The Climate Elephant

Artist: Daniel Dancer
Location: Ryan International School, Ruchi Vihar, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, Delhi, India
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Jacqueline White

On the eve of the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, approximately 3,000 school children and their teachers from the Ryan International School in New Delhi, India, literally becamethe proverbial “elephant in the room” when their bodies formed the “brushstrokes” for an aerial depiction of an elephant. Aerial art, which encourages viewers to re-imagine their relationship with the sky, is a particularly apt medium in which to bring attention to this particular “elephant” that global citizens are attempting to ignore—the warming of the earth’s atmosphere caused by human actions. Daniel Dancer, a self-professed “aerial art activist” based in the United States who has created 150 “sky art” formations in communities across the globe, claims The Climate Elephant as his most significant work to date.

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To educate viewers that 350 parts per million is the highest carbon reading that will safely sustain life as we know it on earth, the elephant image, which Dancer photographed from above from a donated crane, includes the number 350. Although Dancer had previously included 350 in other sky art pieces, The Climate Elephant was the first and only time Dancer formally collaborated with the climate change education organization The Climate Elephant was part of a worldwide installation of more than a dozen sky art projects coordinated by to bring attention to climate change on the eve of the international talks. Ironically, although creation of the elephant image was timed to coincide with the passage of a satellite that would photograph the artwork from space, the air pollution in New Delhi was so dense that no such image resulted.

Although Dancer’s school residencies are typically three-day affairs, Dancer only had one day to create The Climate Elephant. A very simple drawing of an elephant was enlarged to scale using a grid system, which also became an opportunity to teach this mathematical process to the children. However, Dancer did not have one of the most basic tools he needs to create a sky art image—a tape measure. Instead, he and the Indians helping him, including some who didn’t speak English, had to improvise by marking a rope in ten-foot increments. The tusks were drawn with chalk, and the rising water that the elephant was standing in was depicted with blue fabric. Fortuitously, the student’s school uniforms were “elephant” gray.

Once the students were in formation, they also donned multi-colored shirts, to symbolize the elephant changing colors so that it could be seen and no longer ignored. As is customary with Dancer’s projects, the art participants observed one minute of silence. They also said, “Get your skysight on!” in both English and Hindi, which is one of the six teachings Dancer has identified as part of his Art For the Sky practice, which also include Intention, Collaboration, Interconnection, Gratitude, and Impermanence.

That Dancer created The Climate Elephant in India is particularly apt because the elephant had recently been named Indian’s National Heritage Animal. It is worshipped in the form of Ganesha, “the remover of all obstacles.”

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency