For more than a decade, scientists and politicians have been arguing with each other, and amongst themselves, with regard to the speed of climate change and the impact of our lives today on the environment within which the human race exists. Recent debates have centred less on the possibility and more on the certainty and speed with which change will take place. As the debate has developed, so too has our approach to the future.
This year GSK Contemporary sets out to consider the impact of climate change, and our transition to a new world, on the practice of a broad range of contemporary artists, working in a wide-variety of media. Some of the artists featured are heavily involved in the issue itself, others have shown it to find a place, or resonances, within their work but not as a singular, direct focus. Many of the artists in this exhibition have achieved success in their work by transforming the global scale of climate change into a human narrative. The works on show create an exhibition that is close to the edge, bravely metamorphosing ‘issue’ and ‘art’, whilst beautiful, powerful and thought-provoking. The exhibition does not aim to preach nor admonish, whilst at its heart sits the overwhelming quality of the individual works and the overall aesthetic, visual and experiential impact that the exhibition strives to achieve.
The show begins with an introduction to the key factors that make up the natural world and the actions and activities that are impacting upon the equilibrium. Works by artists including Ackroyd & Harvey, Spencer Finch, Mona Hatoum and Marcos Lutyens & Alessandro Marianantoni, engage with the earth, air, sky, nature and carbon elements to encourage a deeper consideration of our cultural relationship to earth’s stability.
The second section of the exhibition represents our world as we imagine it today. Artists such as Antti Laitinen and Edward Burtynsky reflect the perceived security of our existence, safe in the knowledge that we are intelligent enough to know that the world is round and not flat, but still naive in imagining that it responds to our authority and control.
Artist as Explorer and Reflector
At the centre of the show sits a group of exhibits that help us understand the role of the artist in the cycle of our evolution. In this section we are able to consider the role of artist as communicator, reflector and interpreter of key issues of their day. Historically, in the time of Darwin, David Livingstone and Captain Cook, then subsequently in the World Wars, artists have played a crucial part in recording man’s explorations, conquerings and discoveries whilst ‘describing’ them in such a way as to make them more understandable, more striking to a wider world. Within this section artists Sophie Calle, Lucy & Jorge Orta, Cornelia Parker, the poet Lemn Sissay and Shiro Takatani hold up a mirror to our changing world, producing work that will encourage us to examine the issues from a variety of angles, to reflect and question. Other works confront the viewer with the consequences of human behaviour through natural disasters and physical collapse, counterpoising the beauty of the planet with the damage that is being inflicted upon it.
The penultimate section of the exhibition confronts the visitor with the consequences of human behaviour through natural disasters and physical collapse counterpoising the beauty of the planet with the damage that is being inflicted upon it.
The New (Reality)
In the final section of the exhibition we enter a world of vision and of hope, but through the glass of reality as our world, and our sense of beauty, is being re-defined by the impact of climate change. This subtle shift represents the first major change in our view of the world since the first ‘whole earth images’ emerged as photographs taken from Apollo 8 in 1968. This image was central to our new perception of the beauty and fragility of the earth; climate change is now moving us through a second stage or re-evaluation, re-looking and revised undertakings.
This has germinated new notions of care and empathy for our habitat; the beauty of the physical world, of bird migration, bio-diversity and a new sense of a shared emotional understanding. Works by artists such as the writer, Ian McEwan, Mariele Neudecker and Emma Wieslander offer insight, vision and hope, responding powerfully to this cultural shift, some with a celebration of beauty and what we stand to lose. These artists approach this shift from various perspectives: some engaging with the rigour of scientific endeavour, others through the use of imagined worlds, film and music, delving into the emotional understanding of knowledge.
Earth navigates us through a series of realities - perceived, real, threatened and super-real, which will allow the visitor to register the conversations and stories that will guide us to a different level of understanding. Beginning in Darwin’s anniversary year, and within the very organisation where he delivered his significant lecture on the Origin of Species, the consideration of the issue of climate change through the work of artists, encourages fresh provocations in relation to the notion of ‘survival of the fittest’. It engages more with the notion of transition than that of final endings, of new realities and possibilities as we reclaim a different future.
Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts in collaboration with Cape Farewell.