Can this be True? Chris Drury and Carbon Sink

Article © by Mary Waltham

Chris Drury is a British environmental artist of considerable standing whose work includes site-specific installations. Drury was commissioned to develop an installation on the campus of the University of Wyoming. Note that Wyoming is one US state that has oil, gas and mining activities at the centre of its economy and is home to one of the largest coal mines in the US.

Drury, C (2011) Carbon sink. Coal and pine logs.

Carbon Sink was a 46 foot wide spiral sculpture made of a bed of coal covered with a swirl of charred and pine beetle infested logs. It referenced the direct link between global warming and loss of some three million acres of pine forest in the Rockies due to warming temperatures that enable pine beetles to survive the winter. Both the coal and the pine logs were natural materials that died during periods of global warming.

Drury attributes his inspiration for Carbon Sink to talking with a scientist who complained that no-one was connecting the daily coal shipments from Wyoming and pine beetle infestation that was destroying the forests. The intention was to leave Carbon Sink in place until it disintegrated.

The sculpture was removed by the University of Wyoming within a year of its installation. The president had bowed to pressure from local politicians and executives within the private energy industries to remove it. These institutions and individuals support the mission of the university financially through state and corporate funding, and tax breaks. As a result of this event, state lawmakers then passed a measure to require campus artwork to reflect Wyoming’s history (transportation, agriculture, minerals) and to give the state governor and representatives of the energy industry final say on the art selected for the University of Wyoming campus.

One unintended consequence of this story is that it focused attention on the impact of energy companies in both damaging the environment, and also in shaping debate and state law to silence dissent.

The incident was covered by the New York Times (Frosch, 2011) and The Guardian (Goldenberg, 2011) and it is certainly true that more people were made aware of Drury’s Carbon Sink’s message than could possibly have been the case without its premature removal.


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