Climate Futurism
Erica Deeman, Denice Frohman & Olalekan Jeyifous

Climate Futurism, co-presented by Pioneer Works and Headlands Center for the Arts, features new commissions by artists Erica Deeman, Denice Frohman, and Olalekan Jeyifous. Curated by ecologist and climate policy expert Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, the exhibition represents the culmination of Headlands’s inaugural Threshold Fellowship, a two-year program which highlights the power and efficacy of artists’ methods and processes to imagine a more equitable future. Taking inspiration from Johnson’s forthcoming book, What If We Get It Right?, the artists are creating works that explore topics such as creating new traditions, transforming our food system, reconnecting with nature, strengthening our diasporas, and proceeding with justice and love.

In Give Us Back Our Bones (2022-23), Deeman envisions a decolonized future that returns to Black and Indigenous belief systems and practices of tending and care for the land and sea. The artist finds inspiration from her maternal family's connection to the Jamaican land they farmed before emigrating to the UK in the 1960s as part of the Windrush Generation, as well as contemporary farmers and coastal fishing communities who have been grappling with their ability to sustain their livelihoods in the face of climate change. Conceived as a contemplative portal that allows viewers to consider their roles in potential climate solutions, the installation features hundreds of fragments that have been hand molded from a dehydrated form of gypsum, and cast with seeds sourced from Black farmers working in the United States—for instance, callaloo, okra, and rice—as a reference to the Black diasporic journey. These fragments cascade from biodegradable fishing lines, a material that was recently used in successful, grassroots efforts to restore Jamaica’s coral reefs. The sculptural environment finally gives way to a sculpture built from suitcases once carried by Deeman’s mother on her first journey from Jamaica to the UK, culminating in a space for reflecting on what we bring into our climate future, what new traditions we might need, and what we should leave behind.

While Frohman has written, published, and performed poetry for many years, Climate Futurism will mark her first foray into visual art installations. New neon sculptures that bear the activist slogan “Puerto Rico No Se Vende”—or, “Puerto Rico Is Not For Sale”—will function as a prologue to a series of work that protests the colonialist policies and rhetoric that have defined the relationship between the island and the United States. Frohman’s new poems pay homage to her own history as the descendant of coffee farmers, whose generational home eventually gave way to an Airbnb rental property. The writings will be recited as libretto to footage filmed by Cecilia Aldarondo and edited by Pati Cruz. These scenes, panning over the coastline and mountains of Puerto Rico, provide visual cues to contentious agricultural and ecologically sensitive regions that have emerged as hotbeds of local resistance against commercial privatization. Alongside this new work, an adjacent monitor will play an excerpt from Aldarondo’s documentary Landfall (2020), which details the preconditions leading to, and subsequent impact, of Hurricane Maria in 2017, paired with words that reflect on themes of diaspora and self-determination while envisioning a Puerto Rico for and by Puerto Ricans.

Jeyifous will expand on his ongoing series Frozen Neighborhoods (2020-current), which imagines a utopian, sustainable community in Brooklyn. The work posits a variety of advanced green technologies for the production and dissemination of food, seeds, and freshwater, set within an alternate world in which the government combats climate change through a market-based system of so-called “mobility credits” that curtails movement of the poor and working classes. For this iteration, Jeyifous will cast a new fugitive network of farming societies located throughout a fictional region that he refers to as the “Proto-Farm Communities of Upstate, New York.” Presented as an expansive body of photomontages, 3D-printed scale models, a psychogeographic map, and an animated virtual reality video, the installation builds upon a vision of resilience and resistance that references the tradition of maroon communities, recast through the lens of an Afrofuturist, ecological, and “solarpunk meets salvage punk” world brimming with Black joy.

To amplify the themes of Climate Futurism, Pioneer Works will additionally present a host of public and educational programs throughout the duration of the exhibition. These include a new iteration of Science & Society, an ongoing conversation series curated and moderated by Dr. Johnson, that will delve into regenerative food systems and climate diasporas. Taken as a whole, Climate Futurism presents three unique artistic expressions envisioning a transformed and flourishing future, jolting us our of our doomerist resignation with provocative presentations of what could happen if we charge ahead with the climate solutions we have at our fingertips, with answers to the grand question, “What if we get it right?”

