My conversation with photographer and writer Joan Sullivan whose work is focused exclusively on climate change and the energy transition. We spoke about her roots in science, her work as a columnist for Artists and Climate Change, how we are the climate emergency and liminal space between what was and what's next.
I’ve been wanting to have Joan on the conscient podcast since season 1 but she is a very busy artist and writer, plus we wanted to record our conversation in situ on her farm near Rimouski, Québec however COVID-19 did not allow that, so we settled for a warm remote recording on December 20, 2021, which was a lot of fun. I consider Joan a kindred spirit in our respective journey into the climate emergency through art. We both believe in the power of art and are both equally terrified by what we are doing to ourselves as a species mixed with stubborn belief that ‘we will pass through this’ and that ‘what waits on the other side is up to us to design’.
Joan is an accomplished bilingual photographer and writer who uses both documentary and abstract methodologies in her work. She also writes a monthly column about the intersection of art, artists and the energy transition for the international blog Artists and Climate Change.
On her web site https://www.joansullivanphotography.com/, she describes her life (so far) in 3 acts as per below:
Joan Sullivan spent her first 50 years studying/working to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, mostly in Africa. With a master’s in public health from Harvard, she criss-crossed the continent at the height of the HIV epidemic, working for a variety of international organizations to fund community-based HIV prevention programs targeting the most vulnerable populations: women, migrants, orphans. She recognizes that it was a privilege, a gift in fact, to have been able to spend so much of her adult life in Africa. It was in Africa that Sullivan's photography matured, thanks in part to Mike Hutchings at Reuters (Johannesburg office) who gave her her first gig as a stringer based in Botswana. Sullivan also moonlighted for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a photographer.
Upon returning to Canada, Joan Sullivan turned her cameras to an even greater cause: climate change. Since 2009, she has documented the construction of some of North America's largest wind and solar farms. But the more the climate crisis worsens, the more Sullivan's photography evolves from documentary to abstraction. Joan Sullivan is currently experimenting with intentional camera movement (ICM) as a new language to express her eco-anxiety and solastalgia about the planetary crisis and all that we have already lost. It was during the "Study of Artistic Practice", a two-year program at the University of Quebec in Rimouski (UQAR) led by Danielle Boutet, that Joan Sullivan started working on her new series of abstract photographs entitled "Je suis fleuve" (English translation: "I am river"). Through this ongoing project, Sullivan embodies the chaos of the disappearing winter ice on the Saint Lawrence River. Since 2020, these "beautiful images filled with dread" (according to a review by Danielle Legentil, 2020) have been exhibited extensively in Quebec's Lower Saint Lawrence region, including the Jardins de Métis, the Centre d'art de Kamouraska, and most recently the Centre d'artistes Caravansérail in Rimouski.
The next chapter in Joan Sullivan's evolving artistic practice is audio. She is currently experimenting with underwater recordings of melting ice, which for Sullivan evoke the cry of the belugas. Her next project will be a marriage of moving images and audio recordings in order to create a series of sensory and embodied multidisciplinary installations. Her first installation is planned for early 2023. But first, she has been invited to a winter residency along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, at the famous Jardins de Métis in eastern Quebec.