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U-n-f-o-l-d: A Cultural Response to Climate Change

U-n-f-o-l-d: A Cultural Response to Climate Change

Museum of Contemporary Photography and Glass Curtain Gallery
Chicago, IL , February 2011 – April 2011
Exhibit website: http://www.mocp.org/exhibitions/2011/03/unfold.php.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Straughan, Deborah Dixon and Harriet Hawkins
Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Wales


U-n-f-o-l-d is a touring exhibition that showcases the work of 25 artists who, alongside other creative practitioners, scientists, and communicators, have participated in expeditions organised by Cape Farewell to landscapes considered to be particularly ‘fragile’ in the face of global climate change. Travelling to the High Arctic in 2007 and 2008, and to the Andes in 2009, artists have produced a wide range of creative responses to this environmental crisis, some of which are on show in Chicago.

Founded in 2001, Cape Farewell’s remit is to allow for both artists and scientists, as part of a small, intimate group, to see first-hand the landscapes that are undergoing transformation via changing average temperatures, shifting ocean currents, loss of biodiversity and so on. And as such its expeditions inevitably recall the placement of ‘travelling artists’ on board ships from the mid eighteenth century onwards, as the Enlightenment impulse to inventory became married with the colonial enterprise. These artists set out to fill the gap left by scientific language, to more accurately convey complex scenes, and to evoke a sense of wonder that stretched, confused and ultimately fleshed out the West’s geographical imagination.

Today, under the auspices of Cape Farewell, we see something of the same ‘coming together’ around shared sites of study and common fields of interest. There also appears to be a critical reflection upon these previous travelling endeavours, though, and their striving to appropriate the secrets of distant places – a curiositas mirabilium that has long been suspect, from Plutarch onwards, as shameless audacity. Instead, the creative responses on display seem to harken towards the traveller as the ‘devout pilgrim,’ whose encounter with other peoples and places helps them to map out their own place in the world.

And so we find in U-n-f-o-l-d that it is often the passage of the journey itself – metaphorical and embodied -- that becomes the catalyst for creative practices. These include, for example, works that consider the movement of the ship, as in Tracey Rowledge’s (2008) Arctic Drawing, which presents the bold points and fine lines of a pen, constructed as a pendulum, marking the passage of the ship with its sway. We find an attentiveness to the embodied and emotional responses to the journey in Amrije de Hass’s (2010) piece Wellness Over Time, which notes the crew’s physical reactions to the climatic extremes encountered.  An emphasis upon the journey is also manifest in the travelling form of the exhibition itself, flat-packed in Sam Collins’ (2010) eco-friendly, biodegradable crates cum art works.

Unsurprisingly, an emphasis upon the unfolding of key issues from the minutiae of life is also central to the works on display. Daro Montag’s (2009) Leafcutter Ant Drawing, for example, considers the passage of marching ants when confronted with a think black line of oily carbon, a piece that ask questions about both ant and human behaviour when presented with a carbon problem: points of departure and arrival are folded together, opening out the worldly consequences of domestic behaviours. In Ackroyd and Harvey’s (2009) Polar Diamond, a polar bear bone is cremated and reduced to carbon graphite before its transformation into a diamond; this is a piece that asks the audience to consider the environmental cost of carbon intensive lifestyles. In other works it is the embodied senses that become the modus operendi for exploring the landscape; the play of light as it is absorbed, reflected and refracted through and by ice is a central facet in works such as David Buckland’s Ice Texts (2008), for example, where messages are transposed by video projector onto ice bergs, and Chris Wainwright’s Red Ice- White Ice (2009), which presents the differing visual effects of white and red flash photography, as well as in Lateral Moraine Meets Fjord (2008), Nathan Gallager’s photographic work.

As a collection, U-n-f-o-l-d has taken Cape Farewell’s cultural responses to climate change on a transatlantic journey, presenting to its various audiences works that explore the expeditions and their destinations through a number of materials -- unfired clay, photographic plates, Lenticular print, carbon and oil on paper, ink on paper -- and creative forms, such as performance, installation, film, poetry and music.  Eschewing any overt political manifesto, the emphasis is firmly upon bringing the supposedly ‘far away’ – in time as well as space – into the ‘here and now,’ such that audiences can, hopefully, begin to map out their own place in the world as a prelude to undertaking their own devout pilgrimage through its dips and troughs, weaves and folds.

Last Updated 8 May 2011

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