Smoke meets the sky
Smoke meets the sky

Carbon connects the photos and installations of the new DePaul Art Museum exhibit “Climate of Uncertainty,” an imaginative selection of work done by 12 artists with our planet in mind.

Curator Laura Fatemi really need not tell visitors how to experience the art. “The artists gathered here draw in their audiences visually and experientially, using a fresh vocabulary to build a public movement,” Fatemi writes in a wall text. “Each artist begins a dialogue with the viewer, challenging us to action . . . and ultimately to imagine a more hopeful future.”

The “vocabulary” is traditional documentary photography and conventional installation art. No “action” is instigated. Yet there is much that’s worth a look.

Daniel Shea’s surreal Cheshire, Ohio shows a redbrick nouveau mansion in front of a line of trees. In the far background float off-white smokestacks, their plumes blending into a fantastic cloudscape. Pollution from the coal-burning power plant caused the town’s population to fall from 221 in the 2000 census to 132 in 2010.

Chicago’s sky is the subject of Metropolis 41°54’N 87°39’W (Chicago), for which Christina Seely placed her camera along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for a four-hour-and-15-minute nocturnal exposure: Lake Michigan is a black void in the lower half of the frame, Chicago just a thin luminous thread above it. The upper half registers the city’s light pollution.

These images hardly “imagine” a “future,” as Fatemi claims. It’s enough to focus on the present. Terry Evans, hopping helicopter rides with the University of Kansas’s Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, documents a melting glacier in Greenland. Chris Jordan photographs the rotting corpses of albatrosses. Left intact are their stomach contents: colorful plastic bottle caps that drift in the Pacific Ocean.

While you shouldn’t waste your breath trying to “dialogue” with what’s presented here, whatever carbon dioxide you exhale interests Sabrina Raaf. Her Translator II: “Grower” is a small robotic vehicle that measures the gas in the room and depicts it by painting green grasslike blades on the wall.

Carbon is rendered most eloquently in Maskull Lasserre’s Murder, a sculptural installation of 19 crows, carved from wood and then charred by fire. They are blacker than the Chicago night.