Documenting the Anthropocene
New York City based artist Justin Brice Guariglia’s recent work focuses on what geologists call the Anthropocene - the current geological age, where human activity is leaving its mark in the fossil record. He talked to writer Marie Knowles about his stunning interpretations of our changing planet.
Exhibited around the world, Justin Brice Guariglia’s stunning interpretations of human-impacted landscapes gives the audience a startling view of the natural world in crisis.
“It’s clear that responding to climate change is the moral imperative of our time… as the world becomes more disorientating, art will play a more critical role in society because of its unique ability to make reality apparent. Art can help us question and challenge our existing moral, philosophical, and ethical assumptions—in that way, art has the ability to transform us, our society, and our politics.”
A permanent mark
A thin, black tattoo zigzags along Justin Brice Guariglia’s arm. It’s a physical and visual embodiment of climate change. The line tracks the global rise in temperature between 1880 and 2016, as recorded by NASA’s GISTEMP index.
Artist Frances Segismundo used black carbon – an integral component of global warming - made from soot and ash to create the permanent lines. Justin had the tattoo applied to his body in 2016, on the day the term ‘the Anthropocene’ was formally applied by geologists to the geological epoch we are currently in.
“We live in unprecedented times. It’s amazing to think that humans have become the greatest geological force on the planet, and that our civilization is leaving a permanent mark in the fossil record.”
The Anthropocene is the subject of Guariglia’s recent work. Beginning in 2015, Guariglia began flying on earth science missions with NASA scientists over Greenland where he was able to document the islands' rapidly disappearing glaciers.
In the studio, Guariglia uses the photographs he’s taken and creates artworks that produce a sense of awe and humility. Working with media such as polystyrene and aluminium - both markers of the Anthropocene - he transforms the images into physical objects that transcend the photographic medium.
Guariglia’s art is meant to get people to engage with the inconvenient truths of climate change, global warming and the ecological crisis we currently face. He takes vast, global issues that can be hard for people to perceive, and gives the viewer an object or visual they can engage with on an individual, human level.
“What we see here no longer exists,” said Tim B Wride, speaking at an exhibition of Guariglia's work at the Norton Museum of Art in the United States. The curator was highlighting the artworks’ stark message - images of glaciers that have disappeared, printed on materials that will outlast us all.
Featured in the collaboration is one of Greenland's most important glaciers, the Jakobshavn Glacier, also known as a 'galloping glacier' due to the rapid speed at which it's melting. The oldest ice on Greenland is approximately 110,000 years old, and if it were all to melt, it would raise global sea levels by up to 6 meters. Greenland's glaciers and icesheets are melting around the clock in remote isolation. Out of sight, out of mind, yet Guariglia’s work allows us all to bear witness.
Guariglia’s art is irresistibly engaging. Intriguing natural textures and shapes draw the eye in, bringing the viewer closer, only to discover the reality of what the image depicts - a deteriorating glacial surface, or an agricultural landscape. The images are beautiful but terrifying, dazzling yet disturbing.
For Guariglia, it’s raising awareness and igniting forces for change. “It’s time to rethink our relationship with the natural world, and reimagine a more sustainable future for generations to come.”
At icebreaker, we are inspired by people with purpose – the progressive thinkers, makers, creators and doers. We aim to provide a platform for their voices to enable greater visibility of our natural world.
Looking to the future of icebreaker, our collaboration with Justin Brice Guariglia provides an opportunity for disruptive conversations and enables us all to consider more closely the impact of our daily choices on the planet – from how we shop, to how we commute, or what clothes and fibres we choose to wear.
“Through my art and photography, I'm relentlessly trying to draw people into the natural world, and this collaboration is no different. I've worn icebreaker’s natural apparel in the field for over a decade, and I carry the philosophy of the brand close to my heart.”
Justin Brice Guariglia
We are the asteroid
Documenting the Anthropocene continues the conversation that started with the WE ARE THE ASTEROID T-shirt collection. The conscious statement “WE ARE THE ASTEROID” reflects on how humans have become the greatest geological force on the planet. This engaging aphorism is part of a series of “eco-haikus” that Guariglia created with eco-philosopher Timothy Morton, author of Hyperobject: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, and are displayed on solar-powered highway message boards in public spaces to convey the current ecological crisis.
Popular phrases include: WARNING: HURRICANE HUMAN; TRIASSIC WEATHER AHEAD; THERE IS NO AWAY; GOODBYE ARCTIC ICE; and WE ARE THE ASTEROID. The project continues to appear in various iterations in venues around the world to this day. Learn more about the artwork here.Shop collection