Environment 2.0 — Peter Scott gallery

Reviewed by Kevin McVeigh

Environment 2.0 is the inaugural exhibition by Public Arts at LICA and runs til the end of October in the Peter Scott Gallery.  Curated in collaboration with Manchester’s long running Future Everything (formerly Futuresonic) Festival, it comprises a range of works concerned, as the name suggests, with our interactions with the environment.

 

After viewing the whole show it becomes noticeable that there are two aspects to the work here: there are those pieces which are artworks themselves; and there are those which document projects elsewhere on a different scale.  Personally both are of interest, but their immediate impact differs considerably.  The former tend to a more direct, tangible, emotional content, the latter more rareified and intellectual, offering the political ahead of the artistic.

 

Kim Abeles sets the tone with a series of commemorative ceramic plates bearing illustrations of US Presidents since McKinley created by varying time exposures to smog.  The darker the image the worse the environmental record of that president.

Alongside this is a striking image, and a video display of a large scale public project by HeHe in which a laser illuminated the emissions from a Helsinki power plant.  As images they are striking, like Science Fiction FX, but with context they taken on a dramatic illustration of pollution and match Abeles’ work.

 

Dominating the room though is Fujiko Nakaya’s film of environmental fog sculptures.  Shown on a huge screen this is both spectacular and ironically least effective, being awkward to view properly in the crowds.  Clouds also play their part in several other works here.  Andrea Polli & Chuck Varga converted a car to generate steam to represent in visible form the larger impact of road vehicles.  It would have been fun to see the actual car rather than a video, but even so, a provocative image.  Similarly Eva Meyer-Keller’s Handmade uses household items within a tank to simulate climactic phenomena.  Both these works utilize the familiar to dramatize the unfamiliar and relate small scale to large impact and the cost of our consumer lives.

 

Less direct but stunningly beautiful is Janine Randerson’s hypnotic film of cloud formation and decay Rorshach Clouds.  The setting up of chairs to view this piece aids greatly, as it does for Aaron Koblin’s data visualization of a striking colour image made up of every flight path into or within the continental USA in a day.  Pretty in its colours but serious in its message yet again.

 

For those less informed of the message, and I’m a little embarrassed to class myself as one of that middle ground of people vaguely aware of the issues but who could do much more to help, these works are an eye-opener.  More than that, Amy Balkin produced a ‘performance’ of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change.  On its own, perhaps not ‘art’ (regardless of other merist, but in the context of this show it plays an important role adding technical detail and helping relate images to consequences.

The consequences of course are not just to nature, but human too.  Erin Wikstrom’s Reds Against Greys documented a project using human performers representing two types of squirrel to in turn represent racial migration issues.  I would have liked to have seen the whole work rather than its limited version here though.  More than with almost any other work I felt I missed something by only seeing a second-hand version.  Ackroyd & Harvey’s Beuys’ Acorns also lacked the depth in representation of the actual work as described in the catalogue, which is a shame, because there is clearly an attempt to engage the botanic and artistic worlds in their work which could be very powerful.

This merging of disciplines worked particularly well with probably the most examined exhibit in the show.  Akousmaflore is a small garden of hanging plants whose electrical impulses have been collected and amplified so that each plant sings in its own voice when touched or approached.  On the night I attended people couldn’t resist, and kept trying different touches, combinations, and seeking new effects.  A truly delightful work.

 

Finally, the most positive display was Prayas Abhinav’s documentation of Petpuja, a project involving street children in Delhi in growing their own food and distributing it within their community.  A truly inspiring concept.

 

Over all, a fascinating show, that curators Drew Hemment and Dennis Hopkins should be proud of, and one that everyone should see, absorb and respond to.  Environment 2.0 runs until 31st October and is free to enter.

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