The emotional burden of the climate crisis is often forgotten in favour of meaningful actions - yet, these feelings cannot be overlooked, and Ilaria Riccio witnessed how these manifest.
For better or worse, the climate crisis is a reality of our generation. Not only are we witnessing its devastating effects, but the greater awareness of these issues in the past few years generates feelings of distress. We are constantly asked to play our part (however small) in trying to overturn the situation and save our planet, carrying the symbolic burden of having to do something. Yet, this burden is not merely symbolic: the continuous anxiety over the doomsday clock approaching midnight, coupled with the moral obligation to take action, inevitably impacts our mental health. And although we are supposed to be at our very best to effectively contribute to solving the climate crisis, the psychological toll of the situation is almost always left unspoken. In this context, the site installation titled “Kind Words Can Never Die” at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) is a much needed exception to the rule.
Curated by Navine G. Dossos, “Kind Words Can Never Die” decorates the walls of IMMA’s courtyard with wall paintings made by multiple participants at workshops aimed at bringing the installation to life. What do wall paintings have to do with the climate crisis, you might ask? A lot, if the purpose of the paintings is to represent the internal response to the gloomy reality of our time. “Kind Words Can Never Die” is primarily an explosion of colours, each used to convey particular emotions related to the climate crisis. Peeking from the East Entrance of the museum, a bright red wall lures visitors in and offers colourful surroundings that stimulate curiosity, with abstract paintings and semi-circles ornating the museum doors suggesting that these are not mere decorations but opportunities for (self-)reflection.
'Kind Words Can Never Die’ is primarily an explosion of colours, and how these can convey emotions in relation to the climate crisis
Dossos is an abstract painter herself, and this influence features heavily in the 51 artworks comprising this installation. A number is associated with each artwork, and at the end of each wall there is a referential list of each painting’s respective painter and what they symbolise. As I hinted at already, each artwork portrays emotions through colours, according to each artist’s personal experience. Interestingly, some emotions feature multiple times in the installation, yet with different colours. One of the main strengths of the installation is, thus, its collaborative nature, allowing visitors to witness how people use colours differently to convey emotions - often the same ones. For instance, ‘awe’, ‘joy’, and ‘love’ frequently recur on the museum walls, and pinks and yellows make way for blues and greens as the artists explore their feelings. The multiplicity of perspectives within the installation allows visitors, too, to engage with the artworks, sparking reflections on which colours they would have used had they also participated in the workshops - I admit that I did this mental exercise often as I walked around IMMA’s courtyard, thinking of how I could have contributed to this fascinating project.
In “Kind Words Can Never Die”, collaboration is synonymous with subjectivity: artists came together to materialise their emotional status through colours and abstract forms, yet each artwork is deeply personal. This emphasis on subjectivity makes the installation an incredibly vulnerable experience, as visitors are granted access to the mental state and the emotional responses to climate change of the participants. Some emotions strictly related to personal relationship with the environment are also present. For instance, “soliphilia” describes a sense of affiliation that enables people to bear responsibility for a specific place on the planet, whilst “solastalgia” suggests the emotional downsides in the face of the climate crisis. “Biophilia”, the instinct to connect with nature, also features in the installation. These environmental-related emotions mix with colourful depictions of ‘energy’, ‘trust’, ‘motivation’, ‘self-respect’, ‘kinship’, and other emotions contributors associate with the climate crisis.
The multiplicity of perspectives within the installation allows visitors, too, to engage with the artworks, sparking reflections on which colours they would have used had they also participated in the workshops.
Interestingly, “solastalgia” is the only emotion amongst those featured in the installation openly carrying a negative connotation. And considering the gloomy undertones accompanying all that relates to the climate crisis, giving more space to traditionally positive emotions is perhaps a valid response to the distress of this historical era. And as the title of the installation suggests, the world is apparently doomed and there might be no turning back, but hope and kindness are not lost. ‘Love’, ‘joy’ and ‘dignity’ can bring solace even in the hardest of times. And despite privileging subjectivity, ‘interconnectedness’ features amongst the emotions depicted in the installation, perhaps a reminder that we are all in this together, so we might as well enjoy each other’s company. Staring at wall paintings and associating colours and figures to personal emotions looks like a nice way to bond over the place we find ourselves in - literally and figuratively.
The installation is on at IMMA until the end of July 2023, in case you wanted to reflect on which colours you would use to convey your emotions.