Geological moments from now nature will absorb our technology in order to survive the world we are creating. Detritus of failed space colonization experiments become breathing apparatus for migrating cranes who cannot otherwise tolerate the pollution. Clever human GMO tricks are repurposed to help creatures adapt and evolve at an alarming pace. Mutual aid rules the day in this world as sea creatures ferry dying trees to save atolls now unreachable to human endeavors.
Our understanding of Nature is a comical tale. At every step of the way humans underestimate nature and the inherent intelligence of the natural world. Human hubris blinds itself to the true reality and when we finally get around to really learning something about nature we are always blindsided by the fact that it is more sophisticated than we could have ever imagined.
I paint these worlds from a place of deep sadness and fear for the future. They are cathartic to me, healing, and emotionally steadying. I know the truth is nature will evolve and create life which works in any condition - ice ages, super volcanoes, meteor impacts and deep water undersea vents show us in full vivid color how adaptable life is. Life will go on, it will just be changed.
Our society is ripped in pieces on the Climate Change question and many, many choose to just ignore the reality and plunge head forth down a selfish and greedy path. Most believe it is some distant annoyance to be dealt with after they are gone so it does not matter. But climate change is happening here, in front of our eyes and we are living through these changes as we speak. Migrations of peoples are taking place all over the world - be it the southern US border or Syrian refugees in Europe - both events which are the direct result of climate change. Plants and creatures are confused; cycles broken, begets new knowledge but it is too late for those beings dying today.
Every year now turns out to be the hottest year on record, a fact glossed over with bored eyes and merely remarked upon from the comfort of Air Conditioned homes. Here again the ideas are rooted in the past instead of looking towards the future. The truth is that each year now is the coolest year we will experience for the rest of our lives.
This summer our eyes and lungs will burn from the thick smoke which will linger over vast parts of our earth from fires raging out of control in forests which are drier than they have ever been. We will collectively be annoyed and through our coughs curse whatever "reason" fits into our own personal "belief" system for the fires. Experts will pop up spouting politically expedient causes and hate and vitriol will be in no shortage. What will fail again to happen is any meaningful action, instead smug humans will go about their ways believing in the righteousness of their beliefs.
The fabled northwest passage will undoubtedly open up again this summer and commerce will make plans of exploration for extractable reserves and expedited shipping lanes. A mother polar bear will lose her cubs to the ocean devoid of life sustaining ice; those little cubs unable to muster the stamina to swim such distances at such an early age. Soda pop will be consumed, the product of a long and utterly unnecessary agricultural abomination where corn is turned into sugar at the expense of Milkweed for migrating monarch butterflies. There will still be ice in the glasses of every human who desires it.
I myself will drink a Gin and Tonic with ice - a big ice cube like they serve in the bourgeois drinking establishments of metropolis the world over. I’ll watch that ice melt and infuse itself into the boutique gin I favor so and then consume with glee when the gin and tonic and meltwater ratio is just so; refreshed on a hot summer evening where the sun lingers for impossible hours baking our sad, browning earth. The drink finished, I'll flick my wrist and that most precious and wholly amazing piece of ice will tumble into a flower bed to melt unceremoniously with only an ant or two remarking back to the colony about it’s transitory existence.
My mind will not wander from the Polar Bears as I watch that cube melt. Nor will I forget the trees vanishing, the butterflies, migratory birds, keystone mammals and exotic or banal plants everywhere who have about as much existence left as that ice cube has time on earth. My fragile human mind pines for their reprieve, a stay in their death sentence, a desire for not change and for statis and for staying the same, because human minds want stability above all. I want these creatures to keep existing. I want these beings to go on being. But they won’t.
Nature will find a way to continue to exist - that future though, will not look anything like what we know now. Just as I can’t see a stegosaurus those coming after me will not see a polar bear. That history will end, that impossibly complex body of knowledge allowing a bear to live on the ice will fold back into the river of time, never to exist again.
These beings will be gone and humans too might be gone but organisms will continue, small at first but after some millennium size and scale and diversity will reach a level comparable to that apex of diversity realized a few thousand years ago. The beings of this new world will be unique and perfect and are completely unimaginable to me - this gives me solace and helps to dull the sting of the pain in my mind as I watch the magical beings I know disappear.
This work is hard for me to make, I cry as I move the brush over the canvas, I lay awake at night unable to fathom why humanity has chosen this self destructive path. Creating this work is imperative to my existence even though it torments me to no end; I cannot paint anything else anymore and my scathing critiques of Humanoid societal impulses no longer stay trapped behind a bitten tongue. Each year scientists learn more about nature and her magic and each year they see their previous predictions about change to our shared climate surpassed, records shattered and levels of death and destruction unfathomable realized.
The truth is we are entering a period of time of unpredictable and unprecedented change where our entrenched systems will be pushed and broken. Our pandemic year is part of that experience, not an outlier. Mass extinction is underway. Fires are raging. Migrants are moving. Wars are brewing. This is the truth about our future and no head in the sand thinking will change that truth. In my darkest moments I’m overwhelmed by these thoughts and lost in despair and eventually I come around to that truth that nature will make new details and new ways of existing; nature cares not that my brain does not want the details to change.
Stare hard at these images and then turn that gaze inside and ponder your own beliefs and foster a flexibility of the mind which will allow you to process the near future. We humans are locked into our own worlds and made up beliefs which allow us to belong to one group or another and we find solace in this belonging because it dulls the devastating loneliness and isolation we all experience. We harden these beliefs and then hold them up as truths and use them to form a reality and impose it upon others and then we use this to control the world.
These paintings offer an antidote to our beliefs - a window to a new reality where you can be free to empathize with Nature and find brotherhood with all the beings who inhabit our earth, breathing the same air and searching out the same precious clean water. For a moment, set aside your beliefs and look at the world again with wonder and that knowledge that all existence is intertwined and we all belong to nature above all else.
Kyle Parker Cunningham May 2021 Elephants Nest Truth or Consequences, New Mexico