29 Nov, 2012 |
Bald penguins used to highlight danger of climate change
With hanged penguins and guillotined turtles, artist shows need for action
Vincent Huang is using art to highlight the damage caused by climate change

At Qatar Sustainability Expo, if you go past the shiny electric sports car, Shell’s state-of-the-art carbon capture technology, and the flashing, thundering lights of Saudi Arabia’s stand, you will find an odd and slightly jarring sight: a lonely penguin hanging by a noose.

“This is the first time animals have participated at the UNFCCC,” Vincent Huang, the artist, said with utter earnestness.

Mr. Huang is a Taiwanese artist who uses dark humour involving cuddly animals to bring home a serious message about climate change: that the world’s wildlife doesn’t have a voice in the debate on human effects on the environment, even though animals are perhaps the most severely affected.

“The environment doesn’t only belong to human beings; we have to count the penguin in,” Mr. Huang said.

According to the artist, animal resistance to human climate destruction progresses by three stages. First, is the non-violent protest of the “naked penguins”: a sculpture showing two birds without their feathers. They have removed their “coats” because the temperature has increased.

Next, the birds are driven to desperation: hence the morbid figure of a penguin suspended from the gallows, which greets visitors to the exhibit.

Finally, the animals take matters into their own paws and strike back. In works not on display at the Qatar Sustainability Expo, polar bears clutch the heads of Barack Obama, the US President and former US President George W. Bush, in their jaws. The works are based on a Reuters photo that showed a polar bear forced, through hunger, to eat one its cubs.

While those works are not at COP18/CMP8 Doha, another piece is drawing the crowds in. Visitors are encouraged to squeeze the handle of a petrol pump to power a miniature oil rig. On one end a guillotine descends into the bloodied neck of a Tuvalu sea turtle and on the other hangs a moribund polar bear. Made expressly for the event, the work is meant to show how climate change threatens the lives of tropical sea creatures and arctic wildlife at the same time.

In addition to his artistic contribution to the Conference, Mr. Huang, is also an official delegate for the island nation of Tuvalu. In 2009, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that Tuvalu, which has an average elevation of one metre, would be the first in the world to disappear due to rising sea levels. Mr. Huang was drawn to the country because of what he saw as its tragic situation: a non-industrialised country that produces nearly zero carbon emissions would be perhaps the first to perish as a consequence of emissions. He was invited by the nation to install an “eco-art” exhibition, and began a relationship with the country’s decision-makers, which led to his participation at the Conference this year.

To further press home his message, Mr. Huang has arranged for animals to host a press conference Tuesday, December 4, at 1.30pm, to convey their message to the human delegates at COP18/CMP8 Doha. Mr. Huang said that the “animal media” - Penguin TV, Polar Bear TV – will be attending but human media, as well as curious participants, were welcome to attend.