2009 Andes Expedition

Our first expedition outside of the Arctic visited shrinking glaciers, cloud forests, areas of deforestation and the Amazon.

23 June–10 July 2009
Andean Rainforests, Peru

On 10 July 2009, Cape Farewell returned from our first expedition in Peru. Working in collaboration with scientists at the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), Oxford University, a crew of 18 international artists and scientists spent three weeks visiting multiple science stations across a transect of the Andes witnessing Peru’s unique landscape of glaciers, cloud forests and rain forests investigating how climate change is effecting the various ecosystems they encountered.

The expedition started at the Salcantay Glacier, east of Cuzco. After the icy beauty of the glacier, the group switched landscape from ice to forest, beginning to trek down to the Madre de Dios, from a height of 3,500m above sea level through the Puna, cloud forest and Trocha Union before entering the Amazon Basin.

The two major absorbers of carbon are the oceans and the forests. The ambition of Cape Farewell’s first expedition to the Andes was to extend our expedition programme and invite artists to witness the impact of climate change in another climate tipping point; the rainforests.

In 2007, Cape Farewell were approached by the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University to replicate our Arctic expedition in the Andes, working with their extensive research programme Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics in an Andean to Amazon Transect. The programme investigated the effects of climate change in the Andes.

Rainforests are the lungs of our planet, absorbing the carbon that we are putting into the atmosphere at an ever increasing rate.  Tropical forests are large carbon sinks and their destruction will lead to an acceleration of climate change. With deforestation already now accounting for approximately 17% of the world’s carbon emissions, any further destruction could have major consequences.

The forests in the Andes and Amazon are at the centre of the rainforest debate. At present the cloud forests are being pushed further up the mountain with the changing temperature directly effecting the plant life and biodiversity of the cloud forest.  If this continues, it is possible that the cloud forests will be destroyed.  

Moreover the Andean cloud forests and adjoining Amazonian lowlands have the highest biodiversity in the world, there are more species of trees in 100m2 of some Amazonian forests than in the whole of Europe. This variety of species is continually reduced and will be even more once the ecosystem is thoroughly disturbed.

The rainforests take on a more global significance this year in the lead up to the Copenhagen UN Summit (December 2009) as the fate of the rainforests will be a major debating point at the international summit.

The 2009 expedition allowed for the artists who joined the trip to gain a real understanding of the effects already being recorded in the rainforests and glaciers of Peru.

The Cape Farewell team are now working with all the artists to develop and create artworks that will feed into our ongoing exhibition and engagement programme in the UK at the Southbank Centre, Eden Project and with our network of international partners. See the what happened next section for more details.

“Climate change on its own is an impersonal force, deeply disempowering. Art inspired by climate change, because the making of art is personally involving, a whole-person activity, is empowering, both for the maker and the spectator.”

Yann Martel, 2009

Daro Montag in partnership with RANE and University College Falmouth, presented his Biochar project at the Eden Project on 4 December 2009. Through a simple process of pyrolysis, plants were turned to biochar, a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal, which acts as an effective soil conditioner and carbon sink. Throughout the evening audiences learnt about biochar’s potential to reduce greenhouse gases. They witnessed the process of pyrolysis, and were invited to take a sack of biochar away for burial in a place of their choice.

A new commission by Adriane Colburn featured in the Royal Academy’s Earth: Art of a changing world exhibition, which opened in December 2009. During the year Adriane Colburn had travelled to remote areas of the Arctic and the Amazon, two of the remaining frontiers currently being exploited for natural resources. Both have yet to be thoroughly mapped. Colburn is interested in the role that mapping plays along the edges of civilisation, in allowing us to gain authority over territory that then enables analysis, control and division of land. Her artwork Up from Under the Edge of the Earth investigates an area of the Peruvian Amazon that is under contentious consideration for oil exploration, and charts the way in which the most bio-diverse place on earth is viewed by various interest groups.

Yann Martel’s new text, based on his experience on the expedition, accompanying Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus symphony was played by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, May 2010.

Hannah Bird wrote an article for TweakerZine following her experiences during the Andes expedition and what led her there. “In 1992 I owned a Friends of the Earth t-shirt (hippy child) that said the rainforests were being destroyed at the rate of six football pitches per minute. As a 10 year-old this concerned me. I couldn’t understand how or why something could be destroyed so quickly. I imagined the bulldozers, the noise, the destruction. Where did all the trees go? No, it didn’t make sense. It was just too big for my 10 year-old self to comprehend. My brain stopped interpreting, rather like what happens when you start to think about the size of the universe; that earth is a drop in the ocean of the Milky Way, which is a screw on the opening hatch of the Death Star. Boom. Brain explodes…”

Photographer Ana Cecelia Gonzales Vigil presented her work in association with the Centro Cultural Peruano Britanico in Lima, Peru in July 2010.

Lucy & Jorge Orta presented Amazonia at the Natural History Museum in Autumn 2010, an exhibition celebrating the international year of biodiversity, inspired by their expedition with Cape Farewell.

Artworks by Lucy & Jorge Orta, Marije de Haas, Daro Montag and Brenndan McGuire all featured in Cape Farewell’s exquisite Unfold exhibition which toured globally from 2010 to 2013. They also featured in the Unfold book which accompanied the exhibition.

Adriane Colburn’s work Forest for the Trees was included in Cape Farewell’s Carbon 13 exhibition at Ballroom Marfa, Texas in 2012.

“The cloud forests of the Andes may be particularly vulnerable to climate change, and scientists are only just beginning to piece together a picture of how these incredible ecosystems are responding to climate change. This journey will provide a magical opportunity to explore both the majesty and vulnerability of the Andes and the Amazon.”

Yadvinder Malhi, 2009

Supported by The Bromley Trust, Britanico, Iridium, The Compton Foundation and the British Embassy, Lima. Proud to partner with the Natural History Museum, Musagetes, Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University and University College Falmouth.

See Also

exhibition installation view


Our exquisite exhibition toured Beijing, New York, Chicago, Vienna and across the UK

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