The Fieldwork of Bells Rapids Bushfires

Global warming has had significant effects on the planet, causing bushfires to happen more frequently. In 2019, Australian bushfires killed more than one billion animals. Scientists have demonstrated that there is a direct correlation between climate change and an increase in fires - this is empirical face, and awareness of these issues needs to be increased.

In my environmental art practices series. I did field research about the February 2021 Bells rapids bushfires. Instead of driving a car. I decided to ride my bicycle., conscious that all energy production on this trip should remain as carbon-neutral as possible. I used this experience as a theme, using charcoal from the bushfire mixed with Chinese calligraphy ink as a pigment, and my bicycle wheel as a brush. Letterpress printed on the canvas indicated the GPS coordinates of the journey. The work is a harmony between my Chinese background and Eastern aesthetic and Western aesthetics of minimalism and conceptualism. 

Wen Dung Chuan, Bushfire Survey, 2021, charcoal from Bells Rapids, Chinses calligraph inks, wooden glue, canvas, 83 x 93cm, Curtin University

Wen Dung Chuan, Bushfire Survey, 2021, charcoal from Bells Rapids, Chinses calligraph inks, wooden glue, canvas, 83 x 93cm, Curtin University

List of Figures

 Wen Dung Chuan, Bushfire Survey, 2021, charcoal from Bells Rapids, Chinses calligraph inks, wooden glue, canvas, 83 x 93cm, Curtin University.

Wen Dung Chuan, Bushfire Survey, 2021, charcoal from Bells Rapids, Chinses calligraph inks, wooden glue, canvas, 83 x 93cm, Curtin University. 

The Motivation of My Art Creation

Many scientists have proven that global warming resulting from the Anthropocene era has
had a significant impact on the Earth. Is there a way to use art to bring about more awareness
of climate issues? Firstly, this article analyses scientific articles by Chris Dickman,
Ignacio Amigo, Tom Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre that describe the relationship between
bushfires and global warming and the main causes behind the increased frequency in
bushfires. Secondly, this work discusses the documentary Tipping Point by Maude Neale.
This film shows how fast the Antarctic ice is melting and the reasons behind this melting.
Additionally, the documentary discusses the impacts of the Antarctic ice disappearing. This
work will also discuss the Nobel Prize-winning Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Jozef
Crutzen’s article ‘The Anthropocene’ to determine the relation between anthropogenic
practices and the Earth. The book Living in the End Times by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj
Žižek will also be cited to define the Anthropocene and to determine what humans will face
in the Anthropocene era. Finally, this book will concurrently discuss the Anthropocene and
art. The article Art in the Anthropocene by Alan C. Braddock and Renée Ater shows via
American artist Xavier Cortada how artists can create artwork related to the climate issue.
Moreover, this study also discusses artwork by Olfur Eliasson and Andrew Sunley Smith that
focuses on the specific climate issues of melting ice caps and fossil fuel consumption. This
literature review combines scientific texts to paint a picture of the reality of the climate crisis
and the works of greatest artists working to fight environment issues by increasing awareness
via fabulous artwork.

Xavier Cortada, Astrid, 2007, Ice Painting. McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica.Reproduced from: website.

Global warming has had significant effects on the planet, and it has caused bushfires to
happen more frequently. In 2019, the Australian bushfire killed more than one billion animals
(Dickman, 2020). Several scientists have demonstrated that there is a direct correlation
between climate change and an increase in the number of fires. In the article ‘The Amazon’s Fragile Future’, Amigo (2020) states that due to global warming, in the past century, the
rainforest temperature has risen by 1–1.5oC on average, and the dry season has been extended
by almost more than one month. Therefore, these factors have contributed to the triggering of
rampant uncontrollable bushfires. With the increase in the rainforest temperature is an
increase in the possibility of bushfires. A longer dry season means a decreased chance of rain
to extinguish fires. Amigo (2020) also pointed out that rainforests have been steadily
disappearing by approximately 15% since 1970, and this damage is because of deforestation
and bushfires. The agricultural industry is a main proponent of deforestation as increased land
use is necessary to support the human food industry, which damages the ecosystem. Lovejoy
and Nobre (2018) reported that the Amazon tipping point for irreversible change is
approximately deforestation of 20–25%. The Amazonian rainforest has a strong hydrologic
cycle; it produces half of its own rainfall. However, the increasing percentage of
deforestation is flipping the Amazonian rainforest into a savannah-like ecosystem. Moreover,
without the rainforest, global warming is going to cause more serious damage. Humans have
the responsibility of coping with this urgent issue and must act before the situation passes the
tipping point. Disappointingly, some of the governments are making decisions that are
counterproductive to preventing irreversible climate change. Amigo (2020) showed that the
Brazilian government is not putting global warming as a priority that needs to be addressed;
instead, the governors are one of the accessories to deforestation. The devastation caused by
the bushfires needs to be prevented, and these prevention mechanism have a notable relation
to global warming. We will need more action to avoid this crisis from getting worse.
Moreover, global warming is also forcing the polar ice caps to melt faster and faster. This is
now an empirical fact, and awareness of these issues also needs to be increased.

