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Bethany Rigby on her work ‘Mining the Skies’ at Venice Architecture Biennale 2021

Rigby speaks on the dichotomies of natural physical-histories, and technology and innovation finding a place in her art that is research-based and akin to archaeological discoveries.

by Girinandini SinghPublished on : Jul 21, 2021

For UK-based artist Bethany Rigby, creativity stems from an innate curiosity about things that need to be unravelled, understood and experienced. Her process-based work, which she herself describes as being akin to an “archaeological discovery”, looks at ways in which key concepts emerge through her research and come into form through her creative output. “It’s an approach that’s evolved over the past four years since studying design at Goldsmiths and is and always will be a work-in-progress. Recently, I have tried to visualise my practice as inhalations and exhalations, sometimes I’ll just be absorbing content or taking in research, and other times producing outcomes. I enjoy keeping an open mind to what form my research will manifest in, learning new skills or collaborating with other practitioners to develop outcomes that are well suited to each project,” says Rigby.

Mining The Skies | Bethany Rigby | STIRworld
Mining The Skies Image: Bethany Rigby

An interesting nuance to Rigby’s work is the way in which it merges the dichotomies of cultural, natural and physical histories and legacies with modern technology and innovation. At the heart of her practice is this urge to create seamless threads bringing seemingly separate and varying aesthetic together. It is a fascinating exploration of technology within the creative process, where it weighs and in how it impacts our own creativity. “The fundamental backbone to the subjects I am interested in haven’t changed in a millennia. The ground remains beneath our feet, the sky and stars above our head. We are on the same geological and astronomical planet as we have always been, what has altered is how we use it and share it. The aesthetics of ancient and contemporary technologies may be vastly different at first sight, but ultimately the visual blueprints for them remain the same; constellations, or sedimentary layers in rock for example,” she says.

Installation view of Mining The Skies | Bethany Rigby | STIRworld
Installation view of Mining The Skies Image: Bethany Rigby

There is a distinct sense of time in Rigby’s work that perhaps stems from dealing with these ‘natural technologies’. Drawing one ever so closer to the magnificence and the inherent design of the natural environment that carries within it a sense of time quite different to the one that is recognised by you and me. This underlying theme adds an incredible heft to her work. As one of the artists from the UK exhibiting at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, Rigby in fact speaks to this facet of exploring geological processes as being reflected in the exhibition with numerous artists and designers also giving their own spin to the subject. “Space and extraction technologies are so vital to modern living that many of us are entirely dependent on satellite or subterranean infrastructures, yet they are not systems we can easily grapple with,” says the artist. “I can use the earthly familiarity of rocks like a tether for examining these unfamiliar technologies. With space mining for example, a collection of geological samples that mimic Martian rocks could make it easier for audiences to imagine the landscapes of Mars and generate their own opinions on the plans to mine it,” she adds.

Mining The Skies (close view) | Bethany Rigby | STIRworld
Mining The Skies (close view) Image: Bethany Rigby

Delving deeper into Rigby’s work for the Venice Architecture Biennale and its intersections with the overarching theme of the biennale that asks, “How will we live together?”, it explores existence across various scales of living. “I was approached by the curator Hashim Sarkis to develop work for the sub-section “As One Planet” and when thinking on a planetary scale or imagining humankind as a multi-planetary species, resource extraction is high on the list of questions that need solving. Mining the Skies is an exploration into current research on extra-terrestrial resource extraction,” says Rigby. The artist worked with the European Space Agency’s Sample Analogue Curation Facility, with asteroid mining entrepreneurs and planetary scientists to curate a collection of minerals, each one relating to specific research into extra-terrestrial resource extraction. The work itself forms a map of the local celestial sites that are allocated for mining and etched onto the mirrored panels underlying the specimens are morse-code extracts of the Outer Space Treaty, Moon Agreement and US Space Act that relate to the ownership of extra-terrestrial resources.

Mining The Skies at Venice Architectural Biennale 2021 | Bethany Rigby | STIRworld
Mining The Skies at Venice Architectural Biennale 2021 Image: Bethany Rigby

There is an urgency at the core of Rigby’s work, which also analyses the climate change debate, the problem of finite resources in the face of an uncertain future. As more and more scientists begin looking to the skies and space to answer questions of a diminishing future, the more pertinent such work becomes to not only increase awareness but perhaps to also start conversations. “The declaration and quantification of other astral bodies as extractable will soon become a reality, and public audiences deserve to be informed and involved in this conversation. Voices other than those of billionaires and planetary scientists should be heard before decisions are made over ownership and the use of cosmic spaces,” says the artist. Perhaps in Venice, as audiences spend a little time in the quiet and dark room within the Central Pavilion contemplating the future of landscapes on the Moon and beyond, the stark reality of where we are heading might just become a concrete experience.

01 min watch Mining The Skies video at Venice Architectural Biennale 2021 | Bethany Rigby | STIRworld
Mining The Skies at Venice Architectural Biennale 2021 Video: Bethany Rigby

“I am so humbled to have been asked to participate in the Biennale at this early stage in my career and it’s been a total privilege to exhibit alongside many other brilliant practitioners. I have learnt a lot and admire the conviction of other contributions to delve into highly specific research subjects in creative ways,” says Rigby on her participation at the Biennale Architettura 2021 in Italy.

Click here to read more about STIRring Together, a series by STIR that introduces readers to the many facets of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021.

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