What if we got it wrong?
In association with Centre Cultural Irlandais
A group exhibition presenting fifteen artists whose work explores the impacts on the environment of our society and globalised economy.
at Wexford County Council
10th June – 29th July 2016
You are invited to a reception to mark the opening of the exhibition on Thursday 9th June at 11am with guest speaker French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault.
All welcome, French-style brunch served.
The Arts Department of Wexford County Council in partnership with Wexford Arts Centre and the Centre Cultural Irlandais are delighted to present What If We Got It Wrong?, a group exhibition on climate change. This exhibition features the work of Irish, or Irish-based artists, engaged in issues of climate change and was curated by Nora Hickey M’Sichili, Director of the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, in the lead up to the international COP21 Climate Conference in December 2015.
The artists included in the exhibition are Emily Robyn Archer, George Bolster, Mark Clare, Alice Clark, Blaise Drummond, Seamus Dunbar, John Gerrard, Andrew Kearney, Susan Leen, Ruth Le Gear, Selma Makela, Anna Macleod, Christine Mackey, Seamus Nolan and Brigitta Varadi.
What if We Got it Wrong? taken from Lemn Sissay’s poem, What If?, explores the premise that progress as we know it may have diminished us, making us weaker; that somehow we might have taken a wrong turn and we may have made a serious mistake.
‘Let me get it right. What if we got it wrong?
What if we weakened ourselves getting strong?
What if our wanting more was making less?
And what if all of this wasn’t progress?’
Lemn Sissay, extract from What If
Lemn Sissay’s What If? came about as the result of a journey to the Arctic, the frontline of climate change. It was commissioned in 2009 to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species. George Bolster’s film in the show, Un/natural History: Drowning Captiva, draws on Darwinian ideas that the human race is ceasing to adapt to the crises it faces and is set on a path of self-destruction; it looks to theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking for possible solutions. A number of the artists included in the exhibition have travelled to the Arctic. Ruth Le Gear sailed the Arctic on a tall ship researching the forces of Arctic ice and landscape and the potential of these forces in homeopathy. The gentle clicking in her video work Alchemical Waters is the sound of melting icebergs, a very direct reference to the constant threat to the Polar region, entirely of man’s making. Galway-based Irish-Finnish painter Selma Makela depicts areas of severe climatic conditions such as the Arctic and contemplates in her work life’s transience and the ultimate inconsequentiality of humans in the face of climate change.
The Blaise Drummond works included in this exhibition are a direct result of a journey Drummond also made to the Arctic in 2014 when he was commissioned to create a travel book for the cultural arm of Louis Vuitton. While Drummond had long been interested in man’s relationship with his environment, he was less engaged directly in issues of climate change. However the main emphasis of his work, that of an unrelenting optimism for an enduring natural world in the face of what he perceives as the carnage of civilisation’s progress, is very much in keeping with the exhibition’s overall concept.
Susan Leen’s installation and drawings look at the impact of rising sea levels on coastlines, with the fading edges of her drawings pointing with foreboding towards land in the process of disappearing. Susan Leen moved to Paris to work in the studio of Paris-based collaborative artists Lucy and Jorge Orta in the lead up to their major exhibition in La Villette, Paris, in 2014, entitled Food Water Life. Both Susan Leen and Anna Macleod went on to complete a residency in Banff, Canada, with Lucy and Jorge Orta in early 2015 which focused on concerns that define the twenty-first century: biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy and human rights. During her time in Banff, Anna Macleod made Water Conversations – Alberta, a performative walk devised to draw attention to the impact of fossil fuel extraction on local water reserves and global climate change.
Christine Mackey and Alice Clark are drawn to issues relating to seed preservation, crop diversity, food security, land use and community gardening. Christine Mackey’s work has led her to places such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, designed to store duplicates of seeds from around the globe, an essential collection should seeds disappear. Both artists incorporate plant life in their work, with Alice Clark working directly with green infrastructure in cityscapes and with fruiting trees in community settings. Emily Robyn Archer also incorporates live plant life in her work, bringing for example hydroponic growing systems into gallery spaces.
A sizeable number of the artists in this exhibition are based in county Leitrim, where the issue of hydraulic fracking has galvanised local communities. Seamus Dunbar presents newly commissioned work demonstrating in a very tangible way the underground impact of fracking on the landscape. A miniature model of an Eiffel Tower brings a sense of scale to the large stacks which represent an underground fracking pad and boreholes. As well as covering issues which have global impact, artists also look at very local issues. Leitrim-based Brigitta Varadi explores the loss of local traditions and customs and the decline of sheep farming in the North West of Ireland.
With the controversial Corrib Gas Pipeline now ready to start production off the north-west coast of Ireland, it seems relevant to revisit Séamus Nolan’s Corrib Gas Project presented in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre in 2009, a project in which he investigated the major dispute that saw residents of Rossport town take on Shell Oil and the Irish State. The battle surrounding the discovery of gas off a remote coastal village in the west of Ireland, so well documented in the widely-viewed film The Pipe, led to a very public and dramatic clash of cultures in modern Ireland, raising questions about the rights of farmers over their fields and of fishermen over their fishing grounds.
Continuing with the idea of the search for alternative energy, John Gerrard presents a preparatory study for his monumental work Solar Reserve, which is a precisely executed simulation of a functioning solar power plant. In keeping with the exhibition’s theme questioning the benefits of human progress, Gerrard’s work frequently refers to structures of power and networks of energy that have coincided with the expansion of human endeavour in the past century.
Andrew Kearney was a resident artist in the Centre Culturel Irlandais in 2015 and during his residency was invited to make new work for this show. Kearney creates site-specific work that responds directly to his environment. In the case of the work produced for CCI, he has created a large inflatable structure with an internal lighting system, scored according to figures recorded over the past sixteen years which trace the expansion and contraction of Arctic seas levels and temperatures. The controversial Finnish nuclear depository Onkalo is the subject of Mark Clare’s animated film DemocraCity which explores the idea of communicating to future generations the dangers associated with the nuclear dump.
Climate change is clearly a major social issue that requires fundamental changes in the way society functions. While politicians and policymakers took centre stage at the international COP21 Climate Conference, it is important that diverse voices are heard with different perspectives offered for consideration. What if We Got it Wrong? provides a timely opportunity to explore how Irish-based artists are engaging with one of the defining challenges of our time.
Essay by Nora Hickey M’Sichili
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with essays by Nora Hickey M’Sichili, Frank McDonald, Darragh McKeon and Katherine Waugh.
What if We Got it Wrong? tours to Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Manorhamilton (September – October 2016) and West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen (November – December 2016).
Wexford County Council Opening Hours: Monday – Friday, 9.00a.m. – 5.00p.m.
For further information on the exhibition please contact Catherine Bowe, Visual Arts Manager, Wexford Arts Centre, Cornmarket, Wexford on +353 (0)53 91 23764 or email email@example.com. Alternatively, contact Philip Knight, Staff Officer, The Arts Department, Wexford County Council, Carricklawn, Wexford on +353 (0)053 9196500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.