Pinar Yoldas challenged her gallery attendees to an interactive yoga session in a dark, hot room.
The necessary heat radiated from a glowing red sign reading “GLOBAL WARMING.”
Alumna and artist Yoldas discussed her 2016 installation, “Global Warming Hot Yoga Studio,” in UCLA’s Counterforce Now lecture series Thursday entitled, “Causality is Broken: Can We Fix It With Art and Design?” Her installations use sensory experiences to highlight the relationship between everyday behavior and environmental harm, she said. Yoldas said art helps physically and emotionally reconstruct the cause-and-effect mechanism between an individual’s actions and climate change, as people often aren’t aware of their impact.
“If we use our power (as artists) to manipulate human perception and work with human emotion, … we can find the ways in which people can feel the things as if they are happening to them,” Yoldas said.
Yoldas’ passion for ecologically focused artwork grew from her knowledge of multiple disciplines, she said. In addition to earning a master’s degree in design media arts, Yoldas explored fields such as computer science, architecture, chemistry and cognitive neuroscience.
Neuroscience particularly informed her understanding of how personal decision-making affects the environment, Yoldas said, as she researched the mental pathways connecting perception, emotion and choices. It is easy to ignore the long-standing environmental influence of a daily decision – such as using a to-go cup instead of a reusable water bottle – because the effects are not immediately perceptible, she said.
“Most of our decisions are only informed by our immediate environment, by our modal physical space,” Yoldas said. “This could’ve been perfect if you lived in a jungle a thousand years ago, … but the scale has stretched. You can’t even conceive the scale of climate change.”
Yoldas said news about climate change can often be difficult to absorb, and her artwork instead aims to involve individuals in an immersive experience. “Global Warming Hot Yoga Studio” compelled participants to collectively practice hot yoga while confronted by her “GLOBAL WARMING” sign, as bodily movement leads to a more immediate and thoughtful impact for the individual, she said. A yoga instructor read a script that guided the meditation but reminded participants of the harms on environmental degradation – for example, encouraging them to “feel the particulate matter” upon inhaling.
A separate exhibit of Yoldas’, 2014′s “Ecosystem of Excess,” showed the possible long-term impacts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on marine organisms, she said. Presented as a science lab with creatures suspended in water, Yoldas’ installation features over 30 fictitious species that could evolve due to plastic pollution. “Ecosystem of Excess” may seem like a science fiction concept, Yoldas said, but imagining the new organisms – like a turtle that evolved from eating colorful balloons – helps establish the causality between our everyday plastic use and today’s sea creatures.
“Through (the organisms), I tell stories,” Yoldas said. “I used this twisted sense of humor, a little bit of dystopia, because everyone else is gone for these creatures to emerge.”
Rebeca Méndez, the director of Counterforce Lab and a professor in the design media arts department, said Yoldas’ experimental artwork reveals the development of the Anthropocene through art and design. The Anthropocene era, Méndez said, is our current geological time period, in which humanity’s presence is negatively changing the composition of our planet.
“Many students feel paralyzed knowing that the conversation out in the world is that there is not a future for them,” Méndez said. “My classes … focus on how to change this conversation and how to empower them to have a voice.”
Classes through the Counterforce Lab have students consider their own environmental impacts, such as assigning them to aesthetically photograph their waste, Méndez said. The Counterforce Now lecture series also focuses on the importance of design on environmental awareness, she said. Companies like Adidas – who make shoes from recycled plastic – have begun using sustainable materials to create products. The trend of considerate design practices, especially in the fashion industry, helps show the direct cause and effect of our consumerist society, even if these products are more expensive, Méndez said.
“If you knew that when you bought a cheap T-shirt you would actually be utilizing hundreds of gallons of water, … you would never buy it,” Méndez said. “Right now, we have not paid for what we have produced; the environment is dying and that is because of broken causality.”
Maru García, a graduate student and researcher for Counterforce Labs, said she helped organize the lecture due to her admiration for Yoldas’ advocacy. García, an ecological artist focused on exposing the loss of environmental biodiversity, said she hoped Yoldas’ lecture would cause attendees to engage in self-reflection, as sensory art has the ability to empower action.
Méndez said Yoldas’ multidisciplinary approach is crucial to advancing the discussion around climate change as artists, scientists and professionals in other fields should surpass their arbitrary divisions for collaboration. Artists have a vital role in communicating environmental complexity to make it understandable, Méndez said.
“The arts have a way of being able to to imagine new ways of existing as a humanity,” Méndez said. “We are able to share our imagination and really have the freedom to be playful in terms of speculative ideas (for change).”