Dawn DeDeaux: Art in a Time of Creeping Catastrophe

I interviewed Dawn DeDeaux in 2016. The exhibit at MassMOCA she describes here is about to open. The signs of the climate crisis that propels her art are becoming more apparent. Sea level rise on the east coast is producing sunny day, tidal flooding in cities from Miami to Boston.

The great south Louisiana floods of August 2016 were the product of warming water in the Gulf of Mexico and warming air temperatures which fed each other in a vicious cycle for about 72 hours that flooded tens of thousands of homes and businesses, only some of which have recovered from that impact. Temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico this year are already high.

The artist Dawn DeDeaux on the Island Road in Terrebonne Parish, 2016.

DeDeaux’s art is informed by an observation from Steven Hawking that he believed humans had about 100 years left to figure out how to prevent the climate here from becoming hostile to our survival.

DeDeaux’s Mothership series is about leaving here, destination unknown.

The Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum has a current set of exhibits that loosely and directly provide a perspective of art created in the wake of disasters. A recent panel discussion there in connection with those exhibits focused on how disasters displace people and how the impact of those displacements found expression in the art of the affected people. DeDeaux says her art was changed by the post Katrina flooding of New Orleans. Her art since then could be characterized as art in the face of the disaster that is coming.

Climate change is what would drive us out. A recent article published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies captured in a single phrase the nature of climate change and the reason why it is so hard to mobilize communities, states, nations to address it.

That term is “creeping catastrophe.”

It is the slow, steady, relentless nature of climate change that makes it so difficult for us to address. It tends to fade into the background of the daily drama of news reports that focus on attacks, wars, shootings, political crisis, etc., that erupt onto our screens in a flash, then fade or are pushed into the background by some newer, more urgent crisis.

Meanwhile, in the background, temperatures are rising. Glaciers are melting. Sea levels are rising. Land is sinking. Daily. 24/7/365. While your awake and while you sleep.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority recently approved the 2017 version of its Coastal Master Plan. The purpose of the plan is to serve as a blue print for saving south Louisiana from the impact of the creeping catastrophe of climate change — the very thing inspiring DeDeaux’s work. Yet, in public testimony over the past two weeks, CPRA leaders have been very frank about not having the money to pay for even the low-ball estimated cost of the plan which is officially $50 billion over the next 50 years.

That is the same price tag attached to the 2012 plan, which Mark Davis of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy says was low by about $40 billion then. Davis says that between the lack of funding and the costs not included in the plan, Louisiana is about $70 billion short to accomplish the task that was at hand then. Things have changed so rapidly since 2012 that the best case scenario in the 2012 Master Plan is considered the worst case scenario in the 2017 version.

Johnny Bradberry who runs the CPRA told legislators that the state can only count on about $19 billion to implement the plan. Other sources are not known at this time, although there is some hope that the federal government might help with the effort. The Edwards administration is joining Coastal Zone parishes in law suits to bring the oil and gas industry to the table to pay for their contribution to the destruction of our wetlands — something state political leaders have acknowledged as fact for at least 40 years.

The prospects of Louisiana developing the discipline and commitment to meet the threat that most of our business and political class still deny exists are not good. After all, we’re still building houses on at-grad slabs in what everyone knows are flood plains here (the August 2016 floods rendered the FEMA flood plain maps irrelevant).

Failing that, a lot of people are going to have to move. At some point between now and then, the people who are going to have to move are going to recognize the true cost of climate change denial, of refusing to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for their damage to our wetlands, of basing our economic development strategy over the past eight years on a game of climate change chicken by targeting greenhouse gas spewing industries.

But, unless there’s a Mothership around, we’re likely to be too busy packing and lamenting our fate to think about those issues.

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Thanks to Matt Roberts, AOC’s Community Production Manager for help locating the music used in this segment.

A Foolish Game by Hans Atom (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/hansatom/55394 Ft: Snowflake