Healing the Earth

Art may be an unconventional medium to "healing the earth," but it is not a world uncharted at the Saint Mary's College of California Museum of Art.

On Thursday, November 4th, ceramicist Kari Marboe and curator Lauren MacDonald explored art as a medium in creating dialogue about the environment within the context of Keith + Kari, one of two exhibitions this Fall 2021. Kari explored California and extraterrestrial landscapes through the frame set by William Keith–a prominent Tonalist and landscape painter of the late 19th century–guided by the questions, "What has changed?" and "What has stayed the same?"

 

The human agenda has pushed earth past the point of no return.

A LOT has changed over the past century and a half. However, at the same time, not enough has changed for Mount Tamalpais. After destroying the mountain's west peak in the 1950s for the Mill Valley Air Force Station, the government promised restoration that never went through. Even if they were to try, the mountain would never be the same; this impact was physically too significant to "fix," the damage was done. Time can not go backward, but we can develop new methods of interacting with the land.

 

Impact is made in even the smallest of interactions with the earth.

Not every environmental impact will be as extensive as removing the peak of a mountain, and not all of them would even be a negative impact. At Stinson Beach, Kari explored how the land is perceived by the people that make direct impacts—ordinary civilians. By directly asking them what has changed and stayed the same since their first visit, Kari captured the special connection this site creates between people and the land. In exchange for answering her questions, Kari gave each person a ceramic ring made with the earth of Stinson Beach. Through this, an actual piece and part of the land was given back to the people as both a literal and symbolic indicator of the development of that relationship.

 

"It's developing—that's what is important to me in all of my projects."

In the Stinson Beach portion of the exhibit, Kari places a lot of value on the transparency of the process to the viewer. Regardless of whether the relevancy is apparent in the final artwork, Kari strives to acknowledge every part of the creative process—inspiration, development, and the final product—as a way of honoring the way that environmental changes are influenced by all actions, big and small.

 

Because–regardless of good or bad–we cannot undo these impacts.

While Kari was able to examine the positive and neutral social impact of Stinson Beach, not all impacts are as entertaining as wiffle ballplayers and other local strangers. During her research on Lake Lagunitas, Kari was informed by Sherry Adams, senior Ecologist at the Marin Municipal Water District, that native grasses in that area had been overrun by invasive species such as wild oat. There is nothing within our ability that could bring back the native ecology destroyed by human ignorance and negligence.

 

However, we can educate and prevent further destruction.

Healing and restoring the earth's original form is out of the question, but there are other ways to prevent further destruction. William Keith's paintings may immortalize past natural marvels of California, but they have been used for more applicable reasons than that.

As recounted by Lauren MacDonald, William Keith and John Muir partnered in advocating for the preservation of California's natural landscapes; while Muir "was putting pen to paper" in his efforts, Keith "was putting paintbrush to canvas, capturing the visual power and magnificence of these sites."

In one instance, when Congress was planning on obstructing the Hetch Hetchy Valley to build a dam and provide water to San Francisco, Muir used Keith's painting as an example to "illustrate the importance of why this natural state should be preserved." Although Congress passed the legislation that enabled the dam's creation in 1913, Keith and Muir's efforts weren't for naught. This moment illustrates how art can be used as a powerful form of communication, especially to advocate for environmentalism.

 

Art gives us a "time and place to think about how we can attain sustainability."

When asked whether she thinks that art impacts the environment, Kari noted the importance of making artistic avenues available for students.

"I believe that some people need to think creatively on how we encounter [the environment]," she suggests that the art itself does not make change, but rather it is an avenue towards awareness and action towards attaining sustainability. Just as Keith and Muir did in the 1910s and as Keith + Kari do today, a narrative must be created and exist for any development to occur. It is one thing to speak of change, but it is an entirely different thing to put it into practice.

As climate change becomes increasingly more of an issue, conversations about our impact–big or small, good or bad–have become more necessary to protect the future of ourselves and this earth. With enough research and support, individual efforts such as consuming less single-use products and supporting small businesses, we can all make efforts toward effective change. Click HERE to read more about how the Saint Mary's Sustainability Committee is tackling the climate crisis!