"Carbon Sink" Sculpture on University Campus Becomes Controversy Among State Legislators


All photos courtesy of Chris Drury

An installation sculpture by a visiting artist, Chris Drury, on University of Wyoming's campus features logs killed by pine beetles and lumps of coal. It is intended to draw attention to the idea of human-caused climate change and destruction. However, it has drawn a lot more attention than expected with legislators making a significant amount of noise about it.

The sculpture is 36 feet in diameter and points out the connection between human reliance on fossil fuels -- namely coal -- and the problem of pine beetles killing forests, which has worsened as global temperatures rise.

However, two republican state legislators from Campbell County, Wyoming, Representatives Tom Lubnau and Gregg Blikre, say that the sculpture goes too far.

New York Times reports:


"While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget - I'm a great supporter of the University of Wyoming - every now and then you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from," Representative Lubnau told a local newspaper, referring to taxes collected from coal and other energy industries. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Museum representatives say they support the expression of their artists. "There are no plans to uninstall it," said Susan Moldenhauer, director of the University of Wyoming Art Museum. "Chris Drury makes connections within nature. He's not a political artist in any way."


Chris Drury wrote on his blog on Tuesday, "It appears that some legislators, who are strongly influenced by the Energy companies, who fund the university through their taxes paid to the state, are serious about cutting funding to the University of Wyoming. This really does smack of 1984 and Big Brother. Art and education are both poor and powerless and easy to whack on the head. But both art and education are about the power of communicating - knowledge, ideas, understanding. It is how we survive as a species we pass on wisdom down to the next generation who we hope will find better solutions than we have."

The threat of pulling funding came on the third day of construction. As the Guardian reports:

By day three of construction, the mining industry was accusing the university of ingratitude towards one of its main benefactors - in what some have seen as a veiled threat to cut funding.

"They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonising the industry," Marion Loomis, the director of the Wyoming Mining Association, told the Casper Star-Tribune. "I understand academic freedom, and we're very supportive of it, but it's still disappointing."

Then two Republican members of the Wyoming state legislature joined in, calling the work an insult to coal. The subject of university funding also came up.

The sculpture could hardly be considered an attack on the coal industry, but it certainly does raise awareness about the consequences of relying on coal. The two legislators suggested a tribute to energy industry workers be erected on campus to counter the statement made by "Carbon Sink."

What is possibly the most amazing part about this is that the coal industry can be so insecure as to consider a student sculpture a major threat, an "attack" and an "insult." With coal companies getting so immediately bent out of shape about art, it smacks of an awareness of guilt about coal as a fuel source and its connection to environmental degradation -- as well as fear of more people becoming aware of the problems with coal and demanding alternative energy sources.

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