Bluesphere digs deep for environmentally enlightening exhibits 

Talking trash

"It's been sort of an organic coming together process," Lizz Biswell says of organizing Bluesphere, no pun intended. She's the education and outreach coordinator at the Halsey, where she's been working with Director Mark Sloan to organize the city-wide earth-art expo.

"We initially chose Chris Jordan, and Mark selected Pedro Lobo for City Gallery, and then after contacting people to see who would want to get into this vision he had for Bluesphere, we found out that our own library was having an environmental artist at the same time, and Redux had two exhibits planned that fit in, and the Gibbes was having an industrial waste photographer showing in December. It's sort of serendipitous."

From sculptors to photographers to graphic artists, Bluesphere includes seven exhibits around the peninsula that will make viewers think more deeply about environmental issues.

Seattle-based photographer Chris Jordan, one of the artists who inspired the exhibit, uses digital images to represent statistics related to human consumption. For example, a colorful, abstract piece that looks like a Jackson Pollock painting from afar is, upon closer inspection, revealed to be the image of two million plastic beverage bottles, the amount reportedly used in the U.S. every five minutes. A take on impressionist Georges Seurat's famous "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the amount used in the U.S. every 30 seconds.

"His art's part of a sect called envisioning information," Biswell says. "Just seeing the sentence '300 kilowatts of wasted energy' ... it's kind of boring that way until you actually see it arranged. He takes the time to go through and actually make it art.

Bryant Holsenbeck, who will be exhibiting at the Addlestone Library Rotunda, also focuses on consumption, but in a completely different way. The North Carolina artist creates sculptures and installations out of trash, like bottle caps, Altoid tins, and mayonnaise jar lids.

"I document the stuff people throw away," Holsenbeck says. "I think that Americans don't look at what we throw away. We're sort of unaware of how rich we are, and we don't realize that when you throw stuff away, it doesn't go away."

She's so concerned about Americans' over-consumption that she's given up using non-reusable plastic for a year, a quest that she documents on her blog, bryantholsenbeck.com/blog.

Holsenbeck will create a mandala out of bottle caps with the help of students at the College of Charleston.

Brazilian photographer Pedro Lobo, exhibiting at City Gallery, was another of Bluesphere's first picks. His images of favelas, or shantytowns, around Rio de Janeiro show the effects of recycling by necessity.

"Pedro's photographs are sort of the flip side of the coin to Chris Jordan's visual commentary on American consumption," Biswell explains. "There's all this excess and all this waste, and things like favelas are sort of an offspring of that. These are people who figure out ways to use people's old doors, pieces of tin. They figure out ways to live off of excess."

Alabama folk artist Butch Anthony, showing at Eye Level Art, is a dumpster diver of another sort.

"I'm sort of half-junk man, half-artist," he says. What he doesn't sell, he makes into sculptures.

"I was just rambling one day out in the woods at this old homeplace and found a fence that they used to fence in animals with, and every time the animal would get out they'd put another piece of tin there and sew it up with whatever they had, and the fence looked like a giant sculpture," Anthony says. "I thought, 'That old lady there made a sculpture and didn't even know it,' so I sort of copied her, and it kind of evolved into my art."

Anthony says he's not trying to make a statement on environmental issues, though his work should be valued by conservationists.

"I'm cleaning up the roads around here, picking up trash and turning it into art," he says. "It's one less thing to go to the landfill."

While organizers are still open to exhibitors, the remaining exhibits currently on dock include Greg Stewart's sculptures and "mobile shelters" at Redux, J. Henry Fair's aerial photographs of environmental degradation at the Gibbes, and Carson Fox's Ice Storm at Redux, which has already opened.

Bluesphere Earth Art Expo • Sept. 17-March 27. Various locations, halsey.cofc.edu/bluesphere

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