Mariele Neudecker, 400 Thousand Generations, 2009

Earth: Art of a changing world

3 December 2009 - 31 January 2010

The Royal Academy of Arts

GSK Contemporary Season

The Royal Academy of Arts presented the second annual contemporary art season, GSK Contemporary at 6 Burlington Gardens. Opened in December 2009, Earth: Art of a changing world exhibited new and recent work from more than 30 leading international contemporary artists, including commissions and new works from the best emerging talent.

Recent debates have centred less on the possibility and more on the certainty and speed with which climate change will take place. As the debate has developed, so too has our approach to the future. Co-curated by Kathleen Soriano, Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy, David Buckland, Director of Cape Farewell, and, Edith Devaney, Royal Academy, the exhibition reflected the impact of the climate change debate on the practice of a broad range of contemporary artists across a wide variety of media.

Many of the artists featured actively engaged with the issue itself, working directly to transform the global scale of climate change into a human narrative. Others shown it to have a place, or to resonate, within their work. Earth interconnected ‘issue’ and ‘art’, and presenting works that were beautiful, powerful and thought-provoking. The exhibition built on the power of individual works to create an overall aesthetic, visual and experiential impact that explored some of the cultural impacts of climate change.

The exhibition introduced key elements that make up the natural world, and the activities that affect the planet’s fragile equilibrium. Works by artists including Ackroyd & Harvey, Spencer Finch, Mona Hatoum and Marcos Lutyens & Marianantoni, engaged with the earth, air, sky, nature and carbon elements to encourage a deeper consideration of our cultural relationship to the earth’s stability.

Artists such as Antti Laitinen and Edward Burtynsky represented our contemporary world and invoked a dialogue around the perceived security of our existence.

At the centre of the show, a group of exhibits focused on the role of the artist in the cycle of human and cultural evolution – as communicator, reflector and interpreter of key issues of the day. Within this section artists such Sophie Calle, Lucy & Jorge Orta, Cornelia Parker, the poet Lemn Sissay and Shiro Takatani held up a mirror to our changing world, producing work that encourages us to examine the issues from a variety of angles, to reflect and question. Other works confronted 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 exhibition concluded with works that presented a world of vision and of hope, but through the glass of reality. These works reflected notions of beauty and inspiration fundamentally re-defined by climate change. This subtle shift represented 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, an image that anchors our contemporary perception of the beauty and fragility of the earth that has germinated new notions of care and empathy for our habitat. Works by artists such as the writer, Ian McEwan, Mariele Neudecker and Emma Wieslander offered insight, vision and hope, responding powerfully to this cultural shift, some with a celebration of beauty and what we stand to lose. These artists approached 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.

Royal Academy of Arts - GSK Contemporary GlaxoSmithKline