Gaia Hypothesis

Artist Ngaio Fitzpatrick is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University Climate Change Institute; she is also the curator of ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ a group exhibition exploring the confluence of contemporary art and the progress of climate change research. Fitzpatrick hopes the show will ‘bring a sense of philosophical introspection to the topic of climate change… as mainstream media and the fast pace of our lives seems to discourage this type of thinking’. Participating artists include Alexander Boynes, Sophia Emmett, Ashley Eriksmoen, Denise Ferris, Alexander Hunter, Simon Maberley, Anna Madeleine, John Reid and Marzena Wasikowska.

Alexander Boynes, Anthropogenic, 2018, video still. Score by Tristen Parr, 3’56” duration. Courtesy the artist and Belconnen Arts Centre, Australian Capital Territory

You have said, ‘We live in a Post-Truth and now indisputably warming world’. Why and how can art cut through scepticism and mis-information about climate change?
I think it is a sad fact that many artists are not rewarded by economic or financial returns but this allows them the perceived and painful luxury of being able to think laterally and contemplate what certain truths may be. Artists are often seen as outsiders because of this and have the rare ability to work independently of vested interests drawing attention to the big social, political, environmental and ethical contemporary questions of our time.

Despite the fact that January 2019 has been Australia’s hottest month on record since records began in 1910, the difficulty with climate change is that it is not immediately visible. Artists can make climate change visible through the power and aesthetics of art. Artists can bring different perspectives to these issues, perspectives often not found in daily conversations. Recent insights from multi-disciplinary research suggest that art has power because it allows for abstract interpretations and understanding of complex issues like climate change. This can foster a range of personal and emotional responses that can lead to a desire for action.

John Reid, Walking the Solar System Mining Protest Walkout Performance BAC, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Belconnen Arts Centre, Australian Capital Territory

Are the materials and processes artists have used to create these works ‘eco-friendly’? And, is that more, less or equally important to their message?
For the purposes of this exhibition, it was the message above the medium that drove the work, although many of the artists have considered their ecological footprint also. Glass is often seen as a material with a ‘heavy’ footprint but its historic, aesthetic and philosophical associations render it ideal to reveal ‘truths’ in this exhibition. Maberley’s work Ouroboros (2010) exposes our consumption and reliance on fossil fuels. Emmett’s work My Beautiful Country No. 2 (2019) uses glass to examine, protect and preserve a threatened and dying biological specimen that conceivably could be all that remains of our rich biodiversity in the not too distant future.

Boynes, Hunter and Madeleine all use aspects of digital media in their work that reduces their ecological footprint significantly in terms of materials, transport and packing. However, it is the ideas that become more important than the material; Boynes’ work Anthropogenic (2018) deals with the loss of the Australian landscape in the race to extract what is beneath it, in Grus Jerrabomberra (2019), Hunter uses audio installation to draw attention to tensions between the natural and industrial worlds and Madeleine uses augmented reality in her work Pranatamangsa AR (2018) to contemplate the unpredictability of weather events in the context of farming and climate change. Eriksmoen works with themes of consumerism and sustainable futures. Her works Criogriff (2015), Meares Island Nurse Log (2015) and Blonde Palm Tree (2013) recontextualise the idea of furniture by working with salvaged timbers and milk paint to reference waste and the lifecycles of manmade objects.

Ashley Eriksmoen, Meares Island Nurse Log, 2015, found wooden furniture, milk paint, acrylic paint, 120 x 120 x 62cm. Photograph: Martin Ollman. Courtesy the artist and Belconnen Arts Centre, Australian Capital Territory

If art is about provoking questions, what do you hope these works will prompt the audience to ask themselves and each other?
Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff introduces the concept of Presentism in his book ‘Present Shock’. He argues that we no longer have a sense of future, goals or direction, having a completely new relationship with time instead. We live in an always-on ‘Now’ where the priorities of this moment seem to be everything. We use technology to accelerate markets, which can only exist in the present, and ‘if we are not the consumer, we are the product’. We are distracted to the point of ignoring the reality of reaching a climatic tipping point.

I hope these works help draw the audience into a type of contemplation and perhaps inspire all of us to take action. We cannot wait for governments to take the lead, we have to demand it.

On 10 March at 3pm, Reid will be leading a performative piece on the shores of Lake Gininderra at the gallery entitled Solar System Walk – Out, where he invites us to participate in a quiet protest against coal mining. This is the continuation of a project started with the Belconnen Arts Centre in 2015. Please register at john.reid@anu.edu.au

Belconnen Arts Centre
Until 17 March, 2019
Australian Capital Territory