Earth art of a changing world


Among the various initiatives aimed at raising public attention around the theme of Global War it is worth mentioning those involving art, science, climate change and culture. Whereas in Italy it is hard to develop integrated and multi-disciplinary reasoning on these matters at an academic and political level, in Great Britain there is a willingness by major cultural and artistic institutions ( both private and public) to support, events on these topics.

At least two events have caught our attention. The “Shift” festival, beginning in January 29th 2010 – a stimulating, provocative programme on climate change and culture, held at the Southbank Centre in London – and “Earth art of a changing world”, a science and art exhibition introducing 35 international artists on the topic of climate change and the role of art, held until the 31st January at the London Royal Academy till 6, Burlington Gardens.

Organised by the charity Cape Farewell the cultural response to climate change (in the Arctic where an exploration took place in 2008 ), the exhibition gives people the opportunity to see a selection of works by artists and scientists produced during the 2008 Arctic exploration on the topic of art and climate change. The Festival’s purpose is to direct public attention to the effects that Oceanic currents have on us and our climate through scientific experiments, films, live web broadcasts, events, exhibitions and the work of artists and researchers.

The exhibition encourages viewers to reflects on how the world and our conception of beauty are being re-defined with the impact of climate change. The various exhibits by artists, scientists and musicians express something of the beauty, fragility, delicacy, and rebellious and frightening strength – of nature and concludes with new notions of care and empathy towards our natural environment. In the middle of the show a group of art works focus on? emphasize the role of the artist in contemporary society. Art can spread the theme of climate change and its consequences, transforming the global scale of the phenomenon into human scale, showing the effects of carbon on nature in different ways ( e.g. The a whale’s skeleton with carbon crystals caused by changes in the climate), and encouraging reflection on the security of our existence, the stability, styles of life, contemporary emergences and political urgencies. The originality of the work, lies in its interdisciplinarity with artists like Daniel Harvey, Gary Hulme, William Hunt, musicians like Laurie Anderson, Jarvis Jocker and scientists from the University of Oxford, the British National Oceanographic Centre, establishing an open dialogue allowing for debates on shared concerns. What is especially striking is the mixture of different heterogenous approaches and languages used to address different sectors of the public. The art exhibition run by David Buckland, the director of Cape Farewell, and by the administrator of the Royal Academy Kathleen Soriano has led to an original debate between sculptors, researchers, scientists and authors who have in turn invited the public to examine possible answers to the phenomena of climate change.

We asked David Buckland, director of Cape Farewell, to tell us more about the climate change cultural activities to which he’s dedicated:

Q. What kind of cultural change do you expect and imagine for the future?

A. If only I knew the answer to this question…what we have to deal with most urgently is the problem of carbon emissions…the research of a new economic paradigm. I see the cultural passage from a society of waste to a society based on cultural expressions, and that exploits the opportunities for alternative and ecological energy production systems: the sun, the wind, farms in Africa…Besides, it is important to re-imagine the notion of “economic” and social value.

Q. How has your experience of Cape Farewell and your cooperation with scientists been? What was hard and on the other hand, exciting, and challenging…?

A. The experience of collaboration with scientists has been fantastic, the opportunity to relate science and art and create a potential dialogue between them has been amazing. I love scientific brains, the scientific mind…scientists have the same passion for beauty artists have in revealing, for example, the exquisite splendour of a formula. The procedure is the same, on the one hand the scientist begins with a hypothesis that has to be validated, whereas on the other hand the artist experiences a paradigm and tries to express it by creating something new in a rigorous way.

Q. What is innovative in your project?

A. If our project wasn’t innovative, we wouldn’t work on it. The agenda on climate change needs great vision, speed, risk: good and calculated risk on “that” speed rather than another. This is very innovative, Cape Farewell suggests that type of criteria and measure of beauty.

Q. You collaborate with the United Nations for the environment programme, natural science museums and internationally acknowledged art museums collaborate with you; you have different partners and levels of communication through groups of experts and non-experts and it looks like you grasp every opportunity in order to spread “the message”. ..What is your message?

A. That climate is a cultural challenge. I met the mayor of Toronto David Miller and the mayors of the 40 cities involved in the Clinton Initiative to discuss culture and climate changes. Cities are responsible for 70% of global emissions and representatives have gathered to discuss it.

Q. What are the most representative artistic works of Cape Farewell?

A. Burning ice exhibition, the art from the Arctic, “What if”, a three-minute poem by Lemn Sissay on our destructive earth path and wrong method of developing. The work of Lemn Sissay British poet who joined Cape Farewell in 2008; then I like my own work.

Q. Which is the most significant scientific event that has emerged during your explorations?

A. We found no ice where there should have been ice.. The most risky moment when we got trapped in the Greenland for 36 hours. We were far from the rescue boat and there we realised how powerful, overwhelming and big nature is. Ten years ago nobody spoke of climate change.

Q. Can you tell us in which explorations and activities are you involved?

A. The work on the Andes had a positive feedback, the SHIFT festival started at the end of January 2010 We will go to Russia next September 2010 with a group of scientists and artists.

For more information on the future of Cape Farewell activities see the strategic plan 2008-2011

Contribution of Doctor Cristina Orsatti – FEM S Michele all’Adige (Trento)