Dangerous Landscapes: Legacies of Nineteenth-Century Progress in the Age of Climate Change, August 6 through September 24, 2021

The University of Alabama Gallery and the Collaborative Arts Research Initiative are proud to present the exhibition, Dangerous Landscapes: Legacies of Nineteenth-Century Progress in the Age of Climate Change, August 6 through September 24, 2021, with a First Friday reception on September 3 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Dangerous Landscapes places contemporary photographs of chemical and fossil fuel industries in West Alabama by artist and Assistant Professor Allison Grant in dialog with large-scale reproductions of nineteenth-century views of progress published in the 1872 two-volume book Picturesque America. “Climate change, the largest environmental challenge of our time,” writes associate professor of history and co-organizer Dr. Teresa Cribelli, “is the result of a continuous escalation of ideas of progress forged in the nineteenth century when coal-fired factories began churning out goods and combustion engines accelerated the movement of people and products across the globe.” Those images symbolized boundless possibility and unending natural resources, notes Cribelli. In viewing Grant’s work next to nineteenth-century woodcut prints and steel engravings, visitors to the exhibition will see “a reoriented view of this romantic landscape—one where human production and consumption have become fully entangled with the natural world,” writes Cribelli.

Allison Grant’s artwork started out focused on climate change. “Then, while considering the issue,” she said, “I started looking at environmental contamination and the health impacts of living near industry. I now see toxic industrial pollution and climate change as entwined issues that need to be addressed in tandem in order to assure the health and wellbeing of human populations going forward.” As she explained in a recent interview with Jess T. Dugan of the artist collective Strange Fire, one experience particularly illustrates a moment when it all came together for her:

“One day, as I was driving to pick my kids up, I saw a giant plume of dark smoke right above their school. I knew right away that it was a chemical fire. Later I learned that the fire was at an insecticide facility that handles a chemical called pentachlorophenol. There was a shelter-in-place order in effect in Tuscaloosa when I took the image ‘A Chemical Fire Burns 800 Feet From My Children’s School’ through my car windshield. The experience opened my eyes to the present and made me look more closely at the industrial activities that are happening in the landscape my family lives within.” 

Dr. Cribelli writes, “Allison Grant’s photographs zoom in on the Alabama landscape; all the photographs in this exhibition were taken within 100 miles of the city of Tuscaloosa. Her works suggest a narrowing of options as flora, fauna and human populations are threatened by particulates, toxins, and heat-trapping carbon dioxide spread through the atmosphere and embedded in the terrain. The landscapes of the nineteenth century offered a bright pathway to the future; Ms. Grant’s photographs show the complexities of that legacy as we collectively face looming environmental challenges.”

The project also aims to encourage conversations within Alabama about how climate change will impact the Deep South, a region expected to experience profound climatic shifts. Through the placement of images, the collaborators ask viewers to consider how present-day climate change has resulted from the environmental legacy of nineteenth-century ideas of progress. Before and after the exhibition, the project includes a social science component that studies how critical readings of visual material shape individuals’ perceptions of history and the environment, conducted by Dr. Joan Barth of the Institute for Social Science Research. Barth will administer surveys to classes at UA to assess how the public understands visual depictions of the environment both in historical and contemporary terms.

Allison Grant is assistant professor of art and Dr. Teresa Cribelli is associate professor of history, both at The University of Alabama.

A panel discussion titled “An Uncertain Climate: Alabama in the Age of Climate Change” will take place on September 21, 2021, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. in the Camellia Room on the 2nd floor of Gorgas Library. Panelists will be Christine Bassett, Scientist/Engineer III, Cherokee Nation in support of NOAA’s Weather Program Office, Cribelli and Grant.

Dangerous Landscapes is funded by a Joint Pilot for Arts Research grant from the Collaborative Arts Research Initiative, an interdisciplinary, arts-focused research engine that maximizes the impact of faculty arts research.

Image credit: left: “The West Branch Of Bellows Falls,” in Picturesque America or The Land We Live in (New York: D. Appleton, 1872); right: Allison Grant, “In the Vines,” 2019, archival inkjet print.

The University of Alabama Gallery is an essential part of the education and development of UA students and our community. The gallery, located at 620 Greensboro Avenue in Tuscaloosa, is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm and First Fridays 12:00 noon-7:00 pm. Have questions or need assistance? Call (205) 345-3038. 

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in studio art and art history, visit our Degree Programs page.