Celebrating Death on the Champions Podium
Solid sculpted glass and wood
7 x 11 x 9 in.
In making a piece about climate change and land loss in Louisiana, I wanted to create something both applicable to the setting of Louisiana and my own personal experience with the subject. To accomplish this, I created a series of three glass and wood sculptures that function as trophies. They are first, second, and third place participation trophies that harken back to my days in child sports where everyone would be rewarded for contributing to the team’s success. In this case, however, the success we are “celebrating” is the furthering of the destruction of our environment.
The glass components of the trophies are modeled after the bald cypress tree, a native plant susceptible to pollution from the many local oil refineries, as well as Louisiana’s unprecedented rate of land loss. A color reduction technique was used to give the glass the appearance of oil slick creeping up the stems and across the leaves of the small trees. Each tree is progressively more bent over and wilted indicating a progression toward complete death. The inherent qualities of the glass lend itself to the work’s meaning. The beauty and perceived value of glass reflect the beauty and value of the environment, positioning it as something to be coveted. At the same time, the inherently delicate and fragile nature of glass highlights the precariousness of our current situation. These pieces are clearly meant to be ironic in their presentation as prizes. The glass is hauntingly beautiful; the idea of winning an award seems positive, but the color and posture of the trees generate a solemn sadness that reflects my own feelings while researching these topics.
The final step in my process was to award the prizes to three different individuals that I deemed the most responsible participants. I selected former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, William O’Keefe, and E Bruce Harrison, all of whom played significant roles in advancing Louisiana’s climate and land emergency.
3rd Place Participation Trophy
E Bruce Harrison and the company which he started in the 1970’s was one of the early leaders in the movement to combat new environmental activism. One of his biggest contributions to the side of chemical and oil industry was his book Going Green from 1993. This book introduced corporations to the idea we now call Greenwashing. He showed companies how they could fundamentally break down activist movements by exploiting their constant need for funding. This PR move, used extremely frequently even today, allows companies to get away with catastrophic environmental harm by camouflaging the impact with clever marketing strategies and donations to perceived environmental causes. Harrison masterminded the strategy that enabled big oil to get away with much of what they did in the past two decades and most certainly deserves a recognition of his participation in the stimulation of climate change.
2nd Place Participation Trophy
William O’Keefe has worked in many positions that would justify him for this list of climate change participants, including time as a lobbyist for ExxonMobil, and Executive Vice President of the American Petroleum Institute (API). However, a main contribution of his would be from his time as president of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). The GCC was founded to oppose policies to reduce greenhouse gases. Even through it disbanded in 2002, many of its member, like the API and the Association of Manufacturers still lobby against emissions reductions. At one time the coalition contained almost every major American oil interest like Shell, Exxon, Chevron, Texaco etc… With lots of financial backing the GCC has been able to effectively combat the IPCC (the UN’s scientific advisory board) and lobby against action against climate change. They are credited with US president George W. Bush’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Treaty on climate. O’Keefe’s role in the GCC has earned him our second-place prize in participating in the delegitimization of climate science and skewing the narrative of the truth.
1st Place Participation Trophy
Rex Tillerson was CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006-2016. Tillerson and his company have had a well-known stance on climate change. Greenpeace estimates that the company spent more than 33 million dollars since 1997 on spreading misinformation about man-made climate change. What separates Tillerson from the other two is how close his role is to Louisiana’s climate problem specifically. Tillerson’s company utilized the strategies that E Bruce Harrison wrote about in his book Going Green. They have the fourth largest refinery in the whole country located right along the Mississippi. They continued to grow and expand their operations in Louisiana despite strong evidence linking oil refineries and land loss in a geographic location already susceptible. Perhaps the main reason that Tillerson gets the first-place prize is that he managed to position his company so that in Louisiana it was both the perpetrator, the denier, and soon the victim (when their oil refineries are underwater and their employees are sick and jobless) of climate change.