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2. Understanding, Acknowledging, Representing Environmental Emergency
V/ Appropriating

Imaging the Climate Crisis. The Ceramic Art of Horie, Galloway, Snider, and Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska



Cette contribution aborde la question de l’urgence climatique et environnementale par le biais des arts, plus particulièrement à travers les travaux des quatre céramistes activistes nord-américaines Ayumi Horie, Julia Galloway, Amy Snider et Julianna Zwierciadlowska-Rhymer.

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1August 20, 2020 is the second anniversary of the school climate strikes begun by Swedish student and activist Greta Thunberg. Millions continue to walk out of their classes every Friday demanding that politicians and world leaders take the climate emergency seriously. Young people are hopeful for they believe that collectively each of us can make a difference in fighting the climate crisis. Yet two years after initiating the strikes, Thunberg is disappointed. Despite their good intentions, the climate summits and the promises made by politicians, there is no reversal on the human damage to our planet. Thunberg states that the climate crisis is not taken seriously and is worsening:

We still have the future in our own hands. But time is rapidly slipping through our fingers. We can still avoid the worst consequences. But to do that, we have to face the climate emergency and change our ways. And that is the uncomfortable truth we cannot escape. (After two Years 1)

2Thunberg is right. No one has been able to send a message that resonates with humankind enough to bring us out of denial and take the necessary systemic steps to protect our planet from its Sixth Extinction. Indeed, the move to deny any human impact on climate change is growing in the United States under the current Republican administration. The term “climate change” is only used by a few journalists. If Americans, as Jean-Daniel Collomb suggests, delay actions to protect the planet in order to preserve capitalism and the American way of life, then who will combat these ideological attitudes and move humankind forward (Collomb 1)? On her Facebook posting of September 10, 2020, Thunberg said:

Reporting is not enough. Connecting the dots is not enough. Mentioning the link to the climate crisis is not enough (even though it would kind of help…). If we are to have a small chance, this needs to be our main focus. It needs to dominate the news. All the time. (Reporting 1)

3As fires rage on the Pacific coast of the United States on an unprecedented level following some of the hottest summer days in recorded history, many wonder what it will take for the world to come to grips with what is happening and do something to slow climate change.

4Marsha Lederman, The Globe and Mail’s Western Arts Correspondent, spent much of 2018 attending meetings with Canada’s cultural leaders in Banff, Alberta and Montreal, Quebec. The forums she attended focused on how the arts can foster a dialogue about climate change that has meaningful results (11). At their conclusion, Lederman ponders whether artists can save the planet when politicians, economists, and scientists have been unable to find a way that resonates with the public. She suggests the possibility that “the arts can be the planet’s white knight” (7). Lederman believes that if ordinary people can see themselves and their children in the characters portrayed in documentaries or relate directly to a message presented in a work of art, they might be more inclined to listen to the seriousness of the issue and take action. This paper delves into the context in which four ceramic artists, two well-established and two graduate students, create work. Their art is set against the backdrop of an environmental film, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a plastic sculpture, and a coffee cup. Each hopes to inspire others to join together to fight climate change. I am not doing a critical analysis of their work, nor am I confronting the troubling issues and contradictions within works of art and sustainability. Indeed, T.J. Demos rightly states in Decolonizing Nature. Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology, “Even as they seek to raise awareness of climate change and work toward creative solutions…they contribute to the very problem of global warming by virtue of their own carbon footprint, the result of transporting artworks, controlling the climate of the gallery, and printing catalogues” (37-38). I would add that using clay also brings in issues related to energy, social justice, and mining. Amy Snider's work is an exception since her installations use only a limited amount of unfired clay.

5Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal’s Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018) manages with its incredible visuals to demonstrate the severe impact unbridled capitalism has on our planet. Viewers are made to witness the damage that humans are inflicting on the planet, from the exploitation of resources to the extinction of the planet’s wildlife. The direction shows some of the most polluted places on the planet. These include the molten metal and heat in the foundries of Norilsk, Siberia. World demand for lithium batteries is soaring. As a result, vast amounts of land in Chile are used for evaporation ponds. Meanwhile in Germany, the world's largest earthmovers tear down immaculate medieval churches to increase the size of the country's enormous open coal pit. The cinematography is breathtaking, and the colours are beautiful, but the level and speed of destruction of the planet at the hands of humans is undeniable. We are made to imagine a world without wild animals, only visible in a zoo in London. At the same time, the attempts to hold back rising sea waters by building higher and higher concrete walls along China’s coasts is an effort in futility as our planet warms.

  • 1 The term “Anthropocene” was coined in the 1980s by Eugie Stoermer. The term became popular again by (...)

