Amelia’s Magazine | Earth at The Royal Academy of Art


Mariele Neudecker, ailment ’400 Thousand Generations’, 2009. Steel, fiberglass, water, salt GAC100. 153 x 113 x 55 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm. Photo courtesy the artist

I love the Royal Academy of Art. It’s a venue that is always a delight to visit and their blockbuster exhibitions are in my view great value for money. It is more fun than job duty to go on behalf of work to visit such shows! Earth: Art of a Changing World ran from the 3rd of December 2009 to the 31 of January 2010 and as I made my way to the RAA, I must admit I was intrigued by the title and did not know what to expect. GSK Contemporary 2009, the second annual Contemporary art season at 6 Burlington gardens, featured new and recent work for 35 leading international contemporary artists, including commissions from up and coming artists.


Mona Hatoum, ‘Hot Spot’, 2006. GSK3 Stainless steel and neon tube, 220 x 220 cm. David Roberts Collection, London. Photo Stephen White, courtesy White Cube

With all the recent debate about Climate Change and the world becoming increasingly concerned with the fate of our planet, I guess it’s only fitting that the art world would jump on the bandwagon. What was Tracey Emin doing there being interviewed in front of an embroidered calico she exclusively created for the occasion? Titled I loved you like the Sky, 2009, this was typical Emin’s fare but I couldn’t help but wonder what the artist was doing there; Tracy Emin is more renowned for her appropriation of traditional female crafts than her discourse on the earth’s stability.


Edward Burtynsky, ‘Super Pit #4, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia’, 2007. Chromogenic Colour Print. © The artist, courtesy Flowers, London

With hindsight, it was a rather peculiar show with a jumble of many different medias, rather like an overview of how the various offshoots of the arts are currently dealing with issues of sustainability, ecology, the role of the artist in the cycle of human and cultural evolution and so on. Such shows have to try hard to tie it all into an overall visual and experiential aesthetic. Did it work? Yes and no, but I left feeling educated and marked by some of the artwork on displays.


Emma Wieslander, ‘Derwentwater I’, 2006. c-type print, 30 x 30 cm. © Emma Wieslander

Call me naïve and it might sound corny to you but I believe art can change the world one little step at a time. I guess you wouldn’t be reading Amelia’s if you did not believe in that too just a little bit. The artists in the sections Destruction and Re-Reality unquestionably have faith in that axiom. In Tracey Moffatt’s mesmerising video collage Doomed, 2007, the viewer is bombarded with spliced-together Hollywood disaster scenes and forced to consider his /her fascination with disaster. The macho behaviour of the upper-middle class Israeli man who owns a 4×4 solely for “sport/play” becomes an exercise in futile nonsense highlighted by Yael Bartana in Kings of the Hill, 2003.


Yao Lu, ‘Spring in the City’, 2009. C-Print, 120 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Red Mansion Foundation

Yao Lus Spring in the City, 2009 was my favourite piece; Lu’s photograph of mounds of rubbish, somewhere between classical ink painting and photography, is a seething critique of the radical upheavals China is experiencing right now. The chard remains of a forest fire form the basis of Cornelia Parker’s Heart of Darkness, 2004, a beautiful installation between 3D charcoal drawing and wood sculpture. She says: ‘this forest fire seemed to be a metaphor for the disastrous consequences of political tinkering. From the hanging chards in the US elections, to the cutting down of rainforests to grow bio fuels to power hummers.’


Cornelia Parker, Heart of Darkness (detail), 2004. Charcoal from a Florida Wildfire (prescribed forest burn that got out of control). 3.23 x 3.96 x 3.23 m. Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London

The problem with a show like this is that its honest message and best intentions are rather muddied by having a big corporate player like GlaxoSmithKline sponsor it. The irony of having this company, one of the leading pharmaceutical and healthcare giants attached to this particular show was not lost on me. The press release advertised them as being “committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer. GSK is one of the largest givers in the FTSE 100 and has a long history of supporting art initiatives that encourage creative thinking.” What I read between the lines is that this is a great PR coup for a sector that does not always wear pristine white gloves and dove’s wings…Shame, really.


Antti Laitinen, ‘It’s My Island I’, 2007. Video. © the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Nettie Horn. Photo: Antti Laitinen

Categories ,art, ,contemporary, ,contemporary art, ,Cornelia Parker, ,Earth: Art of a Changing World, ,ecology, ,Edward Burtynsky, ,Emma Wieslander, ,Exhibition Review, ,film, ,GlaxoSmithKline, ,global warming, ,GSK Contemporary 2009, ,installation, ,Mariele Neudecker, ,photography, ,Royal academy of arts, ,sculpture, ,Tracey Moffatt, ,Tracy Emin, ,Yael Bartana, ,Yao Lu

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