Journey through a climate change-affected landscape in Wondering
By Danial bin Fuad


Climate change has been a hot topic (pun intended) over the last few decades. In fact, climate change began affecting us 12,000 years ago, at the dawn of agriculture, worsening over the years to the extent that, according to the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, we would need to cut down our carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 to stop the rise in global temperature.

If no change happens, we might reach the point of no return. This is Tan Kar Mern’s message in her open studio exhibition titled Wondering. Tan took part in a recent three-month residency programme by HOM Art Trans, 3M Studio, during which the participating artist received guidance from the gallery to produce works. For Tan, she spent most of the time at Chetak12, a printmaking studio below HOM Studio, creating her final six etchings for the open studio.

In each piece, we follow the journey of a lone wanderer overlooking an imaginary landscape. These landscapes, depicting a rising sea level, melting icebergs, droughts and deforestation, are the product of Tan’s imagination of what could happen if serious measures aren’t taken to tackle climate change. According to her, the wanderer depicted is a personification of herself, inspired by Casper David Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog”.

Rising Seas, Skyline Refuge

In “Rising Seas, Skyline Refuge” multiple skylines sit on top of clouds while the sea is rising. This hits close to home, as this reality isn’t that far away from us. Jakarta is sinking fast at a rate of at least 10 centimetres per year due to the rising sea waters. The threat is so real that even the Indonesian government has decided to switch their capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan.

Melting Icebergs

Tan’s mastery of the etching is evident in each individual piece, and the chiaroscuro technique is wonderfully applied here. Chiaroscuro was first used by 16th century printmakers to create a variety of tones. I was wowed by “Melting Icebergs”, with its varied tones seen in the water below the iceberg on which the wanderer is standing. Icebergs help cool the earth by reflecting the heat of the sun. Due to the rising temperatures, our icebergs have actually been melting since the early 1900s. What’s more terrifying is that the change is irreversible, according to Lorin Hancock in her article “Why are glaciers and sea ice melting?”. Even if we reduce our carbon emissions significantly, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100.

Environmental issues have been a subject matter for decades. One of the earliest works that tackle this issue is Nirmala Shanmughalingam’s Statement I (1973). But, as long as the ‘cash is king’ mind-set is not changed, people will continue to destroy nature in the name of profit. I end this article with the quote from Julia Roberts as Mother-Nature in Conservation International short film Nature Is Speaking. “I have been here 22,500 times longer than you. I don’t really need people, but people need me.”
Etching plates

Wondering by Tan Kar Mern happened from 3-10 March 2021 but viewers can see the show online at
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Danial Fuad is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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