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American Farm

Alfred Mira, American Farm (ca. 1935) Click here to view full-size image

The disastrous combination of industrialization and anthropogenic climate change that inspired the Green New Deal exhibits has transformed so many environments and homes to the point of unfamiliarity, eliciting a sense of sorrow and wistfulness at the negatively transformed space from the loss of one’s place of solace. This melancholy is similar to that of nostalgia but for a word rooted in the meaning “to return home,” it is not applicable for those who are already “home.” Thus, Glenn Albrecht aptly names this emotion “solastalgia,” based off the ideas of solace and desolation: “Solace has meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. The suffix -algia has connotations of pain or suffering...Solastalgia, simply put, is ‘the homesickness you have when you are still at home.’”

Due to the ecologically turbulent period, many paintings from the New Deal Gallery evoke such an emotion, including Alfred Mira’s “American Farm.” In the background (almost like looking at the past and at what was), a beautiful, warm landscape is covered with fields, trees, and mountains, taking up a majority of the canvas with its majority of light red and green colors. As the audience’s view expands forwards, a road (or highway in-the-making with the presence of the three automobiles) encircles this landscape, as if to signify how the industry is choking off the natural environment. Outside the road is a decrepit farmhouse with dry, barren fields and a huge dying tree which Mira paints with various shades of dark brown. Two stragglers on the road reach out to the automobiles in a cry for help at what has become of their home. This reach in an attempt to gain back that feeling of peace is echoed throughout the history of the New Deal era.

Preceding the 1930’s was the age of Manifest Destiny, where people moved West to make a new life and claim the land they thought was rightfully theirs. This form of displacement was driven by hope and the consumerist desire to expand and reap the benefits. In the era of the 1930’s, there was another great displacement of people, mostly due to the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and due to the uninhabitable conditions in the Midwest that we refer to now as the Dust Bowl. Whole families were forced to pack up their lives and move elsewhere. This kind of movement from one place to another is complicated by a connection to the land. For many, there was a personal connection to the land they had cultivated and tended for years before and leaving took an emotional toll.

We see this same kind of displacement today with our interactions with the environment. With population growth across the globe, the effects of consumerism and big business has taken its toll on our environment. Forests, which were once rich and full of life, are being destroyed, the ocean becomes more polluted every day, and fossil fuels are wreaking havoc on the air we breathe. Our knowledge of these events which we have little control over creates the nostalgic response for a time when the earth wasn’t facing these environmental challenges. The displacement present within this idea of solastagia is emotional distance you feel from a certain place or idea, which can be evoked from a variety of mediums: music, paintings, and pictures.

Works Consulted

— Albrecht, Glenn. "The age of solastalgia." The Conversation, 7 August 2012. 

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