April 2015 Newsletter

White House

Cortada delivers talk to members of the president's administration in the OSTP Conference Room. Sitting near him on a shelf is a piece of the Allende Meteorite, the oldest known natural object.

Cortada delivers Art-Science Talk at White House Office of Science and Technology Policy




On April 14th, 2015, Xavier Cortada visited the White House to deliver a presentation to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on his use of art to engage science, scientists and the broader community.

Cortada discussed methods he has developed in his artistic practice to inform and engage communities on important environmental concerns, including works addressing biodiversity loss (Biscayne National Park and Miami Science Museum), global climate change (NSF Antarctic residency) and sea level rise (FIU Florida Coastal Everglades LTER).

Cortada also shared how his art-science collaborations have celebrated the role of science in society (CERN/Higgs boson), integrated scientists into broader community conversations (Hubbard Brook LTER/Watershed) and invited the community to participate in science projects (FIU College of Medicine/DNA sequencing).  

Prior to the talk, Cortada –joined by FIU Professor Evelyn Gaiser, his science collaborator– met with the president’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, in his office. Cortada urged Holdren to integrate the arts into American science: Scientific research can be enhanced by adding artistic perspectives to the problem-solving equation. 

Oklahoma: National Weather Center Biennale

Xavier Cortada (with the participation of Lindsey E. Rustad, Ph.D., Team Leader and Forest Ecologist, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest), WIND WORDS: WATER, digital art, 2012

National Weather Center Biennale

Featuring  Cortada’s “WIND WORDS: Water” 
DATE: April 19th – June 24th, 2015
LOCATION: National Weather Center
Cortada was selected by artist and biennale curator Mel Chin to participate in the National Weather Center Biennale.  Cortada is presenting his Wind Words: Water project.  

“Wind Words:” On July 26th, 2012, Cortada met scientists at an overlook on the Kancamagus Highway and read their scientific articles to the four winds (the four corners of the Earth).

Through this performative art work, Cortada sought to honor the Hubbard Brook researchers who study this forest’s soils, water, vegetation and wildlife and develop knowledge that has a global impact. The artist also wanted artists to bring science to the broader community: By having scientists come out of their labs and speak their words to the wind they were conceptually sharing their work beyond the pages of refereed research journals and across the Earth where their research also matters.

Cortada also wanted to shed light on the issue that a growing sector of our society question and deny science. The artist used this piece to air out those concerns.

The Biennale is the first exhibition of its kind – an international juried exhibition presenting “Art’s Window on the Impact of Weather on the Human Experience.” The 2015 exhibition is sponsored by the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, and the Norman Arts Council.

Pinecrest: Pinecrest Gardens Gallery

Xavier Cortada, Flora (sin titulo), 36in x 27in, archival ink on aluminum (edition of 5), 2015.

Torrid Flora

Featuring  Cortada’s “Flora (sin titulo)” digital painting
DATE: April 12th – May 7th, 2015
LOCATION: Pinecrest Gardens Gallery
Curated by Ananda DeMelloTorrid Flora looks beyond the blue skies and palm trees of our tropical surroundings.  As climate change and global warming are felt with the change of each season, Torrid Flora revisits Aristotle’s Torrid Zone assessments and presents a hauntingly view of its lush vegetation and plant life. Being the first to study the world’s climate, Aristotle divided it into three zones: Frigid, Temperate and Torrid. The Torrid Zone was deemed by the philosopher as uninhabitable, with weather conditions too hot for life. It is the nearest to the equator, reaching from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. Miami stands just above the line of Aristotle’s simple classification, but its tropical conditions are evident. With the rising temperatures, are we headed in the direction in which he so long predicted?   

Miami-Dade County Public Schools: Earth Day

Native Flags (North Pole): On June 29th, 2008, Miami artist Xavier Cortada arrived via a Russian Ice Breaker to 90 degrees North on planet Earth and planted a green flag to reclaim it for nature.

Native Flags: 6th Annual reforestation in EVERY public school in Miami-Dade County

Featuring Cortada’s participatory eco-art
DATE: Earth Day: April 22nd, 2015
LOCATION: All 336 public schools in Miami-Dade
The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (Museum Volunteers for the Environment), Deering Estates and the FIU College of Architecture + The Arts will once again join their other community partners in implementing Native Flags, Xavier Cortada’s participatory eco-art project, in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
For six-years, every single public school in Miami-Dade has received a green flag and native tree sapling for students to plant in their schools to commemorate Earth Day.

Cortada created this project to engage people globally to help slow the polar thaw: Participants plant a native tree next to a green flag at home and ask their neighbors to do the same. 

Key Largo: Gallery at Kona Kai

Saving the Seagrasses:

Littoral Creatures

DATE: February 14th – August 30th, 2015
LOCATION: The Gallery at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai


The Gallery is open to the public daily from 10am to 6pm.

All artwork is for sale with the proceeds benefiting The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai and their Upper Keys Fairchild Challenge student education program.

Ontario: McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Vanishing Ice: Alpine and

Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775 – 2012

DATE: January 31st – April 26th, 2015
LOCATION: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Ontario
MORE: http://cortada.com/events/2015/McMichaelCollection

The exhibit features Cortada’s “Astrid” ice painting; read about it below:
by Alan C. Braddock and Renée Ater
American Art, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Fall 2014), p. cover2. 
Published by:
The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the 
Smithsonian American Art Museum

In 2007 the Miami-based artist Xavier Cortada produced Astrid, a small abstract painting consisting of liquid splotches of blue pigment in a grainy, grayish-white field on paper (fig. 1). The work recalls postwar expressionism of the New York School or later post-painterly abstraction, but such associations only scratch the surface of the picture’s meaning. The more we learn about the artist, his materials, and the context of production, the more we recognize this to be a work of our time, even as it gestures to the past and future. Cortada created Astrid at McMurdo Station, the U.S. Research Center on Ross Island, Antarctica, during a National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Fellowship in 2006-7. The picture belongs to a series of mixed-media Ice Paintings that he produced there using ice and sediment samples from the nearby Ross Sea and Dry Valleys of West Antarctica provided by scientists studying climate change. The painting’s title, Astrid, refers somewhat counterintuitively to the King Leopold and Queen Astrid Coast, located far away along the eastern shore of Antarctica. According to the artist, he chose titles for works in this series “by randomly selecting the names of geographic features from a map of the continent that inspired their creation.” Randomness aside, Cortada has asserted unambiguously his environmentalist belief that human beings are “custodians of the planet who should learn to live in harmony with nature.”1

Currently artist-in-residence at Florida International University, Cortada exemplifies the cultural and ecological transnationalism of the twenty-first century. In addition to producing work on commission for the White House, the World Bank, and numerous public collections in Florida, he has collaborated with artists around the world, creating eco-art projects in the Netherlands, Latvia, and Hawai’i, peace murals in Cyprus and Northern Ireland, AIDS awareness murals in Geneva and South Africa, and child welfare murals in Bolivia and Panama. Cortada is an American artist but also self-consciously a citizen of the planet. He describes his most recent series, Ancestral Journeys, a collaborative project with the National Geographic scientist Spencer Wells, as “work that uses genetic data to explore how nature influenced human migration and history,” specifically regarding the various pathways that today’s residents of the Western Hemisphere took from Africa sixty thousand years ago. His point here is that “Perceived differences among people [have] often allowed for exploitation, marginalization, segregation and alienation. Inside our DNA we carry genetic markers that prove that we share the same ancestors and are one human family.”2

Returning to Astrid with Cortada‘s eco-cultural sensibility in mind, we can better appreciate how topical nuances of meaning inflect the work’s evocation of earlier expressionism. For one thing, the Antarctic materials and production site bring to mind recent reports of polar ice melt associated with global warming. Such reports have appeared since the 1970s, but in May 2014 Eric Rignot, a UC-Irvine glaciologist, announced at a NASA news conference: “Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat. . . . It has passed the point of no return.” As a result, the world ocean level could rise as much as four feet within the next two centuries, forcing the displacement of millions of people from coastal areas around the globe.3

This may seem like a lot for one small painting to address, but Astrid does so at multiple registers. It creatively conjures the aerial maps and satellite images that scientists such as Rignot use to represent the increasingly unstable environment of Antarctica-a continent whose glacial disintegration has global consequences. Areas of white lightly stained with blue in Cortada‘s work metaphorically suggest continental “landmarks” like the Thwaites Ice Shelf or Pine Island Glacier Basin, which lately have begun to collapse into the ocean. Viewed in terms of materiality instead of metaphor or representation, Astrid functions as a token or specimen of a place undergoing irrevocable change wrought by human actions elsewhere-especially actions associated with Western modernity since the Industrial Revolution. As the artist informed us: 

With the ice paintings, I wanted to melt the very ice that threatened to (melt and) drown my city [Miami]. The work, beautiful and serene, would be a precursor of horrors to come. . . . I melted the ice on paper to create the works, adding paint and sediment. The works were made in Antarctica, about Antarctica, using Antarctica as the medium (provided to me by the very researchers who inform us about Antarctica).4

With its expressive abstraction, Astrid recalls the heroic dynamism of American art about 1950, at the apogee of U.S. cultural modernism and military power, but its aqueous sensibility also suggests the dissolution of those human institutions amid global climate disruption-to which Americans until recently have contributed more than any other people. This interpretation takes on added significance in light of the growing scientific consensus that Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, distinguished from the preceding Holocene by the fact that humans since the nineteenth century have become the primary drivers of environmental change on a planetary scale. In describing this historic development, scientists associate the post-World War II period with a “Great Acceleration” of anthropogenic transformation.5

Cortada‘s Astrid provides a fitting introduction to these issues and this series of commentaries, highlighting the significance of ecology as a key concern not only in American art today but also as a defining idea in the history of modernity writ large-an idea whose comprehension demands our acceptance of environmental change as an irrevocable fact of life. 

To read the full article

Please make your charitable donations to the New York Foundation for the Arts, fiscal sponsor of Xavier Cortada’s Participatory Eco-Art Projects, and help engage audiences in addressing global climate change concerns.