Florida's Climate Crisis Inspires Artists Across the Nation

Floridians have plenty of reasons to worry about the environment. Sea levels are rising. Downpours flood our streets. Hurricanes threaten our rich environment.

But it isn’t only Floridians who are worried. Many Americans are following the Sunshine State's story, and artists across the United States are taking action to make Florida’s tenuous environmental reality known.

“I’m an artist doing social practice, and I believe this can really effect change. I really push for [the] idea of facilitation, getting the community engaged. Art has the power of getting people to take action,” says Eve Mosher, an artist based in New York City.

If Mosher's name rings a bell, it’s because she was responsible for a project about environmental issues in Miami in the summer of 2013. Her project, a collaboration with Heidi Quante called HighWaterLine, brought a diverse group of Miami residents together to point out the various neighborhoods, homes, and historic places that would be severely affected if a major storm hit the area. Mosher also launched the site-specific work in other vulnerable cities, such as Delray Beach, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Three years later, Mosher is still making art about the environment. Her latest work, Liquid City, engages participants in conversations and performances about urban waterways. Still in the research-and-development phase, Liquid City aims to bring together both environmental experts and residents of coastal cities in the Great Loop, the water route that circles eastern North America. Mosher plans to build a physical vessel — a “floating think tank/lab” — that brings onboard members of each community to collect data, have conversations with people working on the urban waterways and those affected by them, create minidocumentaries, and build digital maps.

Mosher aims to sail the Great Loop to each city she has chosen, creating a large-scale, participant-based art piece about the issues that plague urban waterways.

“I’m trying to thoughtfully change how conversations about the environment are heard. People working on the future of waterways will hear the stories of locals and take it to the public,” Mosher says.

She’s set to travel to Miami and Delray Beach during her journey. She looks forward to working in Miami again because of the large cultural community and the surplus of artists to engage with in the project. Mosher hopes to secure grant money to help deploy the floating think tank in the next couple of years.

Not far from Mosher is Allison Beondé, a visual artist based in Syracuse, New York. She uses photography to document an environmental crisis happening in her hometown of Stuart, Florida. Her work is rooted in the Anthropocene, the era when human interaction with the environment began to change the nature of the planet. Her photography series, Bloom, focuses on algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River.

Beondé explains why algae blooms are so detrimental: “Take Lake Okeechobee, which is a body of fresh water. It has received an influx of phosphorous and nitrogen from agricultural runoff, pesticides, and pollutants. This deoxygenates the water, which feeds a microcystin that can turn into toxic cyanobacteria. It becomes a bright-blue flush of algae in a toxic blooming state.”

The toxic algae grows spores that become airborne. Anything near the water, such as humans or animals, ingest the toxins, which can cause various health problems.

“People think that it doesn’t directly affect them, but it’s in the air and the water system. Amphibious creatures come in and out of it,” Beondé warns.

The artist's work intends to draw attention to the power hierarchies that contribute to pollution and environmental sickness. “I want to show how the water in Lake Okeechobee is managed and the power struggle between the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management. I want to expose how water is being used or not used as a resource for the public.”

Despite the political nature of her work, Beondé wants Bloom to straddle the line between photojournalism and fine art. Her images also include symbolic and poetic juxtapositions. “You’ll see images of banana trees, bees pollinating flowers, and other beautiful things that are exotic. Then you walk to another photo and are confronted with a large-scale image of the surface of the water. It’s blue and crusty, with platelets moving around like lava and covered in flies. It looks horrible," Beondé says. "The image won’t go away in people’s minds. It’s not out of sight or out of mind. It happened and will continue to happen." 

Boston-based painter and architect Lisa Reindorf also worries about water issues in Florida. “I’m very concerned about climate change. Florida is ground zero because it’s right at sea level. In Boston, we read about issues like toxic algae blooms and flooding. We hear about issues of water supply and rising sea levels. What’s happening in Florida is an indication of what will happen in all coastal areas."

Reindorf's multipanel painting series, Building Into Water, concentrates on the relationship between architectural elements and the environment. Her paintings use high-key colors associated with Florida, such as flamingo pink, turquoise, and coral. The paintings depict aerial views that show the conflict between nature and buildings.

“In the paintings, you can see the architecture intruding into the natural systems, and how nature is responding. The panels show the grid system of the architecture, the free-flowing organic system of nature, and how they butt up against each other,” Reindorf says. Titles of the panels include Toxic Bloom, Sand and Sludge, Tidal Wave, Flooding, and Algae

Reindorf hopes her work encourages viewers to reach out to climate-change organizations. Building Into Water has exhibited in Boston and is set to travel to Berlin next year. She intends to show her work in Miami in the next couple of years.

“As climate change happens, Florida will bear the brunt of it," Reindorf says. "I’d like people to take action now.”
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth