Hannah Chalew (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Pen and ink, paper made from abaca and floor sweepings
84” x 84” x 2”
Environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia” to mean the pain caused by recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault. Solastalgia is the lived experience of negative environmental change; it is a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home. This drawing explores the experience of solastalgia as I feel it in southern Louisiana: What will the future look like when we can already see that the seas are rising and drowning the land as an effect of the burning of fossil fuels, yet oil pipelines and other petrochemical infrastructure are continuing to be built? This drawing is created on paper made from plants and my studio detritus so that the material itself reflects the subject matter on its surface; what will survive once we are gone?
I’m living in the age of the Anthropocene—the geological epoch marked by humans’ effect on our planet—in Louisiana, where the oil and gas industry is a major part of the state’s economy and culture despite our ever more vulnerable coastline. My artwork explores what it means to live in an era of global warming with an uncertain future, and specifically what that means in Southern Louisiana. I connect my message with my medium by divesting my work from fossil fuels through my transportation and material choices and the way I power my studio and artwork. Believing that art has the power to make people feel deeply and to question their perspectives, I use my artwork to reach and engage people on the issue of climate change in an increasingly oversaturated information age. I make work that connects fossil fuel extraction and plastic production to their roots in the white supremacy and capitalism that have fueled the exploitation of people and the landscape from the times of colonization and enslavement. My work draws the viewer into an experience that bridges past and present with visions of the future ecosystems that might emerge from our culture’s detritus if we fail to change course. In art pieces ranging from works on paper to large-scale installations, I bring together unlikely materials in combinations that are often beautiful; they draw viewers in to stay with the work that, on closer inspection, has a deeper burn that implicates them in our collective new realities—challenging them to think critically about their place in this greater network as we co-evolve together. My work creates space to imagine what else could be possible now and beyond; it inspires viewers to think about what individual and collective changes are needed for a just transition to a livable future.
Hannah Chalew is an artist and educator from New Orleans. Her artwork explores what it means to live in a time of global warming with a collective uncertain future, and specifically what that means for those of us living in Southern Louisiana. Her practice explores the historical legacies that got us here to help imagine new possibilities for a livable future. She received her BA from Brandeis University in 2009, and her MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2016. Chalew has exhibited widely around New Orleans and has shown around the country at Popps Packing, Hamtramck, Mi, Dieu Donne, New York, NY; Asheville Museum of Art, Asheville, NC; Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA; and other venues. Her work is held in the collections of the City of New Orleans and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Her work is included in two creative atlases by writer and activist Rebecca Solnit, Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, co-authored with Rebecca Snedeker and Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, co-authored with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. In 2018, she was an emerging artist-in-residence at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans. Recently she received a Platforms Grant: a regranting effort of An-tenna Gallery, Ashe Cultural Arts Center and Pelican Bomb with support from the Andy Warhol Foundation, and a production grant from the New Museum’s Ideas city fellowship with support from the NEA to incubate her work. www.hannahchalew.com