COASST

Balancing the beautiful and the horrific

Artists Natalie Niblack and Ann Chadwick Reid explore the Anthropocene and climate change in a show at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center

The morning of Sept. 13, Natalie Niblack and Ann Chadwick Reid set out from their home in Skagit Valley about 60 miles north of Seattle for Oregon in a white Mercedes Sprinter van loaded with their artwork.

It was smoky where Reid makes her home on Samish Island, and Niblack lives along the Skagit River, and as they drove south the haze worsened. The two artists headed to Newberg, where, beneath brown skies and a few miles from one of two mercifully small fires in Yamhill County, they would oversee the installation of On the Edge: Living the Anthropocene. The newest exhibit to open at the Chehalem Cultural Center features, among other images, spectacular visions of fire.

The women regard the drive down I-5 through Seattle and Tacoma as among their least favorite because of the traffic and never-ending road construction. But on this Sunday, there were few travelers, allowing them to contemplate the surreal view.

Artists Natalie Niblack (left) and Ann Chadwick Reid share environmental interests that include monthly monitoring of beach debris for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team Program (COASST), here at Bowman Bay in Washington’s Deception Pass. Photo courtesy: Ann Chadwick Reid
Artists Natalie Niblack (left) and Ann Chadwick Reid share environmental interests that include monthly monitoring of beach debris for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) program at Bowman Bay in Washington’s Deception Pass. Photo courtesy: Ann Chadwick Reid

“What little landscape there was disappeared until we could see only about a quarter of a mile or so in front of the van,” Reid said. “By the time we got to Portland, we couldn’t see downtown from the freeway. The passing landscape became silhouettes of trees and buildings that faded from a dark smoky gray into the curtain of brown that enveloped everything. It was like experiencing the end time.”

“My overall sense was one of mourning,” Niblack added. “Mourning for the trees, ecosystems, and all the species that will be greatly diminished or become extinct, and guilt because it is our fault.”

“Anthropocene” is an unofficial unit of geologic time, describing the current period in Earth’s history when human activity has significantly affected climate and ecosystems. On the Edge: Living the Anthropocene, which opened last week and runs through Oct. 30, has been in the works for more than a year, and as curator Carissa Burkett observes in the program notes, the timing of the opening “is both triggering and prophetic.”

“Artists are always at the forefront of important issues and the predictors who bring a visual voice to things that cannot speak with words that others can hear,” Burkett writes. “To look at these works you see such beauty and softness that only makes the viewer feel heavy conflict as they try to hold the content.  You want to look, but you also want to look away.”

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