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The Canary Project
Chad Monfreda, 7 Oct 06

belize7.jpgThe Canary Project is bringing us striking visuals of global warming from across the planet. We’ve already mentioned the project a couple of times, so it's worth taking a closer look at what makes it so powerful.

Humans are visual, short-term thinkers. We deal well with acute, visible threats but have trouble mustering the attention to address invisibly creeping, long-term ones. And global warming is the archetypical long-term villain. Concealed and slow, it courts procrastination. Even when we agree on its importance, the clamors of the here-and-now too easily push it from our radars. The Canary Project bridges our cognitive disconnect by exposing what global warming looks like on a scale people can relate to.

The mission of The Canary Project is to photograph landscapes around the world that are exhibiting dramatic transformation due to global warming and to use these photographs to persuade as many people as possible that global warming is already underway and of immediate concern.

Photographer Susannah Sayler and corporate investigator Edward Morris founded The Canary Project in 2005 after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Climate of Man, a three-part series in the New Yorker. Kolbert, in fact, is one of The Canary Project’s advisers. The project enrolls artists and scientists too. Together they make a detective team documenting what global warming looks like in desiccated landscapes, receding glaciers, damaged ecosystems, and rising seas.

As you might expect, the photographs are appearing in art galleries, but they’re also seeping into all kinds of other public spaces. In Denver, 12-foot visuals of global warming are on the sides of public buses. Podcasts are providing material for public schools, and magazines are publishing photo-essays. Free images are also available for groups like UNESCO, which will feature them on the cover of its journal Globalization and Education for Sustainable Development. Ultimately, The Canary Project will release a book combining essays and images to win over even more people.

Why do art and science make such a persuasive team? We’re accustomed to thinking of them as opposites. Science is rational, and art is irrational. Scientists feel, and artists think. Ask an artist if she thinks in her work or a scientist if she feels in hers, however, and you’ll likely get a funny look. And for good reason because art and science actually share a lot in common. Both are meant to be public and display themselves in museums. Both talk about methods, and are open to the internal turmoil those methods can create. Both convey dynamic truths about their subjects, though those subjects may differ. Different subjects, in fact, may be what allow art and science to come together so well.

The Canary Project connects art and science wonderfully, but it isn’t alone. We’ve also talked a bit about other projects like Massive Change and Ed Burtynsky’s landscape photography. Indeed, that landscapes are the focus of both Burtynsky’s work and The Canary Project is more than coincidence. Landscapes are the perfect site for merging science and art into an emotional ecology. They are canaries that have meaning to us. We can connect to landscapes on a human scale and see our lives in them. Although we can’t directly register vastly complex systems like the global climate, landscapes can.

Science makes the imperceptible perceptible by transcribing the extrasensory into paper charts and computer graphs. It intellectually sensitizes us to the world. But unless perhaps you’re a scientist, charts and graphs alone are emotionally vapid. Art, however, picks up where science leaves off by emotionally sensitizing us to what otherwise would be mere data. We would do well to keep art in high esteem, for without it imagination washes out in contemplation of immense scientific truths like an overexposed photograph.

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Comments

The Canary Project is fantastic and so is photographer Susannah Sayler. We've included her beautiful photograph of Mt. Snow in our debut holiday collection of custom greeting cards. Royalties benefit The Canary Project.

Sorry if this is an inappropriate venue... think your readers might find it interesting. Please note all of our cards are 100% pcw recylcled paper, printed with soy +veg inks and we're members of 1%FTP.


Posted by: Evan Schoninger on 12 Oct 06



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