Working through eco-anxiety

Gallery 1C03 exhibition showcases dread, despair and resistance

Worried Earth, an art exhibition dealing with anxiety around the climate crisis, is being featured at Gallery 1C03. (Supplied photo)

Many people are taught to plan only for the future. Where do you see yourself in five years? In 15? What’s not often discussed or prepared for, though, are the feelings of despair created by simply existing in the current world. For many young people, the future exists only in a cloud of uncertainty.

Climate change, more recently known as the climate crisis, is a familiar phrase. Less known, however, is eco-anxiety, the term used to describe the emotional impact of said crisis.

Erica Mendritzki, curator of the latest Gallery 1C03 exhibition, Worried Earth: Eco-Anxiety and Entangled Grief, describes eco-anxiety as a pervasive feeling. “It’s just this feeling of dread about all of the problems in our environment.”

For many, this state of anxiety becomes permanent and begins to filter into everyday life. For Mendritzki, these feelings were present whenever she bought something.

“I (would think) what’s the future life of this object, this piece of plastic that I’ve just brought into my life,” she says.

Similar feelings prompted local artist Connie Chappel’s latest work, currently on display at Galery 1CO3. Stone Lung is a reflection on the things people share with nature.

Chappel’s creation is composed of both natural and synthetic materials. She was given the root and embedded stone and later added pieces of plastic netting sourced from vintage curlers. The latter provide a commentary on the human need to beautify and preserve, even in death.

Plastic is a physical reminder of the consequences of human greed and the need to consume without considering what it may cost others.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to slow down, to look at the world and everything many humans take for granted. It also provided chances to spend more time outdoors and reconnect with nature. For Chappel, more time spent outside only increased her awareness of the similarities between humans and nature.

Mendritzki encourages those struggling with feelings of eco-anxiety, to continue “looking for ways to find life meaningful, by connecting with the world in positive ways”. Art then, not only unites communities but may also serve as a bridge between where humanity is and where it wants to be.

Chappel encourages anyone who has ever had the desire “to make art, to see the beauty in art, to just pick something up and try.”

In a world where nothing is certain, all you can do is take it a day at a time. “With eco-anxiety, it’s not so much about getting over it or feeling better,” Mendritzki says. “It’s living with it and finding ways that you can have joy as well as those feelings.”

“I’ve come to realize that maybe answers aren’t quite what we need to be looking for. It’s continuing to live, finding ways to take one day and then another day, and that the process of figuring it out is maybe as important or more important than the answers.”

Both artists recommend connecting with the world in positive ways, such as being in nature or speaking with others who share similar feelings of eco-anxiety.

“I think we need to pay attention to what artists are doing, what scientists are doing, and the collaboration between them,” Chappel adds.

Currently, Winnipeg is hosting two ecofocused art shows, offering anyone who would like to attend the chance to view Chappel’s piece as well as many others. The Manitoba Craft Council is also hosting an exhibition, titled Eco-Craft, which begins Sept. 9.

Gallery 1C03 is planning to show a selection of films that deal with eco-anxiety and grief related to the climate crisis.

Gallery 1C03 is the official art gallery of the University of Winnipeg. It can be found across from the Info Booth. Worried Earth runs from Sept. 12 to Nov. 10.

Published in Volume 77, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 8, 2022)

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