By Julia Travers
Multi-disciplinary artist Justin Brice Guariglia is the first artist to be embedded in a NASA mission. This collaboration is funded through private grants. Guariglia will be flying with the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) mission on flights through 2020. OMG is studying the degree to which warm, salinated Atlantic water is melting Greenland’s glaciers in order to better estimate sea level rising. The OMG site explains that for five years in the spring, they will use “NASA’s G-III to fly the Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN-A) in order to generate high resolution, high precision elevation measurements of Greenland’s coastal glaciers.” OMG also studies the seafloor geometry to explore where warm water enters fjords and reaches glaciers. Each summer they will deploy salinity and temperature probes.
"APR 09, 2014 16:00:50 GMT," Plasticene™ print, polystyrene, 128” x 96” x 1.75”, 2015-2016 Image of glacial land ice, as seen from the stratosphere (at an approximate altitude of 40,000 feet) digitally printed with 4 strata of ink, onto 4 high density polystyrene insulation panels, courtesy of Justin Brice Guariglia.
Guariglia joined NASA on a previous Greenland flight and produced large-scale and detailed aerial photographs through his proprietary printing process, which involves a mixture of printmaking, sculpture, and painting. Hilarie M. Sheets of the New York Times describes the works as digital prints “with more than 140 strata of ink to create a three-dimensional surface.” He explained to me that, to protect it conceptually, he trademarked the process Plasticene™ after the “nickname for the Anthropocene based on the amount of plastic found in the earth’s fossil record that has accumulated over the last 70 odd years. That fossil record is in the form of a strata layer in the earth’s surface which is studied by geologists.”
I asked Guariglia to tell us more about this process:
JBG: The physical printing process I’ve developed involves layering a plastic like acrylic polymer onto the surface of my material until the image acquires some dimension. The material is hyper-archival and will last almost forever, the same way the strata record of the planet will be around forever—it’s fossil evidence of our time. The actual process I find fairly boring, the material I find disturbing but relevant for fossilizing an image, and concept intellectually interesting.
Guariglia’s work, rich in the documentation and creative translation of ecological information, explores time, preservation, space, and scale:
JBG: I grew up next to the home of Asher B Durand, the Hudson River School painter and then spent nearly two decades in Asia, where I began to appreciate various Asian painting schools, such as the Northern Song Dynasty landscape painters and the Japanese Kano school...but my background in making art is photographic and Andreas Gursky is a large influence and his work has a very painterly aspect to it. So, I’d say these have had a strong influence on how I approach my work, which lies at the intersection of painting, photography, and printmaking.
Speaking on foreseeable challenges, and his hopes for the project, Guariglia wrote:
JBG: The largest challenge is taking data based ideas and turning them into something affective; that is creative and sneaks up on you as the viewer interacting with an object or image or idea of some sort. It's a riddle and the streams of data are endless and the directions to go in are infinite. The challenge is to choose smart paths of ingress and egress that will allow for engaging the heart and the mind.
Guariglia also has an interesting and evolving tattoo by Frances Segismundo that tracks NASA’s GISTEMP (global temperature anomalies 5-year mean) index. His site explains that this tattoo project began in 2016 to commemorate the formal designation of the Anthropocene, that it “will be updated every five years to track the index,” and that the “black carbon tattoo pigment is made from soot/ash and is permanent.” This Welcome to the Anthropocene tattoo shows his very personal connection and commitment to the study and interpretation of global warming:
JBG: I'd wanted a tattoo for a very long time but nothing had ever grabbed me and said, "live with me, forever…” But the index, which also looks like a crack in a glacier or the outline of a mountain, among other things, and that the ink is made from carbon soot, the stuff that is transforming the planet, and that I’d carry that same material around under my skin for the rest of my life, just pulled me in intellectually and aesthetically.
You can follow Justin Brice Guariglia’s work with OMG on his website and on Instagram @xxjbg
Julia Travers is a journalist and creative writer. You can follow her @traversjul.