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Exhibition advances sustainability through art

Conservation biologists working in the Grand Canyon
October 01, 2014

Are you familiar with the humpback chub?

Visit "Trout Fishing in America and Other stories," an exhibition opening at the ASU Art Museum this Saturday, Oct. 4, and you will be. And if you’re wondering why this chub – a fish that, as its name suggests, bears a slight resemblance to Quasimodo – is worth getting to know, co-curator Ron Broglio can explain.

“The fate of the humpback chub, a native of the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River, who is now endangered, prompts a few important questions; among them, does a sustainable future include such non-human life, and who decides?”

The artists behind the exhibition, Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir of Iceland and Mark Wilson of England, dedicated over two years to exploring these questions. With Broglio’s help, they followed the fieldwork of conservation biologists and their efforts to save two endangered species: the humpback chub and its fellow Grand Canyon resident, the California condor.

After countless hours trekking into and around its depths, Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson captured what Broglio calls a “vertical slice” of the canyon. Their skillfully collected photos, videos and artifacts provide a visual – and, in some instances, tangible – experience of the region and the complex conservation processes that govern its inhabitants. The pieces also convey the ability of a single initiative to change an entire ecosystem.

“It’s really wonderful seeing how the artists take raw data and field experience, then transform it into a visually satisfying representation of an intricate issue,” says Broglio. “That’s the value of art. Scientists may have data and particular solutions, but unless culture and the general population are onboard, those solutions won’t get realized.”

In fact, it is the exhibition’s aim to actualize sustainable solutions that made it possible.

The “Rhetoric and Sustainability” seed grant, offered through the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, sought a project that would foster a sense of environmental stewardship in those who experienced it. Broglio, a senior sustainability scholar, shared this aim. He also knew just the artists for the job, as Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson have spent a decade examining humankind’s regard for the environment.

"Trout Fishing in America and Other stories" represents an ongoing partnership between the ASU Art Museum and ASU Wrigley Institute, one that attracts international artists interested in sustainability. Both units participate in the Arts and Humanities in Sustainability Series, which goes beyond science to understand people’s perceptions of the world and where roadblocks to sustainable solutions implementation lie.

Heather Sealy Lineberry, ASU Art Museum associate director, exhibition co-curator and a senior sustainability scholar, explains how the personal way art is experienced penetrates such roadblocks.

“Artists can really access ways of knowing, thinking and experiencing. They can draw upon the visual and embodied experience, as well as the cognitive,” Lineberry says. “I think it's this combination that is very powerful in engaging a broad public in sustainability research.”

"Trout Fishing in America and Other stories" promises to do just that; to immerse the mind and senses in an experience that is both thought-provoking and profound.

“This exhibition is one of the most elegant meetings of sustainability and art I’ve seen,” says Broglio. “It will prompt people to think outside themselves for another; not only for our future, but for theirs.”

And, if you require further enticing, “The Chub’s the thing” t-shirts designed by the artists will be available in the museum’s gift shop.

For more information on the exhibition, open through Jan. 17, 2015, click here. The ASU Art Museum is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.