Bihl Haus Arts has announced the opening of its first virtual exhibition, featuring multimedia artist Sabra Booth. Hot Pursuit: A Visual Commentary on Climate Change will chart a decade and a half of Booth’s projects, all centered on the causes and effects of what is now widely considered a global climate crisis.

The exhibition will open with a virtual reception Aug. 15 from 2 to 4 p.m., with Bihl Haus Executive Director Kellen McIntyre interviewing Booth, and featuring guest appearances by Marianna Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, and Denise Richter, who implemented the Palo Alto College recycling program in 2009.

Registration is requested for the event, which will be held on the Zoom videoconferencing platform. Following the reception, the exhibition will be viewable using 360-degree, 3D technology, McIntyre said, thanks to the technological prowess of Claudia Loya, Bihl Haus social media director.

A lifetime of warnings

One multimedia project in the exhibition is Slick, which Booth undertook following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Visiting the Gulf Coast, Booth made prints of local flora, took photographs of oil refineries and marine life, and brought these together in book form along with rubber petroleum refinery gaskets.

Emerging in 2010 from what was previously the hottest decade on record, did printmaker Sabra Booth expect her next 10 years of climate change-themed artwork to track an even hotter decade?

“Sadly, yes,” Booth said. “I trust the experts, the scientists in our world to speak the truth. … Really almost my whole lifetime the warnings have been out there.”

Booth was born in the late 1960s and grew into adulthood around the time that the Exxon Mobil company’s private research recognized the influence of fossil fuels on the global climate. She traces her own arc of environmental consciousness through the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in 1989, the gradual warming of the world’s oceans, the Gulf oil spill, all the way through the coronavirus pandemic, which she said is “tied directly into our interaction with nature.”

As humans colonize more and more of the world they come into closer contact with animal species, and the contagions they carry, more frequently, Booth explained, recognizing that the virus was likely transmitted to humans through bats. She also pointed out that the recent derecho, or ‘inland hurricane’ that devastated crops in Iowa shows that areas once thought protected from increasing oceanic storm activity won’t be spared.  

It all makes her current exhibition timely, she said. “It’s what’s happening with COVID,” she said. “There’s the science side of it, and then there’s the political side of it, and it’s really difficult to get political movement. And that’s where the power is within the state to make effective change for the betterment of the planet.”

The importance of dialogue

Some viewers might recognize Coral Cadence, an immersive installation included in the Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival in 2009. The installation has been recreated in a custom-built room inside Bihl Haus for Hot Pursuit, incorporating silkscreen prints using fluorescent inks brightly illuminated by blacklights.

Coral Cadence is an installation featured in the exhibition “Hot Pursuit: A Visual Commentary on Climate Change.” Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

As the prints progress down the corridor, Booth said, they gradually fade into colorlessness, representing the bleaching of coral reefs due to warming oceans that would normally lend vitality.

Though Booth admits she is pessimistic about the possibility for concerted effort to reverse the course of climate change, she allows that individual efforts can make a difference. Like Richter, Booth helped start a recycling program while in graduate school at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the early 1990s.

She said the hope lies with those who will inherit the planet. “It’s … getting the next generation engaged, in a creative sense and also in having a feeling for stewardship of the planet. And that it’s their planet to take care of or to lose.”

Though some might simply respond to the beauty of Coral Cadence, or the humor in some of her other artwork, Booth ultimately aims to provoke dialogue.

When Slick was shown at the Rockport Center for the Arts in 2013, Booth had an unexpected encounter.

“I had one of the CEOs of Chevron sitting in my installation in Rockport, and we had a conversation,” Booth said. “It was very revealing about the industry view, … although he really liked the piece and what I’d done.”

Hot Pursuit: A Visual Commentary on Climate Change will be on view on the Bihl Haus website through Oct. 17, with Booth’s commentary on her work, and clickable labels for further information.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...