routes become unsafe. Some glaciers, that could be traversed five years ago, have changed. The ice is gone and the rock underneath is exposed.”
A deep appreciation for humanity’s inextricable link to nature compelled Weidmann to create “Emergency Exhibit,” a collection of wistful, chromatic images at the hands of her alter ego, Iuna Tinta.
“I think her work explores the emotionality around climate change in a way that expresses a sort of sad beauty,” said Alex Hillinger, Asymbol’s co-owner. “Her portrait of a melting iceberg entitled ‘Global Warming’ gives its subject a personality and in doing so, seems to humanize the plight of climate change. Likewise, her portraits of glaciers express the delicateness of things we’ve long thought of as mighty forces of nature but now know are well within the reach of mankind’s ability to destroy.”
An avid snowboarder, surfer and skater whose designs have colored Roxy and Unity snowboards to name a few, Weidmann draws inspiration from moments in nature riding snow and waves, and from her travels abroad.
“She has an international perspective on the world,” Hillinger said. “She is not just a Swiss artist or even a European artist; some of her art is influenced by Native American and South American folklore and culture, for example, and I see a lot of Georgia O’Keeffe influence in her work.”
Weidmann’s richly hued, hopeful images contrast the apocalyptic warnings that increasingly inundate national and global media. A thawing glacier in Antarctica, a bronzed Grand Teton and the softening Gorner Glacier in Switzerland—where, Weidmann says, people have begun covering glaciers with fleece blankets in summer months in an attempt to reduce melt—spur dialogue about the responsibility people must assume to protect these special places.
“I think it is important that the message is not only about destruction,” Weidmann said from her London studio. “If you watch the news, you become depressed and that discourages people. It makes them think that it is too late.”
After learning about Asymbol’s ethos, rooted in adventure and outdoor exploration, Weidmann contacted the Jackson gallery founded by pro-snowboarder Travis Rice and artist Mike Parillo in the hopes to become a part of its roster. Hillinger said it is potentially cumbersome to work with artists when they are based in far-flung places but that Weidmann is an exception. “When she first contacted us, we said we were interested but we didn’t know where this could go,” Hillinger said of the young artist who debuted on the Asymbol roster last spring in the “Wandering Eyes” show in Portland, Oregon. “The experience of working with her has been awesome, she has such a strong work ethic coupled with true artistic ability.”
Hillinger hopes that bringing Weidmann’s work to Jackson Hole, where the human populace is deeply connected to the natural environment, will spark necessary discussion. “When art is done well it can raise issues and create dialogue around important topics better than anything else can,” he said. “As a Jackson-based company, we feel a special responsibility to raise issues that help us talk about things like climate change and the natural environment, both of which are under constant pressure from human activity.”
Robyn Vincent is a Jackson Hole journalist and the sleep-deprived, travel-obsessed editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine.