Our exhibition asks "What do you love that needs protecting? What are you moved to do about it?"
As humans, we are motivated to take action to protect of the things we love. As we face the grief and despair of of disappearing bees, dying starfish, devastating droughts, fires, floods and diseases that kill, we need to engage from our hearts . In order to be fully present with the complexity of those feelings we need to feel safe so we can hold it all.
"Any experience of fear and/or pain that doesn't have the support it needs to be digested and integrated into our developing brain is a fairly concrete definition of trauma".
We understand it is a big undertaking to ask people to look at the effects of our degraded climate. To fully comprehend the enormity of the issues, our bodies and minds need to respond honestly and directly to the fear and grief that may be experienced. We need warm, welcoming relationships to support us in feeling safe enough to process these intense feelings. Without that support, we can get overwhelmed and our bodies and brains cannot process the disturbing emotions. This can become embedded, unresolved trauma.
"Unresolved trauma is the most and urgent public health issue of our time,"
"Trauma victims are alienated from their bodies", says van der Kolk. People who are trapped in a trauma response numb out, and do not fully inhabit their bodies, making it difficult or impossible, for them to even know what they feel. "In the long term, they become experts in self numbing. They use food, exercise, work--or worse--drugs and alcohol-- to stifle physical discomfort. The longer they do this, the more difficult it becomes to remain present in any given moment."
"Engage from your heart" we ask of our audience as they view our paintings. "Notice what you love". But if someone is trapped in trauma, that may be too tall an order. It may be that in order to protect ourselves from being flooded with overwhelming feelings, the only thing we feel we can do is numb out or deny the severity of the problems.
We want to bring awareness to the issue of denial that abounds in the world. There are vast numbers of people who are walking around with unacknowledged trauma, and living in this way makes denial a necessary life skill. Detatched from their emotions and believing nothing else is wrong, makes it an easy next step to deny there is a climate crises.
"Why can't people see what's right in front of their faces? " We scratch our heads in dismay and frustration, because we cannot understand why anyone could not see the obvious warming oceans, melting ice caps, disappearing songbirds. Yet sometimes seeing what is in front of us is so terrifying we need to pretend it isn't there.
Denial is one way the body and brain copes with unresolved trauma. Those of us who have been traumatized need to gently learn it is possible to tolerate our own feelings and bodily sensations, to learn to feel safe again in our bodies. We also need to understand that sometimes people are so unaware of their trauma that denial is the only way they know how to live from day to day. Being able to be compassionate towards each other, knowing that fear is what often keeps people trapped in denial.
As artists, we want our climate change exhibits to provide an atmosphere that cultivates an environment of curiosity, not fear. We hope being with these beautiful images provides a sense of enough safety to look AT the issues, to relax the need for denial. We also hope the love of our subject matter shows through and can be experienced by our viewers as a warm, welcoming presence. May fear melt into curiosity, and curiosity melt into love and may that inspire a call to action.
May we all identify what we love enough to do something to save it.
UPDATE August 2020:
Mary Kay has written an article for the Global Association Interpersonal Neurobiology Studies (mindGAINS) that was published in their August 2020 blog. She and Helen are being interviewed for their monthly webinar on August 8.