by Dilpreet BhullarSep 05, 2022
A miniature cross sectional model of the neoclassical dome crowning St. Paul’s Cathedral outlines the profile of a public installation titled Come Home Again, by acclaimed British designer and artist Es Devlin, at the Tate Modern Garden in London. Housing a multitude of pencil on paper drawings of urban wildlife, the sculpture casts a spotlight on the 243 at-risk species of flora and fauna placed under the City of London’s priority conservation list. The project, commissioned by French jeweller and luxury goods manufacturer Cartier, opened on September 22 and will be on view at its current location until October 1, 2022. Situated right next to the original, this veritable facsimile of Sir Christopher Wren’s magnum opus, possesses an almost ethereal quality, decorated with the suspended cut-out drawings done by Devlin herself, which have been illuminated through projection. Furthermore, to accompany this display at sunset, choral groups from across the UK’s capital will conduct performances that reinterpret traditional Choral Evensong services, which will meld with a sonic collage that combines the sounds of each of the 243 species.
Made almost entirely of recycled steel, the sculptural installation draws attention to the fallout of deforestation, erosion of natural habitats, and climate change induced by human activity, which have collectively been responsible for the extinction of countless species over the past century. At a critical moment in recent history, where the fate of the human race as well as countless others that coexist with it hangs in a delicate balance, Come Home Again makes a resounding plea for citizens to save the inhabitants of London’s biosphere. Paying heed to the stories, sounds, and sights of these lifeforms is the first step towards ensuring their survival, so that future generations may benefit from the same diversity in their ecosystems as past ones. In this regard, the species on the priority conservation list were identified from among those whose populations had been declining in number inside the city, by the London Biodiversity Action Plan.
The illustrations contained in the installation include sketches of moths, birds, beetles, wildflowers, fish and fungi - all painstakingly hand-drawn by Devlin herself. Inside the model of the cathedral dome, they find a new sanctuary, devoid of the chaos and hostility that urban development brings to natural ecosystems. Devlin mentions in a press statement, "A dome originally signified a home. This work invites us to see, hear, and feel our home, our city as an interconnected web of species and cultures, to learn and remember the names, and sing those under threat into continued existence.” She adds, “The work echoes the invitation invoked by the 92-year-old climate activist Joanna Macy: 'Now it can dawn on us: we are the world knowing itself. As we relinquish our isolation, we come home again...we come home to our mutual belonging.”
Stepping into the immersive installation, set atop an elevated plinth with choral risers, visitors will be able to examine each of the drawings up close, taking in the incredible detail ingrained within Devlin’s artwork. With the introduction of lighting design elements, the illuminated silhouettes of the species are rendered on the back wall of the installation, putting them in even greater focus. Cyrille Vigneron, President of Cartier Philanthropy Council, President and CEO of Cartier explains in an official release, “As a longstanding Friend of the Maison, we are honoured to be working with renowned British artist, Es Devlin. Art and creativity are important in order to talk about today’s world, in a human and touching way.” He continues, “Come Home Again represents how we can be inspired by the beauty of the world wherever it may be. Cartier’s responsibility is to make the world more beautiful, not only through our creations but also through our commitments for nature and our philanthropic actions. With our commitment to beauty, art and nature in mind, we are happy to support the vital work by the London Wildlife Trust to help preserve biodiversity.”
Beyond its purely visual component, which combines an architectural scale model, sketches, and light art, the installation also treads the boundary of sound art, making use of a soundscape that plays back the names and sounds of the 243 species during daytime. Alternatively, during sunset, the choral performances will continue the centuries-old ritual of Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral and other churches throughout London, combining human and non-human voices when paired with the soundscape, as an anthem and clarion call to all of London’s residents. After drawing in visitors to engage with the artwork on display, the installation will direct them towards QR codes in the choral tiers, which have replaced standard hymn books. These digital implements, which will relay information and stories about the species as well as the music of the choirs, have been incorporated to add to the learning experience of visiting Come Home Again.
On this note, the large scale installation also encourages users to engage with and contribute to the London Wildlife Trust - an organisation that manages 37 freely accessible nature reserves in London, and is dedicated to promoting biodiversity and ecological resilience through practical land management, campaigning, volunteering, and educational initiatives. Mathew Frith, Director of Policy & Research at the London Wildlife Trust states in a statement, “The survival of our city’s wildlife is now at a tipping point – after decades of dramatic decline in many species, the window of possibility to halt, and reverse this decline is rapidly closing. Doing so depends not only upon the transformation of our everyday practices, the way we manage London’s green spaces, climate adaptive technologies and behaviours, but also upon securing a future for our wildlife in the city’s imagination.”