Turning a Blind Eye

On April 20, 2011, the British Petroleum (BP) drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. For the next 87 days, BP’s Macondo well spewed 172 million barrels of toxic hydrocarbons into the waters of the Gulf, devastating a vast ecosystem and endangering an entire way of life for residents of the Gulf Coast. Nearly three years later, the Gulf has yet to recover; to this day, tar balls continue to wash ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The Deepwater Horizon spill has been justly described as the worst man-made environmental disaster in history.Moved by reports of this unfolding devastation, and incensed at BP’s repeated attempts to trivialize its impact and shift blame, Cleveland-area sculptor Jim Clark decided to create a work of art that would keep alive the memory of this tragedy. The result was “Turning a Blind Eye”, a sculpture carved in wood and antler that directs our attention to the inevitable consequence of our insatiable thirst for oil.In “Turning a Blind Eye”, the artist transformed a burled stump into an underwater cyclone, belching oil from the exploded well as grotesque forms materialize out of the oozing sludge. One of these forms is a face with a blind eye, looking stunned as it watches a diving tern half submerged in oil. Elsewhere, a doomed pelican wing attempts to rise from the mire as the devil looks on from behind the scenes. Turning a Blind Eye was first exhibited in the Interpretive Division of the World Wildfowl Carving Competition, held annually in Ocean City, Maryland and sponsored by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. The following year, it was shown at the Artist Archives of the Western Reserve at its 2012 Member show. Today, Turning a Blind Eye has found a permanent home in the headquarters of the Gulf Restoration Network(GRN) in New Orleans.A highly- respected environmental advocacy organization, GRN has played a major role in coordinating a gulf-wide, unified response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. One of its primary goals is to pressure BP to take responsibility for its negligence and be financially accountable for the environmental devastation it caused in the Gulf. A grass-roots organization, GRN takes a multifaceted approach to environmental advocacy. Its activities include organizing periodic watchdogging trips, conducting public outreach through press releases and blog posts, pursuing legal remedies in the courts, advocating federal, state and local governments, and partnering with Tulane University in the development of an internship program. Such unrelenting pressure has helped to set the stage for BP’s recent guilty plea to 14 criminal charges relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and the agreement to pay an historic $4.5 billion fine. GRN is also determined to keep the pressure on throughout the ongoing civil lawsuit against BP, in which additional fines could exceed $28 billion.In the course of his research on the Deepwater disaster, Jim became aware of the GRN, and was impressed by their vision for the Gulf, their broad grassroots support, and their dedication to holding BP accountable for its actions. He contacted Natasha Noordhoff, GRN’s Development Director, and as they exchanged ideas and shared common philosophies, found GRN and Turning a Blind Eye to be a perfect fit. They subsequently reached out to GRN’s Executive Director Cyn Sarthou, who felt that Turning a Blind Eye embodied the organization’s sense of loss and resulting outrage at the callous destruction of the Gulf ecosystem. Upon hearing that GRN would be moving into new offices this year, Jim offered to donate Turning a Blind Eye to the organization. Sarthou eagerly accepted the offer, and made plans to install the work in a prominent place in the office lobby, opposite the elevators.In January 2013, Turning a Blind Eye was dedicated at the grand opening of GRN’s new office building in the warehouse/art district of New Orleans. January is the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, and the whole city was preparing for Super Bowl XLVII, a very exciting time to be guests in the French Quarter. The open house was abuzz with environmental activists from every walk of life, including academic, legal and scientific professionals, most of whom were survivors of Hurricane Katrina, each with a fascinating story to tell.Asked about the difference between the photographs she had seen and viewing the sculpture in person, Natasha Noordhoff, Development Director, replied: “…the way the whorls and design in the wood grain influenced your carving. You said you couldn’t ignore the devil in Blind Eye, and when I saw the carving, I understood. The natural twists and holes in the root burl evoked a malevolent force, and your craft explored that deeper, realizing it into the face of environmental evil. From the photos, it’s tough to see that sort of tactile detail and emotion. We’re so glad to have Blind Eye in our office.”Jim Clark’s sculptures can be viewed at www.wildlifesculptor.net. His latest effort, inspired by grandson Sean’s second open heart surgery at age 10, will be on display at the 2013 Artists Archives Member Show.

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