“Criminal evidence, not scientific evidence, as gathered from sites of slow crimes in progress.”
For the past decade, Amy Balkin has focused on projects concerning climate change, the public domain, and the commons broadly construed. Her work is characterized by ongoing interventions with national and supranational systems—political, legal, and economic in scope—as is the case with the Public Smog project, her ongoing attempt to create a “clean air park” by buying carbon emissions and then keeping them back from use, and also pushing for the Earth’s atmosphere to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In contrast to these explorations that intercede in bureaucratic systems, A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting, which Balkin has been steadily cultivating along with co-registrars Malte Roloff and Cassie Thornton since 2011, uses a form that is new to the artist. This archive moves transiently between global institutions, often as part of a group exhibition, where it grows with crowdsourced (not curated) items donated from places that risk disappearing because of climate change. The documents in the archive thus operate as a kind of worldwide record of loss.
I first visited the archive back in the spring of 2014 when it was housed at Southern Exposure in San Francisco, and I was struck by the variety of objects, many of which are cheap and ephemeral: a tin can, a bottlecap, a clip. A People’s Archive takes contributions of “anything that happens to be there,” including detritus, as long as it weighs less than half a pound and includes an explanation of how the location is impacted by climate change (sinking, erosion, desertification, rising sea levels, and so forth). As of 2015, the archive includes objects from Antarctica, Australia, Cape Verde, Santiago de Cuba, Germany, Greenland, Venice, Mexico, Nepal, New Orleans, Alaska, New York City, Panama, Peru, Republic of Komi, Russia, California, Senegal, and Tuvalu. It’s currently on view and open for contributions at Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark.
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