'Our Time on Earth' explores the spectrum of possibilities for an alternative future

The exhibition Our Time on Earth at Barbican Centre, with a series of large-scale and immersive installations, calls for a collaborative approach to tackle the climate crisis.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Jun 03, 2022

The climate change crisis is no more bound to tightly knitted conversations among the selected network of scientists. For the successful implementation of the solution to halt the climate-induced changes, the interdisciplinary approach is the need of the hour. It is through this convergence of art, design, science, music and philosophy that the monumental exhibition Our Time on Earth opens at Barbican Centre, London. The exhibition celebrates as well as realises the power of creativity to shift the conversation around the climate emergency. Towards this end, it aims to “present a range of radical visions for the future of all species”.

Refuge for Resurgence, 2022, Installation view, Superflux | STIRworld
Refuge for Resurgence, 2022, Installation view, Superflux Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images
Sanctuary of the Unseen Forest, 2022, Installation view, Marshmallow Laser Feast & Andres Roberts | STIRworld
Sanctuary of the Unseen Forest, 2022, Installation view, Marshmallow Laser Feast & Andres Roberts Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images

Our Time on Earth presents 18 works, including 12 new commissions, from 12 countries around the world to create a series of innovative new collaborations. The experiential exhibition with the immersive, interactive installations and digital works manoeuvres the audience to gauge the earth as a community, where “humans are just one species among millions”. The exhibition explores the spectrum of possibilities for an alternative future, and an equal emphasis on the role of technology is underscored to expand the viewers’ perspective to the natural world.

Planet City, Installation view, Liam Young (costumes by Ane Crabtree) | STIRworld
Planet City, Installation view, Liam Young (costumes by Ane Crabtree) Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images

At the Curve Gallery at Barbican Centre the exhibition takes place across three interconnected sections: Belong, Imagine and Engage. For the curator Luke Kemp, who worked closely with guest curators Kate Franklin and Caroline Till, it was always important to give the visitors time at the beginning of the exhibition to take a breath and re-acquaint themselves with their own breathing to create a shift in awareness of themselves and their surroundings. In an interview with STIR, Kemp says, “We were very much guided by the work of Andres Roberts and his Bio-Leadership foundation, which is aiming to help people find a sense of belonging in the natural world and re-connection. This feeling is enhanced by the magnificent 5m high project of a 3D scanned Ceiba Pentandra tree, created by Marshmallow Laser Feast.”

The World Beneath Our Feet, 2022, Installation view, Holition with George Monbiot | STIRworld
The World Beneath Our Feet, 2022, Installation view, Holition with George Monbiot Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images

As part of the Belong section, it is the first major work in the exhibition narrative in the Curve Gallery and sets the tone for the experience. Having this beautiful digital representation of the tree allows visitors to see beneath the layers and understand how everything is much more complex and made up of vast networks that create a whole, much like the vast planetary system itself.

Sensible Zone, 2022, Installation view, Territorial Agency | STIRworld
Sensible Zone, 2022, Installation view, Territorial Agency Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images

Kemp continues, “It asks ‘Where does the tree end and where do we begin?’. This really defines two of the major threads that run through the exhibition as a whole, the understanding that we are part of a huge magnificent planet, to have a humble awareness that we are part of it and through sensory and digital experiences we can uncover what that connection looks and feels like for audiences in ways that feel hopeful and make them feel that they are part of the journey and experience. The digital allows us to make the invisible visible to audiences.”

The World Beneath Our Feet, 2022, Installation view, Holition with George Monbiot | STIRworld
The World Beneath Our Feet, 2022, Installation view, Holition with George Monbiot Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images

The exhibits within the Imagine section are framed by a proposition such as ‘Imagine a world in which… all species are equal’, which is the proposition for the Superflux work Refuge for Resurgence. The framework was conceived to underline the role of an institution and the power of creativity and imagination that can be brought to the conversation around the climate emergency. The few works in the Imagine section are new collaborative commissions: “collaboration being something that is essential in solving the issues we face and create new perspectives on the solutions we need,” succinctly puts Kemp.

Noise Aquarium, 2022, Installation view, Victoria Vesna | STIRworld
Noise Aquarium, 2022, Installation view, Victoria Vesna Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images

The art installation under this section is well-grounded research conducted by leading minds, both creatives and academics. BIOFABRICATE created a space to allow the visitors to understand how we can create clothing from microbes: they showcase algae yarn from Algiknit, and a stunning garment from designer Yuima Nakazato, made using brewed protein. Alongside this is the Symbiocenea project brought by the Ma’dan, Subak and Khasis communities together with Julia Watson and Smith Mordak of global engineering firm Buro Happold, in order to imagine how indigenous engineering can transform our cities in a sustainable manner. It is the three 3D projected models and a video (demonstrates the workshops with the community members and engineers), which underlines the importance of sharing ideas to achieve successful results.  

Wither, 2022, Installation view, Thijs Biersteker | STIRworld
Wither, 2022, Installation view, Thijs Biersteker Image: Tim Whitby, Courtesy of Getty Images

Kemp explains, “Finally in Engage, we did not want to end only on the positive possibilities, we wanted to bring people back to the now and consider that we are in a crisis. We wanted to give space to a host of voices who are so often unheard or do not have a platform, but who are so often creating fighting for the solutions.” The Stories of Change by the creative studio The Earth Issue weaved together 10 stories from activists and creatives from across the globe to draw a sense of courage and hope in the visitors. It cultivates a desire that they too can bring about the change and create a different world. The section Engage, “ends on a sonic waterfall that creates a duality with the tree - the first experience of the tree by Marshmallow Laser Feast,” informs Kemp.

Our Time on Earth when articulates the inevitable necessity to secure the abundance and diversity of the planet earth to which the variety of species was born, it also pays acute attention to the sustainability strategy to reduce waste. For this immersive exhibition, Caroline Till and Kate Franklin were able to bring their extensive knowledge and expertise in the field. Kemp elucidates, “We were able to work with them and support from Julie’s Bicycle to create a manifesto, which set ambitions for how we wanted to engage with sustainability and even what that word means, what are we sustaining? All collaborators and partners were asked to sign up for these ambitions, but it was clear that the ambitions were not about austerity and reduction. We wanted to champion new materials and this ambition was carried forward in the exhibition design by Universal Design Studios, the wealth of knowledge in the team from both Franklin, Till and Universal Design Studio enabled the project to use new materials, such as pine skins, Honext and hemp board that retain ecological credentials, while retaining a sense of a flourishing and beauty in the world.”

Trailer - Our Time on Earth Image: Courtesy of Barbican Centre

The title of the exhibition Our Time on Earth leaves the viewers with an opportune moment to reassess the existence on the planet - either be cognitive of the dire shifts to save the life or be prepared for an apocalypse. Yet, Kemp concludes on a hopeful note, with the spirit of collaboration, the exhibition aims, “to leave with a sense that a different world is possible, but we need to change our mindset to move towards it.”  

The exhibition Our Time on Earth runs at Barbican Centre until August 29, 2022.

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