6The goal for Baichwal is to have the name of the current geological age officially changed from Holocene to Anthropocene by the International Commission of Stratigraphy.1 In calling for this, official agencies recognize that human activity alone sent the biosphere spiralling into the Sixth Extinction. In practical terms, this would publicly negate the view of climate change deniers and would, hopefully, cause world leaders to act to save the planet. So far, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) has plans to submit a formal proposal for the name change and the start date of human acceleration on the planet to the International Commission of Stratigraphy (ICS) by 2021 (Sutramanian 2). Films such as Anthropocene have the potential to reach millions of watchers through theatres, DVDs, and streaming channels. Even motivating a small percentage of the population to demand systemic change can have an enormous impact on the biosphere. Can other forms of visual culture reach audiences and impact their desire to slow the extinction?

7A sculpture installation that managed to create shock and awe is Washes Up (Stewart 1). Initiated by Greenpeace Philippines, the fifty-foot beached whale, constructed entirely of plastic collected from the ocean, is considered to be one of the best-known environmental art projects of the past decade. The whale, its mouth overflowing with plastic garbage bags, bottles, containers and flip flops, is an in-your-face commentary on the inability of the Southeast Asian nations to stop environmental degradation. At the launch of the project in 2018, Vince Cinches, Greenpeace Philippines released the following statement:

The ASEAN region’s contribution to plastic pollution in the oceans cannot be ignored and is already way beyond alarming. We are asking the ASEAN membership to take this issue with a sense of urgency and demand that our leaders initiate bold steps to address plastics pollution through regional cooperation, exacting corporate responsibility, and massive public education. (Stewart 2)

8The sculpture was inspired by the death of a thirty-eight-foot juvenile sperm whale in December 2016 on Samal Island in Davao del Norte. The animal had died after eating eighty-eight pounds of plastic garbage eventually obstructing the bowels, the result being that the whale starves to death.

9The director of the project, Biboy Royong, explains how the group decided to depict the dead whale in their replica:

We based its shape, colour, texture, size, and proportion on pictures of real beached whales. We even chose to show a decomposing whale, so we played more with the textures on its skin using plastic trash we have collected. We wanted to surprise the community in the area. For it to work, we had to craft a realistic dead whale carefully. (Stewart 3)

10Royong wanted everyone who saw the beached, decomposing whale to take action. The reason was simple. Curtail the use of plastics by 2050, or there will be more human garbage in the oceans than marine life (Stewart 3).

11The image of one of the world’s most beloved sea animals made out of 10,000 pounds of plastic was startling to visitors walking along the beach just south of Manila. Photographs of the sculpture immediately went viral on every conceivable social media platform. The Facebook pages of Greenpeace Philippines filled with comments. Many said that the photo of the whale was one of the most disturbing things they had seen in their life. Coinciding with the installation, Greenpeace Philippines also launched an online petition calling for all of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take up measures against plastics pollution in the ocean (Stewart 3). The number of signatures supporting the call for ASEAN leaders to take action was more than ever anticipated. The amount of global attention given to Washes Up caused its creators to win several international awards for creativity, design, and the best use of public media. These included the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the Gold Lion for Outdoor Lions, a Silver Lion for Design, the Grand Prix for Outdoor, Media, and Digital at the Asia-Pacific Tambuli Awards, and Third Prize for Best Use of Media: Public Service Outdoor at the New York Advertising Festivals (Stewart 3). To date, Washes Up is one of the most recognized icons created to warn people about the human destruction of our biosphere. However, was it successful in motivating individuals to take action against plastic pollution? The answer is a resounding yes. An announcement dated July 2, 2018, from the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) states that ASEAN has joined the movement to reduce plastic waste (1). Los Banos became the first municipality in the Philippines to regulate the use of plastic bags, while at the same time prohibiting the use of plastic straws, plastic cups and plates (ASEAN joins movement 1). The notice also stated that waste management laws and policies would be revised.

  • 2 All subsequent statements about The Democratic Cup are taken from online comments by Ayumi Horie on (...)

12In another part of the world, Ayumi Horie (Portland, Maine) and Nick Moen (Asheville, North Carolina) decided something must be done about the partisan politics and the toxic atmosphere leading up to the 2016 election in the United States. Could anything challenge the big-budget news channels which were normalizing bigotry and polarizing the American population? Along with Moen, Horie set out to see if a group of designers and makers could sell limited edition porcelain cups to earn money to provide funding for small non-partisan groups to spread their messages of respect and to care. In choosing to make cups, Horie said that they are the “[…] most democratic of objects – everyone has one, and has a lot of them, and starts their day with them…” (on-line statement).2 They called the project The Democratic Cup. Twenty-two different designs represent subjects from violence towards the Black and LGBTQ community to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an advocate for equal rights. The goal of the “conversation starter porcelain cups” was to raise $100,000 to benefit non-profit groups that focused on the ever-present systemic racism and bias towards groups, women's health, LGBTQ rights along with gun and immigration reform, equity and inclusion. The cups sold out immediately. As a result of the project’s success, Horie believes, more than ever, that bringing diverse opinions and creating civil discourse over a simple artefact such as a cup can benefit any number of causes.

