• Isabella Ji

The Waste Land on Earth?

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

In a world with global warming and shrinking natural resources, what will the future landscape paintings look like? How can artists respond to our culture of disposability and its effect on the environment, people, and communities? Can art move us to take action?


These questions are addressed at the Unbound Visual Arts exhibition “The Waste Land on Earth?” in Allston, Massachusetts. Twenty-four artists reflect on mass consumption, climate change, and industrialized society through a wide variety of media. The outcome is thought-provoking and troubles viewers with feelings of anxiety and despair.


“McVanitas” by Gary Duehr placed human skulls, silver platters and cutlery, and vases of dried flowers alongside McDonald’s wrappers and half-eaten burgers and French fries. These photographs show how mass consumption -“getting and spending” - has shaped the modern experience in industrialized societies. Individuals, families, communities, and institutions have built lives within the consumer economy.


“Coal Ash” by Elizabeth LaPidas is a photographic collage and seems abstract at first, with a palette of grays and browns. At the top of the canvas is a metallic liquid swirl - or is it smoke? - clouds the sky and swells from a faint, lanky skyscraper-like figure. At a closer inspection, the collage shows the burnt-out husks of a wildfire-ravaged forest. In the foreground, powdery ash sits on the water and the viewer can almost smell the chemical fume.

Lapides created “Coal Ash” by setting photos of ash covered ponds and North Carolina’s chemical spills from Duke Energy coal plants against a background of a California forest ruined by wildfires caused by the carelessness of Pacific Gas and Electric.


Madeline Lee’s “Fences” depicts the Somerville Art Farm, a former waste incinerator site aiming to become a community-envisioned public park, urban agriculture oasis, and an arts hub. In Lee’s painting, there are chain link fencing, bicycle parts, and discarded glass bottles that coexist harmoniously with natural landscape. The bright orange “Art Farm” sign declares the the name of a place-to-be. This depiction seems to show natural landscape reclaiming itself like vegetation coming up through cracked concrete.


“World on Fire” “Recycle Earth” “Dirt”

By: Augusta Augustsson By: Diana Sheridan By: Michaela Morse


It is hard not to view any of these artwork without the feeling that the human species is traveling down a truly misguided and self-destructive path. The growing “plastic island” in the Pacific and contaminated water in Michigan are both results from disposability. LaPidas states: “Ultimately, we all use fossil fuels [such as coal] to generate our power, and using fossil fuels makes the environment hotter and that leads to more wildfires.” Disposability is a current global problem. “The Waste on Our Earth?” hopes to close the circle of consequence and action. 


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