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Earth: art of a changing world

Chris Carroll

17th December, 2009

This eco-orientated exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts features art by the likes of Tracy Emin and Anthony Gormley

Plenty of artists have jumped on the eco-art bandwagon over recent years.

The exhibition at London's Royal Acadamy covers a ‘wide range of subject-matter’ associated with the human influence on the environment - from the pitfalls of energy intensive industrialisation through to the security of fragile habitats. 

This is not to say that, unlike a short news article detailing the destructive nature of forest deforestation, you’ll walk away from each piece with a clear grasp of what the artist is trying to convey. But of course this is modern art, and it’s not intended to be a walk in the park.

The blockbuster names of Anthony Gormley and Tracey Emin will of course intrigue (indeed, Emin’s foray into poetry-art might well do more than intrigue and perhaps lose a few, myself included) but it is the lesser known names that bring real body to the exhibition.

Adrian Colburn’s 'Up from Under the Edge of the Earth' is a delightful and disturbing show of how your perception of a place, the Peruvian Amazon in this instance, is determined by what rewards are presented by it. The piece allows the viewer to physically interact with it and explores the interests of oil companies entwined with what is the most biodiverse place on earth.

Jelly fish and jazz

My favourite piece was by an artist called Tue Greenfort. On the face of it, the work was simply several beautifully sculptured jellyfish dangling from the ceiling. The point of this work: the ever changing balance of the ocean’s habitats, in this instance the increased number of jelly fish in European waters due to sea temperature rise.

Other works of note include 'Spring in the City', by Yao Lu; a digital manipulation that at first appears as something akin to a traditional Chinese painting before exposing itself as a mountainous landscape of waste. Cornelia Parker’s 'Heart of Darkness' took inspiration from the film Apocalypse Now, and sees a beguiling three-dimensional hanging assortment of charred forest remains being held up in front of a white wall.

Parker said of the piece: 'This forest fire seemed to be a metaphor for the disastrous consequences of political tinkering. From the hanging chads in the US elections, to the cutting down of rainforests to grow biofuels to power Hummers.'

The layout of the exhibition is far from an orthodox use of space. It makes for a multi-sensory experience: from the heat of a glowing red neon globe to conditioning of jazz and spoken word.

Pick-me ups

The constant pick-me-ups of exuberant colours and video art make for an energetic display and the assorted canvasses on which the artwork is exposed constantly ask for a closer examination. The later aspect is perhaps a timely requirement, when it is the science of global warming that is under the media spotlight once again at Copenhagen.

One thing that struck me as I walked round the gallery, was the number of smiling faces. Perhaps this had something to do with the free booze on offer, but I couldn’t help feeling it also had to do with some of the more unconventional and perhaps playful depictions of what climate change encapsulates.

This of course is quite rare - the issue is predominantly painted as a gloomy one in the mainstream media. This is not to say that the Royal Academy has inadvertently demeaned what environmental responsibility entails - far from it - but it is refreshing to see how such a multifaceted issue can be made so stark, clear and breathtaking.

GSK Contemporary, Earth: Art of a changing world exhibition runs from 3 December 2009 - 31 January 2010 at the Royal Academy of Arts, 6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET

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