Diane Burko with her work Waters: Glaciers and Bucks, 2007–2011. (Conrad Erb)
The helicopter hovered over mountains of rock that pierce the surrounding ice. Pressing against the frame of the viewfinder, Diane Burko focused her lens on a well-known geological formation. Thousands of feet below flowed Glacier National Park’s Grinnell Glacier, first photographed in the mid-19th century. The glacier’s retreat has been documented through photography since 1938. Burko encountered the glacier in 2010.
“I became totally taken by geological phenomena about monumental landscapes—landscapes that speak about time, that speak about history, and that speak about the planet,” says Burko, an artist whose work is featured in the Museum at CHF’s exhibit Sensing Change. For Burko that moment was an epiphany, one that changed the sources of her inspiration. “I could no longer make a landscape just because it was beautiful.”
After digging through books on glaciology and maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, Burko was pulled into the scientific questions surrounding the melting glaciers she had observed through her camera lens. She found herself working closely with scientists specializing in glacial formations.
Her art is informed by science—and Burko uses her work openly as a tool of activism—but she does more than place scientific findings in a visual context. Her research challenges her creative process: “How do [I] think about this? How can I communicate this? How can I make it into a painting?”
Where science strives for total objectivity, Burko’s images embrace subjectivity and romanticism. “Yes, I do want to communicate these [scientific] issues, but I am not a scientist; I am an artist,” she says. “What do you do as an artist, as opposed to what you do as a scientist, and how do you deliver information? I’m delivering information, but I’m also talking to you about my work.”