13In 2018, building on what she had learned from other projects, Horie partnered with the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis and its curator, Ursula Hargens. Their project, The Democratic Cup. Land of 10,000 Stories, features the work of four different cup makers and illustrators chosen to bring to life the urgent environmental or social concerns of four cities in Minnesota. Those are Winona, New London, Grand Rapids, and Northfield. The single goal was what Horie calls “slow activism”. Slow activism occurs when people opposed to an issue can sit down with a cup of coffee and have a civil and engaged conversation on social and political topics of some urgency. The handmade cups, thus, become an agent of social change.

Figure 1: Ayumi Horie. Vote for Things that Can’t, porcelain 10 x 8 cm with decal, 2016, Image: Molly Bishop, Cup Design: Marc Digeros

14Individuals from each city were invited to join a coffee discussion group in their community. For the citizens of Grand Rapids, the one dividing issue within their community was the proposed rebuilding of the Line 3 Oil Pipeline. The proposal was first made in 2014 by a Canadian company, Enbridge, to bring oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Lake Superior. The new pipeline would pass through Grand Rapids creating jobs. The proposal would, however, violate exiting treaties with the Anishinaabe. At the same time, the pipeline would pass through delicate wetlands where wild rice is grown and cultivated by Native Americans. There are, of course, additional considerations about wildlife and oil leakage. For Winona, the dividing issue within the community is Frac Sand mining. Some view it as an employment opportunity while others with respiratory problems fear the airborne silica. Noise pollution and damage to wildlife habitat are other issues. Affordable housing was the divisive topic in New London. Areas that are currently affordable for an ageing population are being bought up and gentrified. Issues related to race, cultural identity and gender were provocative subjects in Northfield.

Figure 2: Oil Pipeline, Ayumi Horie, porcelain with decal, 9 x 9 cm, 2019, Image: Kim Bogeman, Cup Design: Liz Pechacek

Figure 3: Mining, Ayumi Horie, porcelain with decal, 9 x 9 cm, 2019, Image: Jaime Anderson, Cup Design: Brett Freund

15The goal of bringing divergent opinions to the table to stimulate civil social engagement was key to the success of the project. The curator, Ursula Hargens, says:

In scheduling conversations this past autumn, many individuals contacted were reluctant to sit down and talk to people they disagreed with since they were anxious about inflaming discord within their local communities. A few people cancelled the day of the event. Their reticence revealed an underlying fear present in our current political climate and illustrated the need to create safe spaces for honest discussions between diverse groups. (Miller 12)

16Horie recognized that there was much discord and polarity within the four communities. However, she wanted the opportunity to create a safe place for honest discussions to take place. The success of the cups and the engaged discussions is in the testimony of the participants. Colleen from Northfield said:

I enjoyed participating in the Democratic Cup at NCC. I was nervous in advance that it might be awkward, but that soon disappeared. I was so warmly greeted, the goal regarding the conversation was explained, it was really fun getting to pick out a cup and have coffee and pie so by the time we began our chat I was comfortable and interested in where it might lead. The topic of affordable housing is so top of mind right now, especially in the Twin Cities. Housing impacts all aspects of life and is such a struggle in our community. I appreciated your views as a renter, whereas I'm primarily personally impacted by property taxes. I felt like I lost myself in the conversation and the time just flew by – no awkwardness at all – and it was an interesting experience being life “on exhibit” where several people paused to witness our conversation. When we wrapped up, I felt like I got to know you more personally. That's what building a caring community is all about in my view. I enjoyed my participation, and I appreciated NCC hosting the event.

17Another participant stated:

I loved my experience at the Democratic Cup. We probably could have talked for another 5 hours! I am very excited to try something like this in our neighbourhood working to close cross-cultural barriers. Thank you for inviting me.

18There is no room in this short essay to examine all of the statements from the community residents who took part in the Democratic Cup. It is safe to say that those who did choose to participate in Horie’s “slow activism” came away from the experience motivated to connect with more people in their community to work towards consensus, not division.

19Ayumi Horie is not alone in her belief that ceramics can be a vehicle for social, political, and environmental change. Since she began The Democratic Cup series, other ceramic artists have used their work to engage viewers in pressing issues of the day. These include the devastating impact that humans have not only on our planet causing species to become extinct, the warming of the oceans, and the melting of our glaciers but also, since the onset of COVID, the safety and security of the food supply chain. There is a growing number of artists using clay as a medium for provoking awareness and discussion in the hope that their message might stimulate change.