Antarctica’s ice caps are melting faster because of global warming. When the ice caps all
disappear, this will not only affect the Antarctic animals but also the human dwellings as
many islands and coastal regions will be impacted by the increased ocean levels from the
melting of the ice. Neale (2008) showed that on the one hand, the Antarctic ice is a perfect
reflector of sunlight. On the other hand, sea water is the ideal absorber of heat from the sun.
Therefore, the glaciers can reflect approximately 85% sunlight. However, when the ice
disappears, this means the open ocean is going to absorb almost 93% of solar heat. What was
once a mechanism that is meant to reflect the heat will turn into an insulator that will absorb
most of the energy from sunlight. This will force global warming to quicken. Neale (2008)
also pointed out the more consumption, combustion and exhaustion of fossil fuel will result
in an increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels, and these greenhouse
gas emissions will further contribute to global warming. Using research data, Neale (2008)
showed that Antarctica’s sea ice was similar in size to Australia in the summer of 1980.
However, in the summer of 2007, Antarctica’s sea ice had shrunk to be almost the same size
as Western and Southern Australia together. These reports show that anthropogenic
developments have changed the ways in which natural systems have operated. The issues
affected by and affecting climate change have led me to research more about the relation
between humans and nature.

The actions of humans on the planet are undeniable, and this impact has created a new
geological era called the Anthropocene. Crutzen (2011) stated that the demand for human
development is changing Earth’s geological epoch. After the industrial revolution, people
need more energy sources to develop, and this has led to developments such as deforestation
for the purposes of urbanisation, agriculture, consumption and combustion, specifically the
exhaustion of fossil fuels. These factors have increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, which has increased by 30% in terms of
atmospheric levels, and methane, which has increased by more than 100% in terms of
atmospheric levels. These factors are causing global warming to happen faster. These
scientists have shown that the Anthropocene is because of mankind’s endless consumption of
natural resources, which has caused an excessive amount of pollution, during the
development process. The Earth’s environment is changing as a result of human development
in more rigorous places. Žižek (2010) also pointed out that the Anthropocene is a result of the
population increasing. As a result of this increase in population, there is an increase in
demand for resources, which directly contributes to the pollution of the earth. This pollution
is triggering a large number of species to go extinct, and all of these elements echo an
apocalyptic point:

Ecological breakdown, the biogenetic reduction of humans to manipulable machines, total
digital control over our lives. (Žižek 2010, 339)

Anthropogenic activities have had an enormous impact on the planet. Because of the
increased energy dependence, pollution has become inevitable. However, these developments
have also caused technology to rapidly improve. We can use the advantages of technology
and knowledge to cope with man-made pollution and invest in new forms of sustainable
energy. The Anthropocene is both a metaphysical concept and a concrete reality. We need to
be more aware of environmental issues. Furthermore, from my perspective, humans should
learn how to live in harmony with the natural environment. Another proactive approach is to
allow artists to apply art as a bridge to respond to environmental issues, and this work is
another way to persuade other people.

Many artists participate in mitigating the effects of the environmental crisis. They create
artwork based on the phenomena happening throughout the planet and use metaphors to
highlight climate change issues to catch people’s attention. Braddock and Ater (2014) show
an example of this via Astrid created by American artist Xavier Cortada. This abstract blue
painting was produced at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica, and it uses a mix of
water-bound pigments from Antarctica’s ice and local sediments to reflect the phenomenon
of the Thwaites Ice Shelf or the Pine Island Glacier Basin, which have started to collapse into
the oceans. This artwork shows how to use the materials and production place as a metaphor
to correlate the melting of the polar ice caps with global warming. Moreover, Ice Watch is another artwork that is a metaphor about the melting of the polar ice caps in the
Anthropocene period. The Danish/ Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson brought several giant ice
cubes from Greenland by boat and directly presented them to everyone at Copenhagen City
Hall Square. People could directly experience the melting of the ice caps (Hering and
Eliasson, 2018). While one work was a painting and another was an installation, both
correlate with the issue of melting polar ice caps. However, Hornby (2017) argues that Ice
Watch created a large carbon footprint in itself. The Ice watch production needed to be
transported, moved and refrigerated, and these actions create an enormous carbon footprint.
Additionally, Ice Watch does not have a direct impact on slowing global warming. However,
in my opinion, Eliasson’s art does impact people’s attention to the global warming issue. He
uses the material to force audiences to pay attention to the reality, and these simple and giant
ice cubes easily draw a great deal of attention. It can cause viewers to understand the issue of
ice melting and become active citizens fighting climate change. However, there is perhaps a
better way to move the ice cubes and to reduce the carbon footprint of Eliasson’s creation.
Another artwork, Carbon Supermacy, created by Andrew Sunley Smith was exhibited at
Fremantle Art Central. This series of installation art included film, paintings and some
burning giant sculptures. By burning objects, Sunley Smith wanted to create a metaphor
showing how capitalists endlessly consume petroleum energy and increase greenhouse gas
emissions (Spencer, 2017). From my perspective, by displaying these burning objects in the
room, the artwork can give the viewer a strong direct impression. Audiences can receive the
message of the artist, specifically the anger that results from fossil fuel consumption,
combustion and exhaustion. Therefore, in my opinion, it is frankly easier to reach people’s
attention via artwork, and conversely, it is easier for people to approach the crisis of climate
change from the perspective of art. Artwork can catch people’s attention based on the
methods and materials used, such as the burning method. Through sharing art, people can be reminded of the crisis we are facing. Moreover, artwork can also increase people’s awareness
or inspire people to take action against environmental issues.

