RADICAL NATURE – ART AND ARCHITECTURE FOR A CHANGING PLANET 1969-2009 AT BARBICAN
Until 18 October 2009
Radical Nature draws on ideas that have emerged out of Land Art, environmental activism, experimental architecture and utopianism. It is the first exhibition to bring together key artists and architects from the last forty years who have created visionary works and inspiring solutions for our ever-changing planet.
A fallen forest, a farm, a geodesic dome and a flying garden transform the gallery into a dramatic, fantastical landscape. Key pieces in the exhibition include works by pioneering figures such as Joseph Beuys, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Hans Haacke, Newton Harrison and Helen Mayer Harrison and Robert Smithson. These historical pieces are presented alongside works by a younger generation of artists including Anya Gallaccio, Heather and Ivan Morison and Simon Starling,. The works span a variety of media including sculptures, installations, photographs and films.
Traditionally seen as opposites, the natural world has often been idealised and disconnected from man’s technological and cultural one. While the beauty and wonder of nature have always provided inspiration for artists and architects, the perception of the natural world as being pure and distant was shaken by a greater awareness of environmental issues.
Since the late 1960s, the increasingly evident degradation of the planet began to infiltrate the wider collective consciousness and a number of artists and architects began to integrate social action and protest into their practice. This politicisation frequently brought about a reconsideration of our concept of nature, a process that more recently has focused on the known effects of climate change, bringing a new urgency to the work of practitioners today.
Varying in their ambition to politicise, re-imagine new models for our relationship with the natural world, or present utopian visions, the artworks in Radical Nature collectively create a dystopian landscape that highlights the different approaches of these artists and architects, and questions what they can do to promote a radical yet sympathetic understanding of nature.
Full Farm (1972), by Newton Harrison and Helen Mayer Harrison, grows fruit and vegetables in a farm inside the gallery space. The displacement of nature by bringing the outside inside, can also be experienced in Fallen Forest (2006), by Henrik Håkansson, which comprises a large section of lush forest flipped on its side to grow horizontally, as well as a new piece from Anya Gallaccio, a reconstructed a six-metre-high tree installed in the gallery.
Visionary architect and thinker Richard Buckminster Fuller’s key utopian concept was based around his revolutionary geodesic dome – a spherical structure able to sustain its own weight at any size – a version of which will be created inside the gallery. Entirely inspired by natural structures, the architect envisioned that these domes could be used to shield entire buildings, sections of cities or even to create airborne metropolises that float like balloons. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller, Tomas Saraceno invents flying habitats based on the shape of clouds and bubbles. His ongoing series, Flying Gardens, comprises a suspended bubble structure supporting a small garden of Tillandsia plants that receive all their nutritional needs from the air.
Using nature as an artistic material is another central concern of the artists exhibiting in Radical Nature. Spiral Jetty (1970) by Robert Smithson – one of the most prominent figures in the Land Art movement – is a giant intervention into the Great Salt Lake in Utah. A film entitled The Spiral Jetty (1970) depicts the 457-metre-long spiral path which was made from basalt and deliberately left to be affected by the lake and its high salinity. Over time salt crystals have grown onto it turning the surrounding water red, and for almost three decades, as the lake’s water level rose, the piece was entirely submerged.
Artists Agnes Denes and Joseph Beuys have both realised iconic interventions with the aim of making a political comment on the state of the environment. Denes’ Wheatfield – A Confrontation (1982) involved, as the title suggests, the planting of a field of wheat in downtown Manhattan. This subversive action brought into question the separation between urban living and the large part of the globe used for agriculture. Honeypump in the Workplace by Joseph Beuys was created for the documenta 6 exhibition in Germany in 1977 and consisted of two tonnes of honey being pumped through a series of transparent tubes. For Beuys the piece was symbolic of the ecology debate organised by the artist at documenta 6 as part of the Free International University. The original elements from Honeypump in the Workplace will be shown in Radical Nature for the first time in London.
The exhibition also features a new, specially commissioned off-site installation in East London by the experimental architectural collective EXYZT. The Dalston Mill is inspired by an overgrown wasteland and turns a disused site into a vibrant summer retreat featuring a windmill in the middle of this highly urban environment.
The 25 artists and architects in Radical Nature are: A12, Lara Almarcegui , Ant Farm, Lothar Baumgarten, Joseph Beuys, Richard Buckminster Fuller, CLUI, Agnes Denes, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Mark Dion, EXYZT, Luke Fowler, Anya Gallaccio, Tue Greenfort, Hans Haacke, Henrik Håkansson, Newton Harrison and Helen Mayer Harrison, Wolf Hilbertz, Heather and Ivan Morison, Philippe Rahm architects, R&Sie(n), Tomas Saraceno, Robert Smithson, Simon Starling and Mierle Laderman Ukeles.
Extracted from Barbican