20Julia Galloway is, like Horie, a well-established and highly respected maker. She is Professor and Director of the School of Art at the University of Montana-Missoula. Galloway is known for creating awareness and opportunities for herself and her students to give back to the community. Her commitment to taking on social and political issues comes naturally as her mother was an active feminist in the 1970s. As a child, she learned compassion and empathy from her mother's actions. Galloway says,

I learned that the personal is political, and when private things become public change can occur. This is still the philosophy I often use for problem-solving; when something unseen (private) becomes seen (political), that is when we make the change. (Galloway 3)

21Galloway also grew up in the AIDS era and remembered how moved she was when she saw the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the Mall in Washington, DC. She realized, at that moment, that the idea of making so many horrific deaths visible could impact so many people and create momentum for change (Galloway 3).

22The death of Japanese-American ceramic sculptor in 2017, Akio Takamori, and his final exhibition, Apology/Remorse, had a profound impact on Galloway. She began to consider all of the things that she should apologize for and the things that made her remorseful. After making lists in her head, Galloway concluded that the most remorseful thing she could think of was the impact that humans had on the environment. She recalled Rachel Carson's call to arms over the use of pesticides in Silent Spring (Galloway 3). Galloway sadly concedes that humans have, indeed, not made anything better since the enactment of many 1970s environmental laws and the launch of Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

23Galloway listened to a podcast about the Wandering Albatross while she was walking through the Minneapolis airport (Galloway 2). The Wandering Albatross is the largest of all seabirds living in the fury of the Southern Ocean, the most dangerous and immense body of water on our planet. It is the most remote place on earth, where the industrial fishing boats trawl the waters with their long lines. In the fifteen minutes that the artist walked to her boarding gate, five Wandering Albatross were decapitated. Galloway said,

I was brought to my knees, stunned by this bycatch carnage. But what can I do about this? Quit my job, leave my studio, and head out for civil disobedience? Throw me in the path of industrial fishing factories? Not very effective or realistic. However, I am a potter and a teacher, and I can make something generally unseen, visible. (Galloway 2)

24Galloway set about making porcelain-covered jars for endangered species. It took the artist a considerable amount of time to come up with an accurate listing of all animals that are extinct or severely endangered. Through her research, Galloway also discovered that the term “extinct” needs defining (Galloway 4). She also has to establish the date she believes humans began impacting the biosphere, overtaking natural causes as the vehicle for climate change. Galloway chose to begin her study at the end of the Industrial Revolution when the term “extinct” was coined (Galloway 4). She relied on the official listings of the United States Fish and Wildlife websites for a detailed listing of species that were extinct or in danger of being extinct. Just focusing on the New England region, more than 300 animals were in danger (Galloway 4).

25Galloway chose the shape of a classic porcelain funerary urn. Over the next year, she used her potter's wheel to throw the body and the lids, making far more than were needed, so that she would be able to test various methods for creating the images. She used tools to dig out clay, creating delicate incised lines while, at the same time, she used various glaze and stain techniques to create coloured images. The species that decorated the surface of the jars include insects such as the American Burying Beetle, birds like the American Pipit, and the Atlantic Green Sea Turtle. The turtles are now endangered because of pollution, being struck by boats and their propellers, habitat destruction, poaching, and fishing bycatch (Galloway 48). While the Endangered Species Act protects them, it remains for legislation to be passed regarding the nets and the speed at which ships can travel. The American Burying Beetle is becoming extinct because of habitat reduction and pesticides (Galloway 6). In New England, hikers destroy the nests of the American Pipit by wandering off the marked trails (Galloway 7). In 2019, the more than 300 completed urns were displayed in Gallery 224, Office of the Arts, Harvard University. The artist purposefully crowded the urns together on pedestals and wall shelves “…to overwhelm the viewer with the sheer number of threatened, endangered species” (Galloway 118). An accompanying catalogue shows the beautifully painted and incised images of all the animals, information about the species, and reasons for their demise. One of the most striking things about Galloway’s project, like all the others mentioned in this paper, is the understanding that humans placed themselves above nature and, in doing so, put the biosphere in imminent danger.

Figure 4 Atlantic Puffin Urn, Julia Galloway, wheel-thrown porcelain with stains and underglaze, 7” x 7” x 11”, 2019, Photo Maggie Hamilton

Figure 5: Hawksbill Sea Turtle Urn, Julia Galloway, wheel-thrown porcelain with stains and underglaze, 7” x 7” x 11”, 2019, Photo Maggie Hamilton

  • 3 E-mail correspondence with the author, 17 February 2020.