Olafur Eliasson, Ice Watch, 2014, Exhibition. Copenhagen City Hall Square. Reproducedfrom:website.

Much scientific evidence has shown that humans have an enormous impact on the earth.
Beginning with the industrial revolution, anthropogenic activity has resulted in the creation of
a new geological epoch—the Anthropocene. The endless consumption of natural resource
and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions have allowed the development of our
civilisation, but this has also sped up global warming. Global warming has a vital impact on
our ecosystem. It triggers bushfires and also causes the polar ice caps to melt more quickly.
Moreover, global warming will gradually transform the earth into an uninhabitable
environment. People need to be alerted of these scientific findings. However, artists are the ones who have the ability to highlight these issues in a digestible manner as artwork can do a
great deal to catch people’s attention. Many artists are working to highlight the climate issue.
For instance, Cortada and Eliasson use local materials to create a metaphor of the issue of
melting ice caps in Antarctica. Additionally, Smith is using burning to denounce the
consumption, combustion and exhaustion of fossil fuels. From my perspective, the materials
and their usages combined with the context of climate crisis in art are intriguing. By
addressing this context, simple materials can pass along messages to audiences. However,
artists must also be careful of their carbon footprint when creating different artworks. As
Žižek has pointed out, improvements in technology can cause a danger to human society.
However, on the bright side, technology also means possibility, and combining technology
with art can also be another way to not only emphasise environmental issues but also reduce
the carbon footprint during the process. My project will focus on the action of creating art to
enhance viewers’ awareness towards the environment we are living. By studying other artists’
practical work to understand how to apply materiality or methods to metaphor, I wish to
emphasise the issue of global warming in the Anthropocene era. 

List of Figures

Xavier Cortada, Astrid, 2007, Ice Painting. McMurdo Station, Ross Island,
Antarctica. Reproduced from: website. 

Olafur Eliasson, Ice Watch, 2014, Exhibition. Copenhagen City Hall Square.
Reproduced from:website.

Reference List

Amigo, Ignacio. 2020. “The Amazon’s Fragile Future”. Nature, no. Vol 578: 505-507. 4.pdf. 

Braddock, A. and Ater, R., 2014. Art in the Anthropocene. American Art, 28(3), pp.2-8. Crutzen, P., 2011. The “Anthropocene.” In: E. Ehlers, ed., Earth system science in the anthropocene. Berlin: Springer, pp.13-18. 

Dickman, Chris. 2020. “More Than One Billion Animals Impacted In Australian Bushfires”. The University Of Sydney. ne-billion-animals-impacted.html. 

Hering, Micahel, and Olafur Eliasson. 2018. “Watercolours / Wasserfarben, 2018”. Presentation, Staatliche graphische Sammlung München, München, , 2018. Hornby, Louise. 2017. “Appropriating The Weather”. Environmental Humanities 9 (1): 60-83. doi:10.1215/22011919-3829136. 

Lovejoy, Tom, and Nobre, Carlos. 2018. “Amazon Forest To Savannah Tipping Point Could Be Far Closer Than Thought (Commentary)”. Mongabay Environmental News. loser-than-thought-commentary/. 

Spencer, Ric. Curated. “CARBON SUPREMACY INSTALLATION.” (2017). 

The Tipping Point. Directed by Maude Neale. Sydney: ABC Commercial, 2008. 

Žižek, Slavoj. 2010. Living in the End Times, Verso books. 

Using Format