Creativity meets climate change and its impacts in a compelling new exhibition at the La Jolla Historical Society. “Weather on Steroids: the Art of Climate Change Science” is the result of a collaboration between climate scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and eleven renowned artists, mostly based in San Diego.
The exhibition, which opened in February and runs through May 21, showcases a wide array of artistic styles ranging from sculpture and photography to mosaic and sound. Science and empirical data served as inspiration for the artists, who in turn created a visual dialogue about the vexing problem of climate change. (See photo gallery here.)
According to Heath Fox, executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society, this project seemed like a perfect opportunity to pair artists with scientists from Scripps Oceanography, a world leader in climate change research.
“The La Jolla Historical Society’s mission is to connect this community’s very diverse history in a way that makes it relevant and meaningful for today’s society—interpreting the past in a way that informs the present, which will then help shape the future,” said Fox. “Scripps has been in the La Jolla community for over a century as a prominent global environmental research center, so we were interested in connecting to that history.”
The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, provides an opportunity for climate scientists to inform non-scientists about climate change—which has become a highly politicized topic, especially in recent months.
“My profession is now the most politicized in the country, so I love the fact that this exhibit is giving us opportunities to speak directly to the public,” said Alexander “Sasha” Gershunov, a Scripps research meteorologist and science consultant for the exhibit. “Scientists are basically trained to communicate with other scientists. We write these peer-reviewed journal articles that a layperson, no matter how educated, cannot easily understand. But art is something that is accessible to everybody, regardless of your educational level or cultural background or language that you speak.”
The initial concept for the Weather on Steroids exhibit developed several years ago through a conversation between Gershunov and friend Tatiana Sizonenko, a UC San Diego alumna who had just received her PhD in art history. Sizonenko had previously worked with Fox when he was assistant dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego, and the two later connected to begin curating the exhibit along with Gershunov, who coordinated the scientists’ involvement and collaborated with several of the artists.
Sea-level rise, drought, and flood are just a selection of the topics presented in the exhibit, which reveals how climate change trends upset the planet’s delicate balance with extreme weather events. Two panels of text accompany each art installation, one from the artist and one from the scientist.
One large piece of sculptural art, “Atmospheric Rivers,” sits on the front lawn of the La Jolla Historical Society and draws attention from passers-by. Created by artist Oscar Romo, who is also professor of urban studies and planning at UC San Diego, the mixed media sculpture is made of recycled and repurposed materials, including bicycle sprockets and sawn-off pieces of glass bottles foraged from the Tijuana River. Romo created the globe-shaped piece after consulting with Gershunov, an expert in atmospheric rivers—which are ribbon-like flows of water vapor from the tropics to higher latitudes that are critical for California’s water supply and pose a flood risk. Bicycle sprockets comprise Earth’s continents on Romo’s globe, while colorful glass pieces form the tropical moisture belt and atmospheric rivers swirling around the planet. The piece brings to focus the beautiful and extreme nature of this weather pattern, which has an increased probability of producing copious rainfall as the climate continues to warm.
Artist Eva Struble consulted with Scripps scientist Richard Somerville before creating “Future Souvenirs,” a series of 60 screen-printed antique-style flags that address current and future effects of climate change on California’s agriculture. The souvenir flags depict iconic California crops such as apricots, artichokes, figs, olives, walnuts, and wine grapes—all of which will suffer from a projected increase in the number and magnitude of extreme heat days in the near future.
In addition to Gershunov and Somerville, other contributing Scripps scientists include Michael Dettinger, Kristen Guirguis, Ralph Keeling, Manfredi Manizza, Art Miller, Walter Munk, David Pierce, and Shang-Ping Xie. Scripps alumnus and University of San Diego scientist Michel Boudrias also participated.
Gershunov said he enjoyed finding connections between two seemingly disparate fields and that the overall experience of collaboration has been extremely rewarding.
“When I saw the whole exhibition for the first time, I felt a kind of happiness that I’ve never felt before,” he said. “Two-and-a-half years in the making and then you finally see it—and it’s more beautiful and meaningful than I ever could have imagined.”
Weather on Steroids will be on exhibit at the La Jolla Historical Society through May 21, followed by a move to the San Diego Central Library Gallery Downtown from June 10 to Sept. 3. A number of other public events, lectures, and performances related to the exhibit will take place this spring, including a Perspectives on Ocean Science Weather on Steroids panel discussion at Birch Aquarium at Scripps on April 10 and a public forum on the health impacts of climate change at UC San Diego’s Great Hall on May 25.
For more information on Weather on Steroids and a full list of upcoming exhibits, please visit: https://lajollahistory.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/.
– Brittany Hook