26Amy Snider is a dedicated environmentalist, social activist, and emerging artist from Regina, Saskatchewan. She has a deep respect for the glaciers of the Canadian prairies. Each year, Snider makes a pilgrimage to the Rocky Mountains to take in their beauty and majesty. She says this gives her the spiritual energy to survive the long prairie winter ahead.3 As an environmentalist, Amy is concerned about the recession of glaciers globally and the retreat of the glaciers of the Colombia Icefield specifically. For Snider, “making the stakes involved in our current crisis “real and tangible for people” is the object of her work (February). The Regina artist adds, “One ends up hoping that such pieces might propel the urgent changes in vision, one person at a time, necessary to provoke an appropriate mass response”.

27The Columbia Icefield feeds a series of six interconnected glaciers that formed at the base of Mount Athabasca on the continental divide in Alberta, Canada, during the last ice age. The largest of the six glacial toes is the Saskatchewan Glacier. In 1960, the glacier was 400 metres deep. It had receded to 223 metres in 2005, losing almost half its size in forty-five years. For Amy, this is a huge problem. The glaciers sustain her spiritually as well as physically nourishing her with their water. Every time she takes a drink, the sheer magnitude of the climate crisis comes to mind. She knows that the speed with which the ice is melting is the direct result of human activity. Amy understands that the glaciers' relentless receding is due to political inaction and the lack of a massive systemic change. She also recognizes that winter and summer temperatures on the Canadian prairies are increasing each year. Indeed, the shift is frightening. Today, the average number of days in winter that are -35 C. below is zero, whereas it was twenty-five days in the 1960s. With these shifts have come severe floods and droughts. Amy's anxiety over the depletion of water resources is real.

28Maude Barlow opens her book Boiling Point. Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis (2016) with the following quote from David Schindler, a Canadian water scientist: “We are going to forget all about the economy when we run out of water” (ix). Barlow does not mince her words in her criticism of the Canadian government and its inability to protect precious water resources against corporate exploitation. When discussing glaciers, Barlow says:

Glaciers in Canada hold as much water as the country's lakes and rivers and are a significant source of replenishment for many watersheds. There are 17,000 glaciers in British Columbia, and research by the University of Northern British Columbia shows they are all melting. (Barlow 6-7)

29The number of glaciers in the Canadian Rockies has declined by no less than 25% while more than three hundred glaciers have disappeared in the last thirty years. John Pomeroy, Director of the Centre for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, has collected data for years. His research shows that the rivers flowing into British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan from the glaciers are significantly reduced due to the loss of glacier ice (Climate Activist 2). The result is increasing drought and shifting weather patterns that will, ultimately, impact water security (Barlow 7). These factors, together with increasing populations and a growing middle consumer class will, by 2030, mean that the water demand will “outstrip supply by 40 per cent” (Barlow 3). Amy Snider has reasonable cause to be worried when she looks at her ten-year-old son, Jakob. Barlow believes that we are facing irreversible change. She concludes:

The stage is being set for a drought on an unprecedented scale, for mass starvation and the migration of millions of water refugees leaving parched lands to look for water. All the justice and awareness in the world cannot stave off this future if the water is not there. (Barlow 3)

30Amy Snider captures the fragility of the world's glaciers in her porcelain cup-shaped sculptures. They represent the state of the world's glaciers in the face of climate change. Some melt, others disintegrate while pieces of others calve off. Calving is the term used for large chunks of ice breaking off from the glacier caused by forwarding movement. The common term for these large chunks of ice is icebergs. Saskatchewan Glacier is made of snowflake shapes barely touching one another to form the shape of the cup. She chooses the cup shape, like Horie, because it is associated with drinking. On the Canadian prairies, the water from the Saskatchewan Glacier, a toe of the Columbia Icefield, also provides the water resources for agriculture and industry.

31Amy could have used any number of materials for her cups, but she chose clay because it is geologically connected to the glaciers. The fragility of the paper-thin porcelain snowflakes serves as a metaphor for the ephemeral state of the ice fields. A small draft destroys them. Many do not survive the firing process, while others collapse during the installation. Photographs document their existence just as films and photographs will, in the future, be the only evidence of the glaciers once they completely melt.

Figure 6: Amy Snider, Snowflake Cup, unfired porcelain clay, 8 x 8 cm, 2019

  • 4 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 19 September 2020.

32Through her art, Amy hopes to elicit a response in others that will nudge them towards greater awareness of the urgency needed to mitigate climate change. Visitors to a recent exhibition featuring Amy’s work and that of other artists representing environmental issues wrote in the guest book: “A very powerful and striking reminder. A wakeup call. What an incredible soul-shaking experience”. Another said, “It warms my heart that so many artists are challenging the viewer about the current climate crisis. Powerful and necessary”.4

33Julianna Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska grew up on a farm in Southern Manitoba. As an emerging ceramic artist, she believes, like Lederman, Horie, Galloway, and Snider, that artists can raise awareness and increase positive action for environmental change. Julianna says:

  • 5 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 16 March 2020.

