The Angry Blue Planet

The Harrisons urge us to think big, and globally, now.

The Copenhagen summit may have fallen somewhat flat, but there’s little time for teeth-gnashing and garment-rending. Certainly Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, stalwart eco-artists who have focused on global warming since 1974, are unshaken. Their multimedia art-and-consciousness-raising project, Green House Britain and the Force Majeure, marshals an impressive barrage of maps, text, models, and digital animations to present both the unpleasantness that will result from our inaction and thoughtful proposals to save the planet, even now.

Force majeure is a legal term for unforeseeable, irresistible “acts of god” (fire, flood, earthquake). Within the Harrisons’ context, that superior force is anthropogenic global warming, with its attendant horrors — rising sea levels, changing weather, disruptions to agriculture and commerce, social dislocation, and resource wars. The prosecution’s evidence is impressive. “On the Island of Britain: The Rising of Waters” is a painted plywood relief model of Britain onto which video projectors paint dynamic storm surges. “In Defense of Bristol” is a digital animation proposing the construction of an Avon Gorge dam to protect the city from flooding. “The World Ocean Is a Great Draftsman,” a wall relief, posits a Great Britain gradually diminished by various rising sea levels in five-meter increments (pick your favorite archipelago!). “The Mountain in the Greenhouse” is a digital animation outlining the upward migration of alpine plant species as glaciers melt. “Tibet is the High Ground, Part II: The Force Majeure” illustrates the drainage basin of seven Himalayan rivers, home to 1.2 billion people in ten countries, also threatened by glacier melt. “In the Sacramento San Joaquin Drain Basin: The Force Majeure” shows how a three-meter water rise changes coastlines from the San Francisco Bay to Sacramento.

There is a bright side, however: “On the Upward Movement of People: A New Pennine Village” and “The Lea Valley: On the Upward Movement of Planning” are designs for ecologically rational settlements set within “upland streams/riparian habitat/with little dew ponds … a new form in the British landscape mosaic.” “On Eco-Civility: The Vertical Promenade” imagines a “vertical village” of sail-like white spires (designed by the architectural firm ATOPIA), a self-sustaining, funicular-equipped “homeostatic community” that will end the “social alienation of Big Box Buildings.” An artists’ conversation with Peter Selz takes place on January 30; a panel discussion on environmental art, moderated by Susannah Hays, takes place on February 20; see web site for specifics. Green House Britain and the Force Majeure runs through February17 at Kala Gallery (2990 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). 510-841-7000 or


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