In a widely known ancient parable, an unknown creature is brought to a village one day. It is an elephant. A group of blind men are eager to know what the animal looks like and pay it a visit.
“We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are ,” they say.
The first man touches the elephant’s trunk and declares: “This being is like a thick snake”
The second man touches its ear and declares: “This being is like a fan.”
Another man feels the animal’s leg and declares: “This being is like tree trunk.”
Yet another man touches the elephant’s side and declares: “This being is like a wall.”
Still another rman runs his hand along the animal’s tail and declares: “This being is like a rope.”
And the final blind man feels the unknown creature’s tusk and declares: “This animal is hard like a spear.”
Of course, the men were as right as they were wrong. Because they only experienced a limited portion of the elephant (by no fault of their own), they were incapable of comprehending its entirety. Left unsaid in the parable is the notion human beings’ subjective observations are limited in scope and that context is the path to understanding.
The same sort of provincialism can play a role in understanding the planet we inhabit and our role in maintaining its health. On a visceral level, we experience the Earth locally and that reality informs our most basic views. It’s easy to miss what’s going on, the big picture. That’s why being able to observe and consider our planet from a distance has played such an important role in addressing climate change.
A recent exhibition at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery in the ArtCenter College of Design, Earth from Space, explores how long distance images of the Earth have informed the evolving debate around climate change. According to the gallery’s description of the show,
The exhibition The Earth from Space brings together well-known historic photographs of our planet as well as videos. These materials present the reality of Earth’s natural systems, show the reality of climate change, and document actions that countries have taken to make the world’s environment better. There are pickup sheets and information in this book and on websites outlining clear actions any individual can take, as part of the larger world, to make the ecology of our planet healthier for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.
The exhibition combines iconic images of Earth such as astronaut Will Anders’ famous picture of the distant Earth rising above the surface of the moon, taken during the Apollo 8 mission with newer satellite data of the Earth that shows natural disasters occuring or the effects of human behavior on the environment. They’ve even included videos that complement the still images and provide further context.
Unfortunately, the gallery is not currently open to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, never fear, you can get a pretty good feel for the show by visiting the ArtCenter website and having a look at the exhibition catalogue.
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