A family wearing face masks takes a selfie in the middle of Beijing while the thick smog behind them covers what would have been a beautiful city landscape; air pollution in China has been linked to 366,000 fatalities in 2013 alone. The other side of the world finds scientists fearing the extinction of polar bears due to the fast-paced melting of glaciers in the Arctic Ocean. Here in the Philippines, the dry season is taking longer than usual while typhoons are becoming more prevalent; back in 2013, Typhoon Haiyan claimed over six thousand lives.
There’s a crisis we always hear about but fail to truly understand. Artist Jonas Eslao depicts the pieces of evidence from the atrocities of climate change in his latest show and takes us to an inconvenient conversation that strives to discuss rather than preach. In the practice of painting these images, Eslao hopes to understand the crisis more through a “paper effect” wherein the process of scribbling down an idea turns something abstract into a more comprehensive concrete form; in each stroke, the artist reflects upon the basis of these images where the terrifying consequences of the environmental occurrences made by humans have become alarming.
Effects of offshore drilling is captured in “Shell” where a tarnished clam-like figure sits at the center of the canvas. “The Boat is Sinking” and “Diminishing Fortress” reveal the melting of the glaciers in the Arctic Ocean. “Bovine Intervention” is a playful depiction of the exploitation of the cattle industry in the overbreeding of cows that in return breathe out methane contributing to global warming. In “Fully Drenched” a seagull attempts to fly in the air but is stuck in an oil spill. Deadly smoke coming from factories is seen in “Heavy Air” while “Local Refugee” portrays an orangutan who has nowhere to go after his home, a jungle in Indonesia, has been cleared out to make way for palm oil production. In the middle of it all is “Everybody wants to be part of it; nobody wants to get their hands dirty” — an installation of cemented gloves piled on top of each other in a circle.
Meanwhile is the result of an artist in pursuit of his artistic growth through how he responds to issues that terrify him. After more than a decade in the practice, Eslao takes a moment to pause and understand the bigger picture. In his previous shows such as Apex Predator (2015) and Beyond (2016), a level of confidence has presented itself into the direction he has come to realize: how humans have threatened other species.
In Meanwhile, Eslao decides to delve into an unfamiliar terrain of attempting to understand the relationship of everything and everyone, including himself, in the contribution of destruction. This is perhaps mostly encapsulated in his installation work “Everybody wants to be part of it; nobody wants to get their hands dirty” where Eslao features gloves molded in cement – a statement of our attitude towards this crisis: yes, we know it exists; and no, we are not part of it. The denial of our involvement relies in an unfortunate fulcrum: that we are unaware and ignorant of how our lifestyle and the way we exist has been hurting the planet and its inhabitants including ourselves; that our carbon footprint alone may not sink Kiribati but it’s a step to shove it down underwater without us realizing. Meanwhile, the world falls into obliteration while we’re warming up to confront the truth.
Gwen Bautista and Charms Tianzon