“Seen and Unseen” takes a ‘detour’ from Cronin’s usual style of magical-meets-realism. Although she’s always precise, intricate and direct, current events in the call to action surrounding climate change were motivation to create this new body of work.
In June of 2016, Cronin traveled to Newtok, Alaska after researching images in an internet rabbit hole.
“About five years ago..I remember coming across a striking image of a tiny plywood house teetering over the edge of a piece of land, about to fall into the water below,” said Cronin.
Upon further investigation, Cronin found stories on remote Native Alaskan villages (such as Newtok) that are currently and drastically being impacted by climate change.
“What was interesting to me about Newtok is that the people have been trying to relocate for the past twenty years, but were held back by government funding,” said Cronin.
The reason: Newtok is not being affected by a natural disaster in the ‘traditional’ sense. The gradual effects of climate change are not enough to warrant government intervention or relief aid, as, say, a hurricane would—though the effects are also inhabitable.
This moved her to action. As part of her study, Cronin traveled to Newtok, where she was housed in the community’s school library. The people of Newtok talked with Cronin daily about changes they’ve been subject to in the village for years.
Tom John, a fisherman and activist in communication with Washington officials to relocate Newtok, stood out to Cronin. “I remember him, with a warm smile, saying that he couldn’t smile anymore, and that he just wanted to go away and spend time watching T.V. on the couch and relaxing.”
Cronin recalled the children’s spirit being especially moving, like necessary light in darkness.
“Every morning, when my friend and I left the school to walk around the village, we were met almost immediately by a child or two..then five or ten..walking with us and talking about everything under the sun.”
As the inheriting generation, these children made Cronin wonder about what would be left for their future.
“I think many of us feel we should be doing more, and I feel the same way,” Cronin said. “I don’t know how to fix this problem. But I’m starting by sharing a story. I don’t know if it will do any good, but to me it feels like a small step in the right direction.”
“Seen and Unseen” opens with a reception on June 1st, from 6-9pm at Elephant Room Gallery. From 6-7pm that evening, there will be sounds courtesy of Dusty Patches; the electronic music project of Chicago musician Patrick Mitchell. There will be an open artist talk with Jen on June 15th at 2pm.
The exhibition runs through July 27th, 2019.
More about Jen.