Portrait of the Artist

Tammy West

Climate grief (without despair)

By Noelani Kirschner | December 11, 2023
Stay Put, 2017, created at the Sólheimajökull glacier in Iceland.
Stay Put, 2017, created at the Sólheimajökull glacier in Iceland.

Several years ago, while on an artist residency in Iceland, Tammy West created her first site-specific installation: Stay Put, which used climbing ropes and stakes to tie down a part of the Sólheimajökull glacier on the country’s south coast—as if to keep it from melting away. The work was a way to “express my grief and sadness and desire to fix climate change,” she says. “That’s where it came from—wanting to fix things with the tools that I have.” Since then, West has gone on to create many more works addressing the climate crisis. “I saw something somewhere to the effect that the role of an artist is to not look away,” she says. “And I’m not looking away. It’s imperative to have another venue to explain climate change and climate grief from an emotional standpoint.”

  • Keep It Together, 2022, Austin.

West uses whatever medium best fits the story she’s trying to tell. Near her home in Austin, Texas, for example, she noticed that drought and extreme heat had created deep fissures in the earth. In response, she created a place-based installation called Keep It Together. “I sutured the earth, pulling it together and keeping it from drying out,” she says. The piece was featured in the recent Fifth National Climate Assessment showcase. West’s goal is not to wallow in despair but to inspire viewers to get involved. “If even one person sees my art and then actually follows through on something to help the environment,” she says, “then I’ve won. It was successful.”

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