Having just spent some time travelling around Carcassonne in SW France and experienced a little of the area’s troubled history through visiting the medieval castles, cathedrals, churches and citadels, I started reading some fascinating books on the Inquisition. It seems that man has a fixation with destruction – in medieval times, men, women and children who may not have agreed – or appear to have agreed – with the ‘correct’ religious or political beliefs were humiliated, tortured and burnt alive. There was no worry about the environment in those days – people had to worry about their own lives. Since the Industrial Revolution, in our era of science, there has been a recognition that human activities often cause harm to the natural order of things and indeed to humanity itself – remember the great smogs that used to be frequent visitors to our cities. We may not have smogs today, but we are still harming our environment often with pollution that we cannot see, and although we know this, change is glacially slow.
HeHe’s introduction to ‘Eco-Visionaries’ at the Royal Academy - a globe of the Earth revolving in increasingly-dense clouds of human-made pollution with a haunting background soundtrack – reminds us how appalling slow we are to change, even when the future of our world is at stake, while Nerea Calvillo continues the theme with his research project ‘In the Air’ recording and making visible the unseen pollution that permeates three cities – Madrid, Santiago and Budapest.
In ‘Eco-Visionaries’, artists, architects, designers and scientists explore the environmental crisis that we have caused, and also suggest some solutions. It is not just pollution that threatens the planet. Humans are very careless with natural resources, introducing alien species with disastrous results such as the near extinction of the native tilapia fish in Lake Victoria in Tanzania, recorded as if they are fossils in a natural history museum by Tue Greenfort and allowing the destruction of species such as the white rhino, with the last male dying last year, here recreated digitally by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Somehow it is not the same.
Highly relevant given the floods in Venice this week is Virgil Abloh’s bronze ‘Alaska Chair’ taken from the designed of a wooden chair for IKEA and reminding us of the impact of our consumer-driven society while it is represented here as if sitting in the flood waters of Venice, to which it would have been brought from the nearest IKEA which I believe is in Padua, 30 miles away. And, as a shadow that hangs over us all, the threat of nuclear attack or a nuclear catastrophe is lurking there in the background, as Basim Magby reminds us.
But all is not lost! What of the future? Can we achieve change? Pinar Yoldas, Ant Farm, SKREI, Phillipe Rahm architectes, Andres Jaque & Patrick Craine and Studio Malka Architects show alternatives for a different and more sustainable future.
Looking for new solutions, designer Samuel Iliffe has set up his studio ‘Algae Platform’ in the nearby Architecture Studio exploring the potential of algae as a bio-sourced raw material for use in architectural and other products.