Since the beginning of humanity, art has been a ubiquitous form of self-expression and the weapon of choice of the oppressed, who strive to get their voices heard and contribute to the loud, cacophonous, and dissonant symphony of life. Naturally, artists are part of that symphony and have been throughout history. Using a wide range of materials and techniques to explore new ideas and ventures, artists have produced a plethora of works and masterpieces, either in support of a movement or in resistance to prevailing powers.
Each artist used the materials and platforms of their own times to address a huge expanse of issues and make unforgettable statements. Art is an individual’s means of self-expression. Finding, admiring, and appreciating the beauty in art is valuable, but art serves more than the purpose of aesthetics – art can make you think, art can deeply move you, and above all, art can make you feel uncomfortable. The art piece at the focus of this article is Vasily Klyukin’s sculpture, titled ‘Why people can’t fly’, and it ticks all those boxes.
Much like anyone with even the slightest awareness of global and environmental issues, Vasily is also concerned about the alarming rate at which pollution is destroying our oceans’ ecosystems. Every day, approximately 8 million pieces of plastic get tossed into our oceans, and this accounts for 80 to 90 percent of marine debris. It is quite disconcerting to even think of, but it is the consequence of all our actions as a population. In a way, we are the architects of our own destruction. It is an unnerving statement, but it is true. Not to romanticize the issue at hand, but it’s a bit Dorian Gray-esque. We strive to lead ‘flawless’ lives, we mostly share the highlights of our day, a picturesque landscape, sunset photographs, and aesthetically pleasing food plates. We rarely deliberate or truly consider how our actions impact our environment, and Vasily’s sculpture is here to change that.
It carries a perturbing but necessary message because it displays our own Dorian Gray portrait of how all of us contributed to the damage and decay our earth suffers from. It’s a reality check because it bestows on us a deeply disturbing knowledge. The balloons in Vasily’s sculpture are filled with chunks of plastic waste from all around the globe, a critical reminder of the global scope of the issue because it concerns all of us.
‘Why people can’t fly’ is a unique piece of art that has made an indelible impact on the way we see the world and interact with nature, so it is no wonder that this sculpture was the most photographed artwork at Burningman festival. The sculpture displays a child being pulled down by balloons filled with plastic waste. It is a powerful imagery depicting the weight of our destruction of the earth, it is a burden every one of us has to live with and try to remedy. We all have problems, issues, and baggage to keep us preoccupied for days, but none of them truly amount to the damage we have inflicted on nature and the environment. This is the collective sin we have committed, this is our legacy to future generations, and if we don’t change, this is the world our children and our grandchildren have to live in, and this will be their reality. An issue this critical will inevitably lead to our extinction. It is Dante’s inferno on earth, the nine circles of hell that we have to walk through and wait for punishment if we don’t change.
This sculpture is phenomenal because, at first glance, you are quite taken with the glass balloons and how beautiful and mesmerizing they look, but after getting a closer look you come to realize the ugly truth, that what lies within those balloons is garbage and trash. It is very reminiscent of 19th-century still-life paintings, where you see a fruit basket and you are taken by its beauty, but when you inspect the painting, you find that the fruit is infested with insects, painfully rotting away.
‘Why people can’t fly’ is an exceptional piece of art in the sense that it is the mirror reflecting our horrendous crimes against nature. It’s a much-needed wake-up call that carries a poignant but necessary truth and it is that uncomfortable knowledge that sticks with us when we are not in front of the art. It is the tiny seed of doubt and the reminder that informs, shapes and frames our values. Vasily’s creative output is an invitation to reconsider our own actions and the way we interact with the environment. It is an encouragement that calls us to be well-informed, attentive, and live a more sustainable lifestyle. This is a piece of artwork that is undeniably worthwhile.