The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

UI assistant professor’s art compares modern motherhood to ongoing climate crisis

‘Observed Changes and their Causes’ displays the chaotic joy of motherhood through paint and multi-media sculpture.
Shaely Odean/ The Dialy Iowan
Artist Allison Rowe’s, “Observed Changes and Their Causes” gallery as seen at Public Space One North in Iowa City on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. The installation is inspired by caregiving climate change and childhood. The gallery will be available for public viewing from Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 through Dec. 16, 2023.

University of Iowa assistant professor Allison Rowe explores the realities of raising a child amid a climate crisis in her recent exhibit at Public Space One “Observed Changes and their Causes.”

Since the birth of her daughter, Matilda (Tillie), four years ago, Rowe said her life has been forever changed.

“I started to notice the confluence of the ways that thinking about caregiving intersected with the ways I was thinking about and talking about the climate crisis,” Rowe, who is also the area coordinator for the UI Art Education Program, said. “Both things, parenting and environmental care, are so closely related, and so many of the systems of them mirror one another.”

The first piece created for the exhibit was the large, multi-colored sculpture on the north Gilbert Street location’s far wall titled “Adaptation/Dropping a Nap.” The sculpture mimics a wooden children’s toy but is scaled to the size of an average toddler.

‘Dropping a nap’ is a reference to the reaction children often produce when they need a nap which leaves children with very big feelings and exhaustion they don’t understand. This frustrating emotion is displayed through the sporadic directions of the sticks and balls of the sculpture.

“It’s like their whole world has just been rocked,” Rowe said, explaining the meaning and execution of her piece’s title. “That’s the way that I think about the kind of adaptations we need to make when it comes to preventing total environmental disaster.”

The second piece developed was a video project called “Mamma Reads the 2022 IPCC Report.” IPCC stands for the International Panel on Climate Change, an organization that tracks the impact of climate change. The video shows Rowe reading the report to two-year-old Tillie.

“It’s really hard to think about climate change or even understand the science behind why we need to act urgently or shift things with daily life. There’s so many things we all have going on and it makes things really tricky,” Rowe said.

All pieces in “Observed Changes and their Causes” were in collaboration with Tillie. From her birth, Tillie has inspired Rowe to create in ways she hadn’t before, leading her to try a plethora of new mediums. For Tillie, painting has become an emergent interest.

Seeing Tillie’s interest in painting, Rowe opened herself up to unpredictability, chaos, and discovery by creating “disasters” with her daughter.

“It was this really lovely thing where we love painting together now. She loved being invited into the studio, but also as a visual maker. It was really wild for me,” Rowe said.

In Tillie’s watercolor series, Rowe would show Tillie pictures of natural disasters and have her paint them, or she would describe what the events were and how people felt to get an interpretation out of Tillie.

“What really ended up happening was such a poignant metaphor for the way that we’re thinking about climate change,” Rowe further explained that using watercolor proved to be a difficult medium to work with as, unlike acrylic or oil, the transparency of pigments prevents fixing mistakes with more paint.

“With watercolor,” Rowe said, “once it’s there you’re committed.”

Tillie’s seemingly nonsense choices presented something strikingly creative, interpreting the fires in Hawaii as balls of fire and teaching Rowe there is no wrong way to look at something — every perspective is worthy of appreciation.

“I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the process of making the paintings as much as she did, but that felt conceptually aligned with what I was interested in and what she was willing to explore with me,” Rowe said.

The chaotic joy of motherhood represented in “Observed Changes and their Causes” is available for public viewing until Dec. 16.

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About the Contributor
Zhenya Loughney
Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter
Zhenya is a fourth year theatre design and journalism double major at UI. They are passionate about artistry and creativity. They are from Lebanon, KY.