Art and the environment

Dr Jim Wright | 12 years ago

Last week I caught the EARTH, Art of a Changing World exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London just before it closed.  I am so glad I managed to see it – it was one of the best exhibitions I have seen in a while.  Organised into distinct sequential themes:

  • Perceived Reality
  • the Artist as Explorer
  • Destruction
  • Re-reality

It cleverly drew the spectator in to the reality of environmental change through artistic representation with the most amazing exhibits.  According to the exhibition’s booklet, “the exhibition translates notions that can appear scientific and abstract into human terms.”

Artists included Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin and featured works from different media such as film, oil painting and sculpture.  Two of the most memorable pieces to me were in the form of short videos.  Doomed by Tracey Moffatt is a video containing collage of different short scenes from Hollywood movie disaster scenes. Moving swiftly from one to the other to a beating soundtrack, the video completely gripped me and, it seemed, the rest of the audience.  Usually at these sorts of exhibitions, people drift in and out to catch snippets of the videos which are off the main room: but when I glanced around at the others, they looked thoroughly mesmerised by this video.  Earthquake scenes were made more poignant after the Haiti catastrophe and the realisation that although these were fictional movie scenes on show, life is stranger than fiction. My second video to highlight was a reading set to a strong jazz soundtrack by the poet Lemn Sissay of What If? The piece evoked a visceral reaction using strong and beautiful language:

‘…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

What if all this wasn’t progress…


What if the tear inside the protective skin

Of earth was trying to tell us something…’

Antony Gormley’s sculpture Amazonian Field was a room full of clay creatures who looked like meerkats – amazingly stunning – and very popular with the children! The guide tells us it “puts us in the uncomfortable position of being confronted by numerous figures made from the earth itself, all looking towards us questioningly.” Another personal favourite was Spring in the Cityby Yao Lu. The photographic image on display looks like a traditional Chinese painting of green mountains and low clouds yet is in fact a photo of built up rubbish covered in green netting.

All in all, this exhibition was a fascinating insight into the effects our lifestyle has on the environment and the fragility of life itself.

About the author

Dr Jim Wright

Jim has over 25 years of global experience in environmental, social, health and sustainability issues in the energy and mining sectors. Jim has acted as Lenders Adviser for banks and companies auditing performance against international accounting standards, IFC and Equator Principles. He has also delivered world class Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessments (ESHIA), and delivered contaminated land assessments and remediation strategies across National Oil Company upstream operations. Jim is qualified with a NEBOSH General Certificate, IOSH Senior Executive and PRINCE2 Practitioner.