GLASGOW, Nov 5 ― With its blockbuster exhibitions and works crisscrossing the globe by plane, the art world is often singled out for its considerable ecological impact. And while awareness has been growing for several years, this is taking on a whole new dimension during the COP26 climate summit.
It may not be obvious, but art pollutes. So much so, in fact, that its carbon footprint has become a real concern for artists and professionals in the field. Many have decided to take up the issue on the occasion of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), running until November 12 in Glasgow.
Take the Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, for example. According to The Art Newspaper, this artist is poised to present a film with the South African environmental activist Kumi Naidoo, exploring how the worlds of art and activism can work together to address the climate crisis. “What is needed right now is a fresh lens through which to look at old problems ― problems that our generation was just not able to address with the intensity and urgency that it needed,” Naidoo told the specialist publication.
Other artists, like Robert Montgomery, are making similar points, presenting works expressing their ecological commitment during the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The Scottish artist and poet is currently exhibiting the installation “Grace of the Sun” at The Landing Hub, a temporary space created for COP26 by Glasgow City Council. The installation takes the form of a giant poem, which lights up every day at sunset. It also happens to be powered by a thousand Little Sun Diamond solar lights, developed by Olafur Eliasson and the engineer Frederik Ottesen as part of the Little Sun project.
If cinema and music have been tuned in to ecological issues for decades, the visual arts have been slower to catch on. A few works, such as “7000 Eichen” by Joseph Beuys, testify to a certain level of environmental awareness in the 1970s and 1980s. Here, the artist took advantage of his final participation in the Documenta contemporary art exhibition in Kassel in 1982 to propose the planting of 7,000 oak trees in the vicinity of the German city. This long-term reforestation project was intended to remedy the damage caused by excessive urbanisation.
Since then, the art world has become more and more involved in protecting the environment. In fact, the non-profit organization Art of Change 21 has made this its mission, actively promoting the link between contemporary art and the major issues relating to climate change for the past six years. The non-profit recently launched the ART-CLIMATE-COP26 programme to highlight “the need to include creative and imaginative stakeholders and allowing an emotional response to the issues,” says Alice Audouin, president and founder of Art for Change 21.
November 5 and 6, John Gerrard will show one of his latest creations, titled “Flare (Oceania)” on the south façade of the University of Glasgow. This monumental work, which follows his famous “Western Flag,” evokes the link between climate change and the ocean. Meanwhile, Lucy Orta ― of the duo Lucy + Jorge Orta ― will present the social sculpture “Nexus Architecture COP26.” Fifty students from the Glasgow School of Art and the University of the Arts London will participate by simultaneously customising blank Nexus Architecture canvases, creating “an interconnected chain of solidarity from Glasgow to London.”
An ecological odyssey
Promoting the power of the collective in the fight against climate change was also at the heart of Bamber Hawes' ambitious “Clarion the Bear” project. The British artist embarked on a journey from the English county of Shropshire to Glasgow in the company of Clarion, a three-meter-tall polar bear made of bamboo, willow and layers of tissue paper. They arrived at their destination on November 2, according to the “Clarion the Bear” Instagram account.
So what was this journey about? “Our aim is to come together to walk, to talk, to connect with each other, and to connect with the landscape by moving through it slowly,” Bamber Hawes writes online. Adding that: “Walking to the climate talks will not change the world ― but I can think of nothing better to do to show the earnestness of my belief that we must learn to talk together and build community, only in Oneness will we make a better more just world.” ― ETX Studio