USF CAM solo exhibitions contribute to climate change conversation

Two new solo exhibitions now on display at the USF Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Tampa challenge observers to examine their own perceptions of climate change -- while being enchanted and entertained at the same time. 

Sponge Exchange by artist and educator Hope Ginsburg and FloodZone by artist Anastasia Samoylova each examine rising temperatures and sea levels, water quality, and the impact of our carbon footprint with both humor and pathos.

The artists’ approaches align with a recent study discussed in ArtNet, which suggests that barraging people with negativity isn’t effective in motivating dialogue and change.

“Gloomy and dystopian works left people feeling depressed and uninspired to take action of their own,” writer Sarah Cacscone reports in the article.

Looking through a different lens

“The issues surrounding the climate crisis can be overwhelming, terrorizing, and paralyzing, USF CAM Curator Sarah Howard says. 

While working with the exhibitions’ artists, Howard focuses on the importance of collectively exploring creative solutions and imaginative resiliency strategies. 

"Art is a powerful tool for stimulating emotional responses to difficult and challenging issues, as it provides for many points of access and multiple perspectives,'' she adds. "FloodZone and Sponge Exchange effectively employ aesthetics, humor, irony, and the surreal and sublime to engage viewers with the deeper issues the work is reflecting, and invite viewers to slow down and consider the impacts from different points of view.'' 

Sponge Exchange, she added, also proposes "a politics of collaboration for addressing the climate crisis, and offers hopeful outcomes and potential future adaptation and resiliency strategies.''

According to USF CAM's elegantly designed brochure, Sponge Exchange expands on artist Hope Ginsburg’s work with ecology and knowledge transfer in two new collaboratively produced video and sculpture installations. 

Swirling, a four-channel video created in collaboration with diver/videographer Matt Flowers and composer Joshua Quarles, and produced with the support of the Wexner Center for the Arts Film/Video Studio Program, submerges viewers in the underwater coral nurseries and outplant sites of St. Croix, capturing the often-unseen coral farming and reef restoration work. The exhibition also features a series of dioramas inspired by the exhibits in Tarpon Springs’ Spongeorama Museum. 

The installation came about as a collaboration with USF School of Art and Art History students during a fall-semester class co-taught by Ginsburg and USF Associate professor John Byrd. 

Ginsburg and her cohorts’ dioramas examine marine issues influenced by the climate crisis. In addition to raising awareness and understanding the deep ties of the health of marine ecologies to the environment and economic life of our region, Sponge Exchange serves as a springboard for proposing productive interventions.

Sponge Exchange also includes archival materials and ephemera from Ginsburg’s 10-year exploration of the sea sponge as a pedagogical model for interdisciplinary and participatory learning. A National Endowment for the Arts Art Works grant and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts helped fund the exhibition.

Making connections leading to collaborations
 
How did Howard and USF CAM join forces with Ginsburg?

“I met Hope Ginsburg at a social practice conference in 2015 and we connected over our interest in the sponge culture of Tarpon Springs,” the curator shares. 

Prominent artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse, recently relocated to Tarpon Springs, also connected with the artist and celebrated with her at the opening exhibition and reception. The couple also has worked on projects at the James River in Richmond, where Ginsburg has also focused her artistic explorations. 

“Robert and I are water people,” Mickett says. “We have been interested in water as a metaphor for collaboration and global connection. We are also interested in what water provides for us, but also our responsibility for its health and well being. Now, especially with our waters warming from too much CO2 in our environment, we are concerned with ways in which the health of our waters can be restored. Our show at HCC-Ybor’s Gallery 114, How the Gulf Turns, is about this issue.” (The show opens with a reception on Thursday, Feb. 6.)

While organizing Ginsburg’s exhibition, curator Howard became aware of Anastasia Samoylova’s FloodZone series responding to sea-level rise in South Florida. 

“I wanted the exhibitions to focus on the local impacts of the climate crisis on Florida’s ecologies and I juxtaposed these two artistic practices and diverse approaches to stimulate awareness and accessibility to the broad range of issues related to our socio-economic dependence on the environment, as well as the physical and psychological impacts of living in a changing climate,” Howard says. 

She added that Samoylova’s photography documents vulnerable and threatened environments both above and below the sea’s surface to reveal human interventions into our natural ocean ecology and the ocean’s intrusion into our constructed landscape. 

Samolylova’s ingenious compositions strike the viewer with their color, stark beauty, and double imagery, and they also help draw attention to critical issues surrounding rising temperatures and sea levels, and water quality; their impact on the health, sustainability, and resiliency of Florida’s environment; and the social and economic life of South Florida and the Gulf Coast.
 
According to Samoylova, Howard and her CAM colleagues did their due diligence in presenting her works the way she envisioned them.

“They totally went with it,” Samoylova says with a smile during the opening reception.

Getting the most from the exhibit

Howard’s takeaways after working with Ginsburg and Samoylova? 

“It has been an immense pleasure to bring their work to our community,” Howard says. 

“Both FloodZone and Sponge Exchange have been incredible platforms to engage a broader audience and establish cultural partnerships with experts, professionals, and organizations working to address the climate crisis. I think this speaks to the power and accessibility of both Anastasia Samoylova’s vision and Hope Ginsburg’s pedagogical and collaborative practice. Through collaboration, we have been able to build community around the exhibitions and expand our networks to generate awareness, shift perspectives, and catalyze action to work together toward future solutions.”

CAM Club presents Films on the Lawn
Feb. 6, 6 p.m.
USF Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) -- The screening features a series of short documentaries, WLNR’s Troubled Waters: A Turtle’s Tale and Jack Black’s Saving Miami. Popcorn and refreshments provided. Presented by CAM Club.
 
Art Thursday: Gallery Talk and Reception with artist Anastasia Samoylova & Ksenia Nouril, PhD
Feb. 13, 6 p.m.
USF Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) -- Join artist Anastasia Samoylova and Ksenia Nouril, Ph.D., Jensen Bryan Curator, The Print Center, in a talk contextualizing Samoylova’s work within the historical and contemporary role of photography in society. Light refreshments will be served and ASL interpretation will be provided.
 
SYCOM for Sponge Exchange + FloodZone
Feb. 21, 7 p.m.
USF Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) -- Students in the USF School of Music SYCOM composition and electronic music studio program perform original compositions inspired by Sponge Exchange + FloodZone exhibitions.
 
Artist Talk with Hope Ginsburg
Feb. 23, 3 p.m.
Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, St. Petersburg College, Tarpon Springs -- Dive deeper into the practice of artist and educator Hope Ginsburg as she presents on her past and current interdisciplinary projects which explore the sponge as a model for the ecological exchange and learning and as a catalyst for social change. Presented in partnership with the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art.
 
Land Dive Team: Tarpon Springs Public Performance
Feb. 23, 6 p.m.
The Sponge Exchange, Tarpon Springs -- The 14th performance in Hope Ginsburg's Land Dive Team body of work proposes the practice of present moment awareness as a tool for coping with the overwhelming fear associated with climate change. This new site-specific, public performance involves trained participants meditating in full scuba gear and a live musical score that incorporates the breadth of the composer. Together they create an amplified immersive soundscape and opportunity to engage audiences in contemplation of our environment and its species. Hosted in partnership with The Sponge Exchange and supported by USFCAM Art for Community Engagement (ACE) funders.

Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto is a St. Petersburg-based writer whose recent assignments include arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine, Florida travel pieces in Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville, as well as features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.
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