Science in Disguise in The Philadelphia Inquirer

July 29, 2013 - Philadelphia, PA

By Edith Newhall

Those who go to the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum expecting to see art in Sensing Change may be disappointed—the majority of works in this show are earnest, science-bound investigations of climate change. That’s not to say they aren’t absorbing in their own way—many are. They’re just not art, and I wouldn’t even put several of them in the category of ecological art.

One of my favorites, and possibly the show’s least artlike piece, is Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg’s Wind Map, a digital map that allows viewers to see wind speeds and currents throughout the United States. It is fascinating to watch—even humbling and a bit scary, given the weather events of the last few years—and the air-current patterns created by geography are quite beautiful.

I also enjoyed Roderick Coover’s Estuary/Toxi.City, which combines videos made on kayaking trips along the Thames, the Delaware, and shorelines in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, with poignant interviews with people affected by pollution. But again, not art. While it’s an intelligent, beautifully shot documentary, it isn’t the sort of romantic kayaking art pioneered by Bob Braine in the mid-1990s.

To me, the works that offer the most direct evidence of climate change and are, at the same time, obviously part of an ongoing contemporary art practice are Stacy Levy’s Calendar of Rain, a wall of shelves holding clear bottles of rainwater collected each day from a funnel outside the CHF building (the bottles from June are a mute but powerful testament to climate change), and Diane Burko’s eerily beautiful color photographs of the receding glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana, and of areas near her Bucks County property that have only recently become prone to flooding.

Sensing Change also includes works by Katie Holten, Eve Mosher, and Vaughn Bell.

Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum, 315 Chestnut St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. 215-925-2222, www.chemheritage.org. Free admission. Through May 2.

Link to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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