We Live in a Global Hothouse

Hothouse is a participatory sculpture project using the tropical greenhouse as a metaphor for climate change. Screenprinted panels present different facets of environmental destabilization, ranging across past and projected future catastrophic events. Forms abstracted from tide tables wrap around the structure beneath silhouettes of Virginia species negatively impacted by climate change. Layered alongside these compositions are a graph depicting the past 100 years of the global average temperature, a flood map of Norfolk, and images taken from recent superstorm events. These elements evoke the feeling of crisis without resolving into a specific event or time.

 

Inside the greenhouse, vines are suspended throughout the space. These paper structures are created with the work of community participants. Words and definitions of emotions incited by climate disruption are printed on handmade and recycled paper using letterpress printing techniques. These prints are then laser cut into the shape of wild grape leaves and installed in the sculpture. Foregrounded in this project is the reality that the social is interwoven with the ecological; how are the injustices in our current social systems transformed or perpetuated in response to the climate crisis?

 

With each new era of human development, new words need to be coined to describe the new feelings and situations that emerge as conditions change. Without a shared language, it is difficult for people to engage with each other about how they see the world. Hothouse encourages our community, both local and national, to create words to describe feelings and situations related to climate change. In this way we hope to cut through the noise of partisan politics and instead give a space just to feel.  

This piece is inspired by the work of ecological philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who has coined terms like solastalgia, which is the mental distress caused by negative environmental change in a place one loves or resides. Poetry and text prompts were developed to generate writings that capture participants’ feelings about the current climate crisis. This gives community members the power to meditate upon their experience, name it, and provide opportunities to approach these problems from new angles.

As community members make new terms, it is important to remember that hope and joy also are present in this project, not just collective mourning or denial. We welcome word creations that span the spectrum of negative, neutral, and positive feelings and situations about our lived environment. Our grief is often borne out of love for something or someone; in order to preserve what we love we need to name it so that we can share its importance with others.

In some ways, a greenhouse’s architecture and purpose mimics that of a temple, church, or other places of offering. It is a place where lives are nurtured. This is one aspect of a greenhouse. However, we must also recognize that by its very nature a greenhouse also excludes forms of life not deemed worthy of nurturing. This duality leads to interesting questions: how do we as a society decide what is worth nurturing, and what is not? Who makes these decisions?