Home Social Justice Artist and scholar Una Chaudhuri promotes environmental consciousness through eco-theater

Artist and scholar Una Chaudhuri promotes environmental consciousness through eco-theater

7 min read

Extreme weather? Be extremely nice. Emulate kudzu. Flirt with your bushes but have sex with the trees. These are the kinds of messages Una Chaudhuri wants to instill about the environment through art, drama and performance.

Chaudhuri presented the concept of arts in the anthropocene to a group of students, faculty and community members Thursday night in the Glidden Recital Hall. The “anthropocene” is a term proposed by climate scientists to describe the era of human activity that has a significant impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.

Her project, “Dear Climate,” seeks to answer the question: “What role can art play in the phenomena of climate change?” The website, a collection of posters and meditative audio, creates an experience to satisfy, intrigue, relax and ignite its audience.

The slogans and their accompanying artwork, which range from humorous to phallic to comforting, symbolize Chaudhuri’s movement away from scholarship toward theater projects. A professor who balances her work between the English, drama and environmental studies departments at New York University, she now works with graphic designers, theater directors and activists to make a change.

“The discourse around climate change is terrifying,” Chaudhuri said. “Catastrophe, apocalypse, fear, feelings of shame and guilt.

“There’s a sense that we’ve dug ourselves into a hole that we can’t get out of.”

She sought to counter work like that of Milton Glaser’s “It’s not warming, it’s dying” posters that hung around New York City’s metropolitan area. Chaudhuri wants eco-theater to promote something more ordinary, more familiar.

Examples she cited included Mara G. Hazeltine’s “La Boheme: Portrait of Our Oceans in Peril.” Hazeltine created a series of sculptures representing plankton, the aquatic microorganisms that produce half the world’s oxygen, Chaudhuri said. Hazeltine’s glass pieces have dark-colored strands of glass that symbolize the plastics that have become interwoven with oceanic life.

The promotional video for “La Boheme” features an opera singer weaving his way through the dimly illuminated sculptures, his music expressing the yearning undertones of Hazeltine’s work.

“While it’s on the dark side, while it’s sad and scary, to me it opens these kinds of doors of imagination,” Chaudhuri said.

She also showed video of a performance art demonstration in the Maldives, one where politicians signed an S.O.S. message about climate change while completely submerged in the ocean. Wearing full scuba gear and communicating through hand signals and waterproof slates, these policymakers made literal waves in environmental legislation.

“This strikes me as one of the boldest, most imaginative forms of performance art,” Chaudhuri said. “It’s incredibly literalist and sort of absurd, which mirrors the absurdity of the situation.

“Because of our actions, we serve to lose entire islands and nations.”

The ecosexual movement Chaudhuri also discussed has direct ties to Ohio University. Artist and self-described sexecologist Annie Sprinkle’s “Love Art Lab” project brought her to Athens in 2010. She and her wife, Elizabeth Stephens, traveled to different locations that represented geographic features and staged weddings to the Earth itself.

One such location was the Galbreath Chapel, where Sprinkle and Stephens married each other and the Appalachian Mountains.

Catherine Euler, an adjunct lecturer in the women’s, gender and sexuality studies department, liked Chaudhuri’s approach to discussing ecological issues.

“Conscious change happens in lots of different ways,” Euler said. “It’s deeply poetic and moving to be aware of impending catastrophe in an artistic way.

“With science it can be harder to connect people’s emotions.”

Chelsea Johnson, a sophomore studying graphic design, also felt like Chaudhuri’s presentation left a big impact on the way students saw climate change.

“It’s 80 degrees in November, and that’s so weird but people kind of just don’t think about it,” Johnson said. “I didn’t realize how bad climate change was, but now I see it a brand new way.”

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