First, create something eye-catching — a visual statement big and impressive enough to entice young scientists to put down their phones and check it out.
Second, place the object so prominently that it is nearly impossible to avoid.
Hoping to inspire self-reflection among their peers about the environmental consequences of human behavior, two aspiring up-and-coming artists did just that.
UC Santa Barbara students Lukas Kraak and Noah Weiss are the creators behind the new art installation “Anthroterra,” which is huge, colorful, and intentionally provocative. And its location in the UCSB library, in the lobby next to the oceanfront elevators, virtually ensures a captive audience. (On display until June 30.)
“It’s one of the highest traffic spots on campus,” Kraak said. “And because they were doing construction on the elevators, there are always delays.”
“We want that student who’s impatiently waiting for their elevator to stop and say, ‘What’s that?'” Weiss said.
“Anthroterra” is a series of four plywood panels, each measuring 4 feet by 8 feet. The first three are replete with images created through photo collage and spray paint, and the last panel is made with mirrors.
“The collage medium allows us to have a narrative thread,” Kraak said. “It tells the story of human development – what it has looked like over the centuries and what it might become.”
The first panel represents prehistory — nature untouched by man. The second describes how humans have affected nature through agriculture and industry. The third shows where we are today as we begin to consider our impact on the natural world; includes images of a wind farm and other attempts to live in harmony with nature.
The final panel is “a look at a green future,” Weiss said. “There are a bunch of mirrors. It’s an opportunity for self-reflection – to look at yourself and how you see yourself to take action and create meaningful change.”
“I hope visitors will reflect on our individual and collective connection to our planet and be inspired to learn more about the challenges and opportunities we face,” said Alex Regan, Events and Exhibitions Librarian, who along with librarian of Research and Engagement, Kristen LaBonte, mentored the creators and helped bring the project to completion.
The project was conceived and developed at the Environmental Leadership Incubator (ELI), a year-long program that trains students to become environmental leaders.
As part of the program, participants – 25-30 per year – create, design and ultimately implement a project designed to stimulate positive environmental change.
“We’ve had quite a variety of projects, from making UCSB bee-friendly to creating a hydroponic farm,” said ELI Program Manager Erica Zollett. “But we’ve never had an art exhibit before.”
Weiss and Kraak were in the program for the 2021-22 school year. Although they didn’t know each other, they quickly found they had similar goals and worked well together. So they decided to collaborate, brainstorming and rejecting several ideas before coming up with the installation.
“In the early stages, we talked to everyone we could and gathered as much information as we could,” recalls Kraak, who is from Palos Verdes. “The library wanted to put it up this winter, so we had a lot of time to work on it. This allowed it to grow organically.
One small problem: Kraak had no background in art, and Weiss had little, having made set designs for theater and live events at his high school in Los Angeles. This did not stop their ambition.
Looking for “the place where it would get the most attention,” they turned to Reagan. She referred them to LaBonte as a mentor, reserved the lobby for his exhibit, and provided them with space in the library to work on it.
The couple then received $4,553—enough to cover their expenses and then some—from the UCSB Sustainability Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), which provides money for projects that reduce the university’s environmental impact and /or help to “green” the campus. Theirs was the first project out of the Environmental Leadership Incubator to receive a TGIF grant.
Regan noted that the artwork nicely complements another major initiative the library is spearheading this winter: the latest edition of UCSB Reads, a campus-wide reading program and events all centered around a single book and culminating in a free lecture by the author.
This year’s selection is Charles Montgomery’s Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, which also has environmental themes.
Although “Anthroterra” is already on display, it continues to evolve. Weiss and Kraak are currently devising a series of questions that they hope will help viewers engage with the work and the issues it raises. They plan to post a few of these next to the article, perhaps along with some of the more interesting responses they receive.
“This will be an opportunity for the community to engage with the piece in a meaningful way,” Kraak said.
Kraak, a senior, and Weiss, a junior, are ecology majors; Kraak also majored in economics. Both say the project has given them invaluable know-how on how to take a project from the idea stage to execution.
“It’s an amazing experience in the real world,” Weiss said. “We couldn’t be more grateful.”
But beyond their personal growth, the pair’s larger goal is to influence the thinking and behavior of their peers.
“I love informative art where you’re teaching and engaging people at the same time,” Kraak said. “You can really change people’s minds.”
“It’s an exquisite piece of art,” Weiss added. “We harness the power of art to achieve our goals. Art can cause change in people. It can inspire them to take action.”