Navy Pier art warns of human-sized asteroid

By Jesse Wright |

Staff Writer

Published October 1, 2018

Of all the art celebrated in EXPO CHICAGO, the Navy Pier’s annual international arts event, perhaps none is as relevant and as chilling as Justin Brice Guariglia’s We Are the Asteroid II.

The eponymous asteroid refers to two things—first, the literal asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and three-quarters of plants and animals on earth—and it refers to the current mass extinction event precipitated by mankind, the second and proverbial asteroid.

Guariglia lived for years in Asia and while there he spent time as an artist and photojournalist documenting environmental change there as developing countries lurched into the modern era complete with carbon pollution and environmental havoc. Over time, Guariglia said his work began to focus on environmental issues and his latest piece, which will remain near the Ferris wheel through the end of November, is a stark warning of what mankind has wrought.

Guariglia has set up a series of sandblasted highway LED signs that remind visitors “Don’t eco shop, eco vote,” and “Triassic weather ahead.”

“We need to think ecologically about what we’re doing. And that’s what the project is about,” Guariglia said.

But thinking ecologically, Guariglia adds, is more than recycling and buying a Prius. It means thinking about a world that will soon be radically different than it has been for millions of years. It means looking at the whole earth and what humans are doing to it. This isn’t an easy thing to do, and Guariglia said it’s not something most people are well equipped to do.

“There’s a 110,000 year old ice sheet in Greenland,” Guariglia said. “What the hell is 110,000 years? There is a very large ontological gap. There’s a disconnect between us and the natural world which is also all around us. And we’ve dislocated ourselves from around it. The goal of this project is for us to think ecologically.”

Guariglia might be the only artist in EXPO CHICAGO who uses the term athropocene, but it’s a common term among climate and earth scientists who use the word to describe the modern geologic epoch—a time period noted by human impact over the climate and the earth. This impact is the asteroid, Guariglia believes, and most people are ignoring it.
His highway warning signs are meant to be taken literally.

“We’re in the middle of the sixth extinction,” he said. “Whether you believe humans are doing it or not, that’s fine. The reality is, it’s happening. … it has to be discussed. It was left out of all the presidential debates and its something that’s convenient to ignore. Unless you live in North Carolina or Hong Kong or Puerto Rico, unless it’s coming down on you, it’s easy to think someone else has to deal with this.

“We’ll go and eco shop, but it’s almost the equivalent of jumping up and down in front of the television while our sports team is trying to score a goal on TV. It has the same effect. It’s a moot point.”

Guariglia’s art can be seen for free along the Navy Pier.

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