Paolo Cirio’s solo show at Sale Docks addresses the mismatch between climate data and climate justice. Conceptual, interventionist, and digital art about fossil fuel economy and its consequences are presented as visual artworks and installations in the massive space of Sale Docks at Magazzini del Sale in Venice.
This survey of over 10 artworks created by Paolo Cirio in the last two years are the result of his research and advocacy around climate justice that he already began investigating as early as 2010. These works address the perception and representation of the climate crisis, for which Cirio seeks to outline a Climate Aesthetics that can integrate the politics, economics, and ethics of the current epochal planetary emergency. Using an investigative approach, Cirio looks at the semiotics and philosophy of such Climate Aesthetics, intertwining it with legal actions and policy-making, aiming to build justice for humans, species, and ecosystems.
Cirio established the idea of a Climate Tribunal
against fossil fuel companies in 2021 by creating a series of artworks informed by his vast research on the climate crisis. Cirio highlights the specific evidence that proves the legal accountability fossil fuel companies have using color, notations, and compositions, creating greater public engagement with this complex theme. Using prints on canvas, fabric, and paper, Cirio’s visual art features scientific and economic data, legal documents and geopolitical analysis, graphs and photos, biological studies and satellite images. The Climate Tribunal
at Sale Docks unfolds with artworks presented as evidence, plaintiffs and defendants, climate scientists and activists speaking as witnesses, and visitors to the exhibition either participate as jury members that assess evidence, or identify as an injured party.
Semiotically, the exhibition Climate Mismatch
examines the discrepancy between the object/subject of research and its representation/perception. It problematizes how data and science have been pinpointing for a long time how the fossil fuel economy has been the cause of climate change, and yet the meaning of this data lacks a concrete referent. This mismatch between facts and actions has resulted in misrepresentation and misunderstanding, generating confusion that still lingers in the cultural world and in society.
It hasn’t only been misinformation spread by fossil fuel companies and the greenwashing of the business world that has led to the dismissal of global warming. Today, the same institutions that claim to be at the forefront of climate advocacy don’t even mention the global fossil fuel economy. Universities, cultural institutions, the art world, and the media increasingly run special programs about climate change, but without examining its cause, the fossil fuel industry, which often even funds such institutions.
The exhibition questions the ethics of representation of the climate emergency, looking at the mismatch between data and agency, the mismatch between facts and cognition, the mismatch between rhetoric and reality. These mismatches are challenged by Paolo Cirio who aims to shift perception, turning data into action and promoting public policy and justice. Cirio criticizes the use of bland wording such as sustainability, renewables, decarbonization and netzero, while the real culprits, their data on profits, investments, and history of carbon emissions are still disguised. Further, Cirio also challenges the representation mismatch in the cultural sector through direct institutional critique in the art world, and he advocates for a more effective Climate Aesthetics.
In particular, Cirio focuses on the new forensic discipline of Attribution Science that is able to establish links between weather anomalies and greenhouse emissions. Quantifying the production of fossil fuels can point to the legal and ethical accountability of Carbon Majors companies. Yet, they are too big to fail. Investigating and computing greenhouse emissions without considering the politics of the global economy in the equation will only generate a data crash, as computers and data fail to measure and model schizophrenic capitalism.
In this new era of denialism, it is not the climate emergency that is being denied, but rather the causes and the culprits that are mystified. To overcome this cognitive mismatch, Cirio turns information into art for generating knowledge, agency, and change, while investigating the financialization, weaponization, politicization, datafication, and normalization of the climate emergency.
Descriptions of the works in the series Climate Tribunal by Paolo Cirio.
1) Climate Culpable
24 flags, fabric prints, 140x100 cm each.
This work consists of 24 fabric flags featuring the logos of the 24 major fossil fuel firms responsible for over 50% of total global emissions. Cirio blacked the flags with motor oil, creating an installation that invites audiences to reflect on the grim principles these companies have adopted. These fossil fuel firms are mostly unknown to the general public, as they operate in secrecy without any legal responsibility and often in countries with authoritarian governments. The 24 flags are rapresentative of China Coal Energy, Aramco, Gazprom, National Iranian Oil, ExxonMobil, Coal India, Pemex, Suek, Shell, CNPC, BP, Chevron, PDV, Abu Dhabi National Oil, Weglokoks, Peabody, Sonatrach, Kuwait Petroleum, Total, BHP, ConocoPhillips, Petrobras, Lukoil, Rio Tinto.
2) Climate Sentence
2 canvas printed and painted in acrylic.
This work consists of a printed canvas showing a list of major fossil companies and their emissions. This document from the 2017 historical study, “Carbon Major Database”, is the first that established precise responsibilities each international fossil fuel firm has. National companies are highlighted in orange, while private companies are marked in yellow. Cirio then designed an algorithm to process this data and calculate the financial compensations with respect to the economic damage caused by each company.
3) Climate Legal Evidence
4 canvases printed in B/W and painted in acrylic.
This work consists of four canvas prints of graphs taken from internally commissioned studies by Shell and Exxon in the early 1980s that had assessed the effects of their emissions. These studies had already precisely established that the greenhouse gas would have produced a rise in temperatures, acidification of the oceans, and many other negative effects on the climate. These documents remained undisclosed for decades and are now used as evidence in lawsuits against Shell and Exxon. Cirio highlights the graphs taken from these historical documents by painting them in bright colors. From right to left: 1982 Exxon increase temperature 21st Century. 1988 Shell ocean acidification. 1988 Shell latitudes temperature increase. 1982 Exxon temperature fluctuation from 1850.
