MEDIUM – Time shrines to protect the planet

16 Apr 2018

An art critic said her work is a “balance on the edge between hope and despair.” She doesn’t like to be called an activist but prefers the terms “environmental artist.” In four years she has taken pictures of more than a hundred places, animals, and cultures that are disappearing. We went to talk to her to discover more about her time shrines and how Anne de Carbuccia sees the future.

We met Anne de Carbuccia on a very sunny day of April in Milan in her exhibition space “One Planet One Future” in Lambrate, just after a busy morning with two school classes visiting. Anne is a photographer who dedicated the last four years to take around 150 images of places and animals that have been affected in some way by our human activity and are at risk of disappearing. Each picture, normally in big format, represents an installation, a time shrine, built with objects found on the spot and carefully chosen for their symbolic meaning, together with a skull and an hourglass. For her installations, Anne makes use of ‘Vanitas’ art, a tradition that dates back to the sixteenth century, which featured the skull as a symbol of vanity to represent the futility of earthly life and the transient nature of worldly pursuits, and the hourglass to remind us that time is fleeting.

Preserving the memory of time has always been one of the biggest desires of humanity and a huge driver for arts. It was Pliny the Elder in his Natural History who told the legend of the Butades of Corinth. His daughter, Kora of Sicyon, was in love with a young man who was living for a long journey, possibly war, so she drew on the wall the outline of his shadow at the light of a candle, and upon this outline, her father modeled the face of the youth in clay. So, trying to catch that fleeting moment of the men leaving, the first piece of art was created to stop time and create a time shrine of memory.

I’m fascinated by the concept of shrines because shrines to me in a way are probably the first artistic expression within the night of times. (…) So, my contribution is what I was finally able to create with these installations, and of course, saving and preserving and documenting our era: what we have, what we are about to lose and what we have already lost”.

Anne de Carbuccia explains the experience of building her first time shrine al Lake Powell

An art critic said, “As much as with the religious and political art of the past, each of de Carbuccia’s pictures is on message, each one tells a story, each is balanced on an edge between hope and despair, and God knows each is a story that urgently needs telling.” When Anne talks about her work and her pictures, her eyes are looking at something elsewhere, something in another dimension, and it seems like she is sucked back into those places, away from where she is speaking and back into those landscapes and those stories of cultures that are disappearing or are lost already. She calls herself an Earth protector and an island girl. In fact, she is Corsican and grew up freediving before she could even walk. Having seen the big changes in the sea and nature, she decided to “illuminate the damage, the breakage, the fragmentation.” In fact, one of the biggest influences she mentions is nature.

I’ve seen nature, and I’ve seen it evolve in a way that I wasn’t expecting, so this is my way of trying to raise awareness and protect it.” The other biggest influences are her children and the next generation. “As an artist, this project is about canalizing my own anxieties for the future, but obviously it’s especially for the future of the next generation and my own children.” The Time Shrine Foundation that Anne created has education and awareness among its primary objectives. She often receives visits of school classes of all ages, and she gets the chance to talk with them about the future.

The next generation is concerned. They will be dealing with challenges that will be quite complicated, and definitely they need support. They need to be helped, and we need to raise awareness through education to help them. But they are also strong and are resilient…and their values are very different from ours. It’s about sharing; it’s about having less material items. There is a whole series of values that will be very different in that generation. I can see it already when I meet them. They will definitely be the resilient generation, and all my hopes are with them.

And when I ask about differences she might have noticed from Moscow to Italy and NYC where she has exhibitions, she answers that, apart from the language, there are no differences in how they look at their future. “Digital media today has reunited them, and I think the division today is whether you want to be a protector of the planet or not.

But what does being a protector for the planet mean? We questioned Anne about what was the call to action hidden in her work.

As far as I’m concerned, my main tool is resilience. I really believe that we can fix things and make them even more beautiful than they were before if we choose to. So, if I can show you beauty and resilience — even though my messages are sometimes harsh and difficult to deal with — that means that we can do everything and anything. There are solutions. (…) It’s not about the biggest issues, it’s about changing our view, or our way of looking at our world. And the way of doing that is to start with ourselves, with something very small — like a daily gesture — something that you can do every day in a very simple way like to stop using disposable plastic bottles or to stop using disposable plastic bags. Do one thing, and you are already making a huge difference. Of course, reducing red meat consumption is going to be key. There are a few things like the way you dress — make sure that you dress in a more sustainable way. Buying less but better quality is very important. I mean, every single one of us can make a difference in his daily life that will have a huge impact on the polar bears, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the Amazon, and all these very, very far away and distant places that we might never see but where our choices as consumers in our daily lives will have a huge difference, and make a huge impact”.

Anne de Carbuccia in Antartica

And Anne tries to apply these principles also in her daily life. For example, in the location of her Milan exhibition, she chose a historical building in the outskirts of the city, in Lambrate. She kept the building’s structure but completely recreated it sustainably: from heating to air conditioning, to the way the windows were conceived and the air passing or the way the rooms were painted. The idea was “in such an industrial zone, to be able to integrate sustainable values and show that sustainable values are beautiful and can be beautiful and practical.” We talked for a while in the room dedicated to endangered species where one wall is covered with plants that make it look a little bit like a jungle.

Anne finds collaboration with architects very important. She says they have a big responsibility because most of us are now living in urban environments, and we need to integrate nature and wilderness in our urban spaces. One of her dreams would be to find a collaboration with an architect to create a nomadic sustainable museum with her work and to be able to move it around. For the moment though she is very focused on the new exhibition that she will open in June in Naples, all dedicated to the oceans and seas.

It was also because of her attention to every detail and her efforts to impact the least possible that Anne and our company came into contact. In fact, we first met her while she was preparing her exhibition in NYC, and she was looking for a sustainable material for products to include in the merchandising of the show. Together we created bags made with our ECONYL® regenerated nylon underlining the environmental advantage of using a regenerated and regenerable nylon coming from waste instead of one coming from virgin oil. For the premiere of the exhibition, Anne also chose to wear a nightdress made with ECONYL® yarn.

Anne de Carbuccia wearing a dress made with ECONYL® regenerated nylon, coming from recovered fishing nets and other discarded nylons

“Well, the dress was great, and the material is fantastic. It was obviously very important as an environmental artist to be able to convey my message also with my sustainable clothing. I can’t wait to see what the new products will be and how they will look. Again it’s not like telling people not to use nylon; it’s about telling people to use renewable green nylon, something that has had a way of going back to the reduce, reuse, recycle system which is key. It’s a circular economy and is going to be very important going forward.”

There is one picture that more than any other has become emblematic of Anne’s Vanishing World Series, and it’s the picture of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino who had died few weeks before our meeting. He was alive only because he was in a zoo in north Europe, and when they realized that he was the last one they brought him back to Africa hoping that he would be able to reproduce. Anne met him when the animal was 42 years old already. She describes it as an incredible experience.

Anne de Carbuccia with Sudan, the last male northern white rhino

“You know, rhinos are probably the closest thing to a pre-historical animal, and they survived for millions and millions of years and so being so close to this very kind, very solitary incredible creature was a great honor. (…) That’s what touched me so much…you know, the end of a species, the end of an era, the end of millions of years of evolution and to be so close to that and be able to represent it and immortalize it was an incredible experience. (…) It was also very sad because it’s like a door, an energy door that closes on millions of years of evolution, and so it’s lost. It’s a loss for humanity, definitely.”

Another sad moment she recalls is during her latest expedition to the Peruvian Amazon where she says: “I really saw a level of deforestation that I heard about, but it’s one thing to hear about these things and another one to see them and witness the degradation and the powerlessness of the tribes down there. The rangers that I collaborate with were extremely saddening and not very optimistic.”

Then Anne goes deep into how she builds her time shrines and how much the contact with nature is important in her work: “what I do is both a pilgrimage and an expedition to these locations because it’s a learning curve. By the time I get to the location where I create my installation, I’ve tried to observe and learn a lot of what is around me to be able to then, in a condensed and creative way, represent it in my installation. I don’t think that the installation would have the same sense of purpose if I have not been through that process first.”

To close our meeting, I asked Anne about how she sees the future and if space explorations to Mars are offering an alternative future for humanity.

“I don’t think there is a planet B; this is our water planet, it’s our Blue planet, it’s where we live and thrive, it’s where we become humans, and that’s where we belong. Yes, of course, we are sending up cars in space and to Mars, yet we are eating our own plastic because it finishes in the stomach of fishes, and we are not able to recycle it. So, a contradiction of the era and something I talk about in my work a lot is how it’s possible that technology has evolved so fast and so well and so incredibly, but yet we are not able to use that same technology to be able to help our planet and contribute to its protection and making it the place where we should live forever. (…) I believe that we are not only an invasive species; I also think that we are a race of dreamers and that’s what I want to thrive for — to continue having faith in our species and make sure that going forward we become better dreamers and less invasive.”

Anne de Carbuccia talks about how she sees humanity in 50 years
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