“The Industrial Sublime” at the MOA


By Anna Roberts

Jared Ferre, a past and future BYU student, quietly contemplated the striking photos of nickel tailings and gigantic mines last Wednesday at BYU’s Museum of Art.

He found this section of the new exhibit particularly intriguing because of his interest in food toxins, which he connected to the environmental toxins displayed in the photos. He watched the “TedTalks” video, part of the exhibit, and began to think about the country’s role in the world concerning industry and the environment.

“I think that we need to focus on ourselves first, and be an example by the way we live our life,” he said. “It reminds me of what Gandhi used to say, ‘If you want to change the world, start with yourself.’”

Many people like Jared are becoming captivated by the portrayal of industrial growth in Edward Burtynsky’s “The Industrial Sublime,” enjoying the art but also trying to understand what their moral responsibilities in industry are by visiting the new exhibit.

The exhibit features a collection of pictures Burtynsky took while traveling in Asia, Canada and the United States. The visually stunning masterpieces use pattern, symmetry and dramatic colors to convey his deep interest in the growth of industry over the past few years and the consequences that result.

Burtynsky’s presentation in the center of the exhibit puts things into perspective. Some of the factories he visited have 90,000 employees, 1,500 employees or 21,000 employees each, and can be up to half a kilometer long. The Bao Steel #8 photo in the front of the exhibit is 18 square kilometer wide, and took 15,000 workers to construct.

This factory growth demands places for the tens of thousands of employees to stay, and the cities rise to the demands. The Shanghai Urban Renewal project is the largest project of its kind in the world. Some 20-40 high-rises are erected at a time, some buildings go up literally over-night. The “forest of skyscrapers” in Shanghai is continually growing.

These factories and workers require raw materials and produce a lot of waste, which is where most of the controversy arises. The industries carve away at the materials in places like Silver Lake in Lake Lefroy, Western Australia. Burtynsky captures the beauty and terror of the operation in his bird’s eye view, full of bold, bright colors that look almost unreal. The magnitude of the operations shows how much of our resources are being used, and how quickly.

Some of the resources can be reused through recycling, like e-waste. However, materials like tires and engines pile up in Canada and California. Burtynsky captures this as well in his Scrap Auto Engines #11, Densified Oil Filters #1, and Oxford Tire Pile #5, which are both fearsome and spectacular.

Burtynsky stated that he hopes through this exhibit his audience will better understand the footprint in Asia and the United States, to use his images to make people ask questions and be concerned with evolution in other countries that will affect this country in the future. He strives to generate global conversation, motivate and engage children, and eventually create an IMAX film.

“For me,” a Burtynsky quote in the exhibit states, “these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

Anna Roberts is a high school student participant in the Summer Scholars program sponsored by the BYU Department of Communications. Anna is from South Jordan, Utah.

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