Open from July 21 to Oct. 29, the group exhibition “Connecting the Drops: The Power of Water” is on display at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery. It showcases the work of seven female artists focusing on environmental justice and using water as a figure element in their projects to exhibit its vital role in the world.
At its core, the exhibition looks to discuss topics like the social impact of climate change, access to clean water, glacial melting and carbon absorptions of the ocean.
The works featured — created by artists Lillian Ball, Betsy Damon, Erin Genia, Alicia Grullón, Courtney M. Leonard, Mary Mattingly and Jaanika Peerna — include sculptures, a room-size interactive video game, beadwork based in indigenous practice and more.
The exhibit opens with an essay by Long Island-based science writer, artist and activist Erin Cirino that explains how Long Island is particularly affected by climate change. Cirino specifies that seawater on LI permanently gains about 0.10 inches to 0.16 inches on its shoreline yearly, and that is “a rate fifty percent faster than the global average of 6.5 inches over the last 100 years.”
As many of the installations highlight, Long Island’s environmental predicament is dire, especially for those most vulnerable to this social injustice. Cirino describes some of the contributors of the injustice to be issues like landfills, incinerators, leaking subterranean petrochemical tanks, among others which cause fundamental harm like contaminating the drinking water.
“Who suffers most from pollution and a lack of clean water but repeatedly Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities. This is injustice, clearly. Yet, the systems fueling destruction carry on with their lethal business as usual” Cirino wrote.
Curated by Karen Levitov, the director and curator of the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, the exhibit’s illustrated brochure also contains a Q&A with the artists further describing the impact of their work and what they intend to inspire with it.
The most recent event at the gallery was “Weekly Ice Melts” on Sept. 16, which was an art installation as a part of artist Jaanika Peerna’s work, “Ice Memory.” On Wednesdays in September and Thursdays in October.
The gallery describes the project as one where “core samples of the world’s vanishing glaciers are being archived in long preserved frozen cylinders to retain a tangible record of past climate changes.”
Every week at the event, ice is inserted in a perforated tube at the top and allowed to melt onto the drawing, and with the release of water, the drawing itself slowly transforms each time.
Peerna, an Estonian-born artist and educator, exhibits environmental passions through drawing, installation and performance, specifically focusing on natural phenomena such as light, air and water. “Ice Memory,” which started in 2021, is created with pigment pencil and ice on a plastic Mylar tube. Much of Peerna’s work, which has debuted all across the world, centers on drawing attention to the environment and natural elements and the present issues it faces due to climate change.
“Ice Memory” is also an ode to the phenomena of glacial melting and the essentiality of water, just like Peerna’s book Glacier Elegy, published this past March. The book presents a look into several impactful past performances and works centered on the issue. In conversation with The Statesman, Peerna shared some of the influences that drew her to the passion of observing natural phenomena and wanting to address it through art.
Growing up, Peerna was an avid figure skater, which has informed her love of ice all the more. “It’s something about the love of ice I had in childhood. I grew up in Northern Europe, in Estonia, [which] has long winters, so lots of ice, and I also loved being outdoors and ice skating,” Peerna said. “And I think that’s where I sort of got to know the material and really enjoy and value it.”
The goal of the “Weekly Ice Melts” is to have those who attend to be inspired to think deeper about the environment and to look at it head-on. With each performance, a member of the audience is able to insert the ice and see for themselves how it melts away with the piece.
“Now this giant drawing is vanishing over the course of the exhibition as every week ice is being added that melts onto it,” Peerna said. “Knowing what huge masses of ice or glaciers are melting every minute across the globe, and what it means for our climate, it impacts every human and species on this planet.”
The presentation is a specialty of Peerna’s. “It has been somewhat increasingly of interest to me to somehow make art that is really in transition because life itself is so much in movement and change; it’s never the same,” she said.
From studio artist to now also a performance artist, Peerna’s shared the thought process behind the importance of the piece being interactive.
“I want people to witness change, and maybe by bringing a piece of ice that melts in my hands as I perform and as I share the ice with my audience, or making a drawing that changes over time, people can come back and witness the change and maybe feel some of the loss, and try to imagine what was there before,” Peerna said. “So many of the changes that we’re talking about are related to climate change.”
Witness the next “Weekly Ice Melts” on Wednesday, Sept. 21 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Zuccaire Gallery on the first floor of the Staller Center.