Climate Futurism is made possible by generous funding from the Joe & Clara Tsai Foundation’s Social Justice Fund. It is also supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

About the Artists

Erica Deeman is a visual artist who considers the liminal and transitory spaces in which Black identities are formed. Her work is interdisciplinary in nature, existing in both physical and virtual spaces. The artist’s maternal family moved to the United Kingdom as part of the Windrush generation, leaving their farmland in Lesterfields, Jamaica, and eventually settling in Nottingham. She draws upon this journey, her own migration to the US, collective migratory patterns, and memory to create installations and artworks that speak to the condition of becoming and the intimate, spiritual, and ancestral history belonging to her family. Deeman received a BA (Hons), Public Relations, degree in 2000 from Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK, and a BFA, Photography degree in 2014 from Academy of Art, San Francisco. She has exhibited widely, including solo exhibitions with Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Archive, Berkeley; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; and Laurence Miller Gallery, New York. In 2021, she received the 2021 Cadogan Contemporary Art Award.

Denice Frohman is a poet, performer, and educator whose work explores language, lineage, queerness, and the colonial relationship between the U.S and Puerto Rico. As an artist shaped by the Nuyorican Poetry Movement, she utilizes oral traditions of storytelling to build intimate connections with audiences. For Frohman, poetry is an embodied act, and she sees her work as a tool for social change, cultural preservation, and as a means to subvert traditional notions of power and knowledge. Furthermore, she hopes to inspire young people, particularly young queer people of color, to know that their stories are worth telling. Frohman’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The BreakBeat Poets: LatiNext, Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color, and ESPNW. A former Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, she has been featured on national and international stages from The Apollo to The White House, and at over 400 colleges and universities. She is a CantoMundo Fellow, and has received residencies and awards from the National Association of Latino Arts & Cultures, Leeway Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, and Millay Colony.

Olalekan Jeyifous examines contemporary socio-political, cultural, and environmental realities through the tradition of architectural utopianism, from a sci-fi inspired and Afro-surrealist perspective. His practice is rooted in borrowed and invented utopian or dystopian narratives anchored by direct relevance to contemporary social issues. To articulate these narratives, Jeyifous regularly combines digital illustration and 3D computer models with photographs, hand-drawings, and collage, to produce detailed illustrations, photo-montages, 360° VR experiences, adaptable and mobile architectural sculptures, and large-scale public installations that examine architecture and its relationship to place and community through an eco-political lens. Jeyifous received a BArch from Cornell University, and has exhibited at venues such as the Studio Museum in Harlem, MoMA, the Vitra Design Museum, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. He has been a Wilder Green Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, has completed artist residencies with the Drawing Center’s Open Sessions program and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, and is the recipient of a 2021 Fellowship by the United States Artists. He has spent over a decade creating large-scale installations for a variety of public spaces and was recently co-commissioned to create a monument dedicated to Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm as part of the City of New York’s “She Built NYC” initiative.

About the Curator

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy advisor, and writer focused on climate solutions. She is co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for the future of coastal cities. Current projects include serving on the board of directors of Patagonia, Greenwave, and the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board, advising Nike and La Mer on corporate sustainability, and authoring a book on climate entitled What If We Get It Right?. Recently, she co-created a framework for including the ocean in federal climate policy (“the Blue New Deal”), and co-edited the bestselling anthology All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Dr. Johnson also co-created and hosted Spotify’s flagship climate podcast How to Save a Planet, and her opinion writing has appeared in most major U.S. publications. Recent awards include the TIME 100 Next List, and the Schneider Award for climate communication. She is the Roux distinguished scholar at Bowdoin College.

About Headlands Center for the Arts

Founded in 1982, Headlands Center for the Arts operates a multidisciplinary, international arts center best known for its dynamic public programs and highly lauded artist residency. Located in the coastal wilderness of the Marin Headlands, within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Headlands’ historic campus is dedicated to process-driven exploration and risk-taking contemporary art in all disciplines. Its year-round programs provide visual artists, performers, musicians, and writers with opportunities for research, professional development, and peer-to-peer exchange at critical times in their careers.

Headlands’ Threshold Fellowship was designed to highlight the power of artists and experts in fields outside of the arts to imagine a more equitable future by deeply supporting their partnerships. The inaugural cohort explores climate solutions at the intersection of science, policy, culture, and justice. As a core component of the programming, each Threshold Fellow receives a $10,000 annual stipend and access to Headlands facilities, retreats, and funds for project development, fabrication, and travel.

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