The climate is on everyone’s mind at the moment, with action or no action as very much part of the conversation, while politicians completely disrupt their environment, arguing and debating, all with a lack of sustainable engagement. Every week we see the news headlines flair up with a new climate-based disaster, yet the blame game continues, and neither political party will take the responsibility needed to tackle the great big beast looming over us. However, as we consider the lack of action and policy, creatives are emerging out into the Anthropocene to disrupt and dismantle what you know; or more importantly what you should know about climate change, global warming, and sea levels rising.
One pair of creative minds, based in the scenic home of Manly, are bringing together an exhibition that exploits the medium of photography. Harriet Spark and Richard Woodgett, who fittingly met while working as divers out on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, are showing a collection of their favourite images from their time out in one of the seven natural wonders of the world. ‘Reef: Captured Moments of Hope and Resilience’ at Sydney Road Gallery will invite the audience into the artists’ private diving world, as they show their love of the planet’s biggest living organism. These images are stunning recollections of coral, turtles, fish, existing and surviving in one of Australia’s national treasures.
Aesthetically ‘Reef’ fits into the contemporary art world with Sydney Road Gallery as the perfect white cube for these artworks. Light beams in through the large windows facing out into its cosy home in Seaforth on the Northern Beaches. In the window, large artworks of 100 x 150cm will invite the passerby into the gallery. These works are one part documentary artwork, one part decorative pieces, one an interior designer would love for their client’s walls, or a perfect gift to an ocean lover. Huge sea turtles ask you to buy them, the other with little blue fish, bright like neon, moving through a living, breathing reef.
However, the layers run more profound than the aesthetic value of the photographs. For the turtle’s portrait – framed by his big blue ocean home and a healthy abundance of seagrass and algae from the reef to nibble at – was earlier titled “I think the climate change science is far from settled.” The Honourable Tony Abbott, now known as Question Time (2019); or the tranquil setting of fish swimming through pearly coral formerly named “This is coal, don’t be afraid, don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you.” Prime Minister Scott Morrison, now A-maze (2019). The first, original response is humorous and ironic, yet highlights in a terrifying way – the absurdity of our current political situation. As the coal industry continues to threaten this delicate ecosystem, we need more artists like these to bring attention to what we could lose. Fossil fuel burning is leading to a global increase of temperatures, if we hit two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial, we could lose up to 99% of the Reef as we know it.
However, this is the year of hope. The Reef has so much more life left. The artists are bringing awareness to these numbers, and to the stark differences between politicians and the public in ideas and actions, as well as also donating 10% of the profits of sold artworks to the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. This organisation brings young people together to protest and call on the politicians who won’t listen to climate facts; we need to move away from fossil fuels to avoid losing the Reef completely. Joining Harriet Spark and Richard Woodgett is Tim Flannery to open the exhibition. Flannery is also working with Zali Steggall in the election race for the gallery’s, and artists’, home constituency of Warringah. Challenging the politician who whose inaction towards climate change helped name many of the artworks in the exhibition, such as the two manta rays swimming over the bright blue ocean floor, previously titled: “The climate change argument is absolute crap…” The Honourable Tony Abbott, now simply captioned as Split (2019).
Emma-Kate Wilson is a Sydney-based art writer.
Sydney Road Gallery
28 February to 24 March, 2019