4) Climate Comparing Evidence
2 painted canvases, 195x200 cm each.
This work consists of a pair of canvases in which two graphs are recreated with hand-drawn brushstrokes. The resulting abstract diagrams compare sea level rise with emissions data from fossil fuel companies on the same time scale. The visual similarities between the two graphs creates a tangible image of the direct connection between the increase in emissions and their natural consequences.
5) Climate Ecosystems Plaintiffs
2 prints on cotton fabric, 150x200 cm each.
This work consists of three semi-transparent fabric prints that include photographs of ecosystems, glaciers, rivers, lakes and forests of the world. These ecosystems, being victims of climate change, are critical environments in which all living species are immersed, and should therefore be preserved with economic compensation.
6) Climate Newsroom Evidence
2 prints on paper, 130x220 cm each.
This work is composed of newspaper headlines related to the climate crisis that are printed on paper to form a dense column of news. The selected articles represent the research materials which Cirio focused his investigation on, both as an artistic process and as a historical record that portrays the evolution of the climate crisis and its legal snf economic implications.
7) Climate Causes & Effects Evidence
17 prints on acetate.
In this artwork satellite images of fossil fuel power plants and climate breakdown are juxtaposed as evidence of the causes and effects of global warming. Art about climate change often represents only the effects of the environmental collapses, and very rarely the actual causes are shown. In this work satellite photographs of hotspot sites are overlapped and placed side by side to make evident the direct connection between causes and effects. The prints of the images are assembled on the tables to create a multilayered and multidimensional display of distant locations interrelated by global carbon flows. The infrared composite colors and the camera angles provide an abstract and aestheticized look of the images that relate to the machine vision possibilities of tracking and monitoring these critical sites. Some of the subjects of the images: Germany: Active lignite mines. Poland: Europe's largest CO2 emitter lignite power station. South Africa: World’s biggest single-site greenhouse gases emitter, Sasol coal power station. Australia: Large wildfires in Victoria state. Italy: Presena Glacier, protected by a summer sheet.
8) Climate Financial Evidence
4 canvases printed and painted in acrylic.
This work is composed of data and graphs selected by Cirio that denounce the major financial institutions and company executives responsible for the climate crisis as indicated by their profits, investments and wages. Cirio’s brush strokes upon the canvas prints highlight key data points on the graphs which make evident the capital availability to provide compensation for the unethical climate crimes they’ve committed. The graphs from the 2021 are the following: Global banks funneling trillions into fossil fuels. Big oil's profits since 1990 total nearly $2tn. Oil firm bosses’ pay. Big banks’ trillion-dollar finance for fossil fuels ‘shocking’.
9) Climate Lawsuits
Prints B/W and colors.
This table displays some recent research material of Paolo Cirio for the making of the Climate Tribunal and his campaign Climate Class Action that he launched in 2023. A selection of climate lawsuits in the U.S. against fossil fuel companies are fully printed as hard copy, graphs on recent data about profits, production, consuption, and reserves of fossil fuel are shown next to a timeline to consider the economic and historical accountability of countries and firms.
10) Climate Testimony
Cirio conducted audio interviews with experts in climate justice and economics, who represent the witnesses at the tribunal. This installation consists of four speakers positioned inside glass ampoules, powered by photovoltaic panels that turn on automatically with the sun's rays. Each interview runs 10 minutes long with looped audio. Among those interviewed are Ivan Novelli, the president of Greenpeace Italy, Marco Grasso, author of “From Big Oil to Big Green” published by MIT Press, and other experts in environmental law.
11) Climate Species Plaintiffs
1 print paper in B/W. 130x1100 cm each.
Cirio aggregated data of over 40,000 species at risk of extinction and published them on the website, Extinction-Claims.com, where visitors can claim financial compensation from major fossil fuel firms on behalf of endangered species and ecosystems. The installation consists of a long print with 750 photographs of animal, insects, and plant species that are at risk of extinction. The images are printed also on postcards that can be filled with the name of fossil fuel company and the percentage of compensation the specie should receive for its preservation. These postcards are part of Cirio’s campaign for a carbon tax in Europe for the preserveing ecosystems and species.
12) Climate Gas
7 written and colored fabrics. 125x390 cm each.
This work consists of tens of meters of painted fabric depicting the chemical symbols of the major greenhouse gases and their symbolic commercial value equivalent to one dollar. The tons of greenhouse gasses produced today are treated as financial vehicles with the “carbon credits” system that allows the industry to keep polluting. Greenhouse gases are assigned a single price that fluctuates according to the market, even if some of them, such as carbon dioxide or methane, have completely different polluting and permanence properties in the atmosphere. Cirio highlights the paradox of the discrepancy between these monetary values and the social and environmental damage each specific greenhouse gas creates. The seven greenhouse gases: SF6, N2O, PFC6, HFCS, CH4, O3, CO2.
13) Climate Human Plaintiffs
Online platform, data and prints.
Visitors are invited to fill out an online form created by Cirio, where they can indicate how they have been personally harmed by climate change, and what financial compensation they expect from major fossil fuel firms. In the installation, these claims are printed and displayed on a bulletin board. In 2023 Cirio launched the ClimateClassAction.com website where the form is online and it's part of a larger campaign.
14) Climate Jury
Prints and borad.
The public is invited to fill out a form expressing their opinion on the allegations and evidence presented in the exhibition. Their opinions are posted on a cork board. In this way Cirio creates a sort of people's court where visitors become a democratic jury in the trial of coal, gas and oil companies.