I do believe artists have a social role within environmental activism. We can create artworks that point out human flaws, our negative impacts on the environment, and what we need to do better without pointing the finger directly at someone. We can do this by using humour within our work. Within my work, some of it is humorous or has elements of familiar objects which can be viewed in a non-threatening way.5

34Like Horie, Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska wants her work to be an entry point for discussions that address contentious issues surrounding food. While the overall topic of her work is food, Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska concerns herself not only with the health and welfare of animals, the numerous antibiotics, herbicides, and pesticides used on fruit, vegetables, animals, and cereal crops but also food waste.

35In Inconspicuous Consumption. The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You Have, Tatiana Schlossberg states that between 133-160 billion pounds of food are wasted in the United States every year (Schlossberg 86). That is approximately 400 pounds per person! (86). It is not just the food that is going into the landfills or compost bins. It is also the fuel, the herbicides and pesticides and water wasted. Approximately thirty-one per cent of all food grown in the United States “goes uneaten” (Schlossberg 89). Schlossberg blames part of the problem on the use of labelling telling consumers a “use-by date” (Schlossberg 88). Still, the implications are enormous. In the United States, this wasted food accounts for 21 per cent of freshwater used in farming, 18 per cent of the land used to grow crops, 18 per cent of fertilizers purchased, with 21 per cent going to a landfill where it will release methane, a greenhouse gas! (Little 196; Schlossberg 89). Even more startling is the number of people who do not have enough food to eat. Schlossberg reasons that one-third of the waste would be enough to feed all the hungry people (Schlossberg 89). Families are not the only ones who waste food. The hospitality industry contributes to another eighteen per cent. Restaurants typically serve meals that are too large, with much food left on the plate while they also have to stock all the ingredients for menus that are far too extensive. Some food is never harvested. In Canada, potato farmers typically leave what cannot be handled by their harvesting machines on top of the soil. Unless gleaners come to take the potatoes that are too small or too large, the produce will simply rot. Food that is not the right size to be mechanically harvested or deemed aesthetically unfit represents about twenty per cent of the total yield (Schlossberg 91). And then there is the waste arising from grocery stores. Georgann Parker is in charge of the waste management for one single grocery chain in one specific area of the United States. She says, “Gosh, it turns your stomach – I mean not the garbage, the waste” (Little 194-195). At her feet are gallons and gallons of milk along with processed meats. As her team gathers up the information from the garbage, they discovered that more than half (52%) could have been donated, recycled, or composted (Little 195). Parker sees this as a social injustice problem. She adds, “Wasting food – especially healthy perishables – becomes an ethical problem when you consider that there are forty million folks in this country living in poverty who do not have reliable access to nutritious food” (Little 196). From an environmental perspective, Darby Hooper, a waste researcher, says, “Wasting food also means wasting all of the water, energy, agricultural chemicals, labour, and other resources we put into growing, processing packaging, washing, and refrigerating it” (Little 196).

36Julianna's open criticism of agriculture practices in a Canadian province where the livelihood of at least 35% of the population relies on farming can be quite controversial. The term “farming” in this paper refers to the raising of cereal crops, vegetables, and animals for human or animal consumption. At one time, Manitoba prided itself on having family farms passed down from one generation to another. However, beginning in the 1970s, landholdings got bigger, tractors and cultivators increased in size so much that the old windrow of trees that kept erosion intact was cut down to make room for the big machines to turn. It was the beginning of the big agri-business and with it came an onslaught of herbicides and pesticides. At the same time, there was a growing number of feedlots built to raise cattle on a large scale. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, large factory farms for pigs and chickens dot the prairie landscape around Julianna’s home.

37In the United States, in 2015, four meatpacking companies controlled sixty-six percent of the animals raised for food. This practice has resulted in producers crowding their buildings, filling their animals full of antibiotics to ward off infection, and conditions so that many of the animals are in constant pain. The smell permeates the landscape while the manure lagoons eek into the local water tables, poisoning the streams and rivers. On September 6, Cory Booker, Senator from New Jersey, co-author of the Farm Systems Reform Act with Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, said, “Factory farms are breeding grounds of animal abuse” (Booker Twitter). In another article, “Pigs are as smart as dogs. Why do we eat one and love the other?”. Samuel Sigal and Byrd Pinkerton question why one non-human is prized more in Western society than another:

Imagine a dog. She spends her entire life in an iron crate so small that she cannot turn around. Her tail has been cut off so that other dogs in cages jammed up against hers won't chew it off in distress. When she has puppies, the males are castrated without painkillers. They are left close enough for her to nurse, but too far away for her to show them any affection. (Sigal and Pinkerton 1)

38The article condemns the current methods used in Western factory farms stating that is how millions and millions of pigs are treated by humans so that they can eat.

39Julianna uses clay because it is directly related to the food and the animals that we eat. Clay and food have a long history and relationship with one another. Early people used clay, mud from the earth, to model ritual objects as well as vessels for storing grains and food. Over time potters created kitchenware out of clay from their humble cottage potteries. With the advent of the industrial revolution, these developed into factories creating porcelain dinner services. Today, handmade dinnerware still graces the tables of Western society along with mass-produced and fine china sets. The earth that gives us the various clays to make domestic ware also is the medium that grows the grasses that feed the farm animals as well as the cereal crops, the fruit, and the vegetables humans eat. However, clay which comes from the ground not only creates the dishes from which we eat. It is also the life-giving medium for the grasses on which livestock graze as well as the medium from which cereal crops, vegetables, and fruit trees draw their nutrients.

40Udder Consumption was initially conceived in 2017 when Julianna was researching industrial dairying. She made traditional ceramic cake stands, small dessert plates and bowls. Each stand supports a delicate pink dessert, meticulously decorated with glazes and stains and fired multiple times, to achieve a detailed surface like a cake from a Parisian bakery. On closer inspection, the viewer is shocked to discover that these are not cakes at all, but inverted, grotesque, repulsive and deformed cow udders. The visitor begins to feel uncomfortable. At the same time, there is a level of confusion. The cakes sit on top of hay bales. The scent evokes a rural setting taking many people back to the days when small farms kept a few cows to produce milk. Today, this is nothing but a distant memory.

Figure 7: Udder Consumption, Julianna Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska, 90 x 360 cm, stoneware clay with glaze and slip on hay bales, 2019

41Gone are the days of cows peacefully eating grass across sprawling green prairies. Like the cattle bred for specific fat content, dairy cattle are bred to produce more milk. Increasing milk production causes problems with fertility, and in order to produce milk, a dairy cow has to give birth. To solve the issue fertility drugs are used, in addition to artificially inseminating the entire herd so that they will have their calves at the same time. Calves no longer spend eight to nine months with their mother but are immediately taken away at birth even though the contemporary dairy cow can produce enough milk for both her calf and for human consumption. This separation causes undue stress to both as the calves have grown inside the cow for nine months, just like humans. Each calls the other, and because they cannot be together, the cows get aggressive. What happens to the calves?

42The female calves are raised to be dairy cows while the males are raised for veal. They are kept in small containers or cages and usually are never allowed outside. Those meant to be rose veal are fed better than the others who receive an iron-deficient diet so that their meat colour is whiter. The mothers only move from very confined spaces to the milking stations. They spend their lives standing on concrete which causes severe pain. Their bodies wear out, and they are usually sold for slaughter after five years. Had they lived a regular life grazing on grass and raising their calf, most would live to be about twenty years old.

43Julianna's 2020 work Animal Farm addresses current environmental and animal rights concerns. The installation incorporates a wheel-thrown dinner service with added sculpture pieces. Positioned on a stainless-steel table that one would find in a butcher’s shop or a packing house, the display is purposefully jarring because of the extravagance, excess, and beauty of the cakes and desserts. She says:

  • 6 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 29 September 2020.

Cakes and desserts are some of the most powerful, most enjoyable, and desirable foods within many cultures. They signify hospitality, love and celebration; at the same time, they also have underlying themes of guilt, gluttony and lack of self-control.6

  • 7 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 29 September 2020.

44Corn Cake, with its lovely big ears and squiggly tail, pushes Julianna's concern about the hidden ingredients in our food that impact both the environment and our health as well as issues surrounding animal welfare. At first glance, the cake looks like an elaborate cut-up creation for a child’s birthday party. The artist has modelled the ears and squiggly tail to create a sense of playfulness and humour while carefully using a press mould to create the sides to resemble a shucked ear of corn. She used corn on the sides because “corn is in everything we eat”.7 What she wanted was to make something that was a hybrid between an animal and a cake, something so familiar and enjoyable and yet uncomfortable and grotesque. The choice of using a pig reveals Julianna’s interest in the Manitoba hog industry, the treatment of the animals, and the growing number of factory farms within our province as evidenced by the tag on the ear of the pig on Corn Cake. It reads 614.

Figure 8: Animal Farm, Julianna Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska, 120 x 240 cm, stoneware clay with glaze and slip, 2020

45Like Ayumi Horie, Julianna wants her cake-like sculptures to be vehicles of social change. She intends to have a dinner party where people can sit together while, at the same time, her work educates them about the hidden dangers of food additives and factory farming. Indeed, lovely cakes are full of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Field corn used in items for human consumption is almost always GMO. GMOs are hidden in ingredients like the sugar that comes from sugar beets. The listing of every ingredient used in food that humans consume is extensive. GMOs are in canola oil, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup used as a sweetener. Anything that uses a sweetener is suspect. You only have to think of canned soda, snack foods, candy, and cereals to realize it is hard to escape GMOs. Nutritional studies show that fructose can cause serious health issues, including weight gain and diabetes. Also lurking in this sweet dessert is the one thing that often makes it interesting, its icing colour. Besides the GMOs in the confectioner's sugar, it also contains additives as does the food colouring. These colourings increase allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability, aggressiveness and are linked with cancer (Stokes 1).

46Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska’s installations touch on many of the issues surrounding food that have arisen during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Julianna’s desire to return to a time when animals were treated with respect, when food had no additives, and when life was a little slower resonates with many who are purchasing properties in the country and moving away from the fast pace of the cities. People are learning to cook and bake. They are planting home gardens, opting for organic deliveries, and buying from local producers at small markets or through subscriptions. Petitions calling for an end to factory farming and a new respect for non-humans are rising in numbers because many believe this is the cause of the pandemic.

47These artists are responding to the critical and rapid changes taking place in the biosphere. Through a lens of installation and craft practice, they address the social, cultural, political and economic issues that underpin the current unpredictability of our environment. Unlike politicians and world leaders who have failed to carry through on policies and actions directly related to climate change, these artists are creating diverse opportunities for people to confront various issues linked to climate change. They are not afraid to make direct reference to the atrocious manner in which humans have impacted the planet and non-humans. Each feels an urgent need to give visual form to environmental concerns. Whether it is the ocean pollution, gentrification, oil pipelines, extractive mining, gender identification, species extinction, melting of glaciers, water and food security, food waste, and non-human rights, these artists are bringing these often-invisible concepts into the galleries. Their goal is to create a profound shift in human consciousness. By doing so, they mean to inspire people to action to save our planet and create a sustainable, moral, and ethical future for both humans and non-humans.

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1 The term “Anthropocene” was coined in the 1980s by Eugie Stoermer. The term became popular again by Paul Crutzen, a chemist. It means that the present geological age of our planet is radically different because of the changes caused directly by humans.

2 All subsequent statements about The Democratic Cup are taken from online comments by Ayumi Horie on her blog,

3 E-mail correspondence with the author, 17 February 2020.

4 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 19 September 2020.

5 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 16 March 2020.

6 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 29 September 2020.

7 E-mail correspondence with the author dated 29 September 2020.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: Ayumi Horie. Vote for Things that Can’t, porcelain 10 x 8 cm with decal, 2016, Image: Molly Bishop, Cup Design: Marc Digeros
Fichier image/jpeg, 245k
Légende Figure 2: Oil Pipeline, Ayumi Horie, porcelain with decal, 9 x 9 cm, 2019, Image: Kim Bogeman, Cup Design: Liz Pechacek
Fichier image/jpeg, 50k
Légende Figure 3: Mining, Ayumi Horie, porcelain with decal, 9 x 9 cm, 2019, Image: Jaime Anderson, Cup Design: Brett Freund
Fichier image/jpeg, 137k
Légende Figure 4 Atlantic Puffin Urn, Julia Galloway, wheel-thrown porcelain with stains and underglaze, 7” x 7” x 11”, 2019, Photo Maggie Hamilton
Fichier image/jpeg, 183k
Légende Figure 5: Hawksbill Sea Turtle Urn, Julia Galloway, wheel-thrown porcelain with stains and underglaze, 7” x 7” x 11”, 2019, Photo Maggie Hamilton
Fichier image/jpeg, 254k
Légende Figure 6: Amy Snider, Snowflake Cup, unfired porcelain clay, 8 x 8 cm, 2019
Fichier image/jpeg, 451k
Légende Figure 7: Udder Consumption, Julianna Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska, 90 x 360 cm, stoneware clay with glaze and slip on hay bales, 2019
Fichier image/jpeg, 573k
Légende Figure 8: Animal Farm, Julianna Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska, 120 x 240 cm, stoneware clay with glaze and slip, 2020
Fichier image/jpeg, 358k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Mary Ann STEGGLES, « Imaging the Climate Crisis. The Ceramic Art of Horie, Galloway, Snider, and Rhymer-Zwierciadlowska »E-rea [En ligne], 18.2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2021, consulté le 05 août 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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University of Manitoba
About the author: Dr Mary Ann Steggles is a retired Professor of art history and ceramics from the University of Manitoba. Her most recent publications include “Lessening the Carbon Footprint of Ceramics” in Making Eco-Logical; “Is Manitoba’s hydro really clean energy?” in Reinventing the City: Lessons in Urban Ecology; and “The Vietnam Era Resisters Who Shaped Canada’s Ceramic Heritage” in Untold Stories of the Past 150 Years. She is also currently leading a Zoom webinar for the Manitoba Craft Council titled “Uncovering the Social and Environmental Impact of Hydroelectricity in Ceramic Practice in Manitoba”.

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