Arts and environmental issues collide at COP26

The recently concluded COP26 climate summit saw high-profile artists lend their voices to highlight environmental issues.

With its flagship exhibitions and its works crisscrossing the globe by plane, the art world is often singled out for its considerable ecological impact. And if awareness has been growing for several years, it takes on a whole new dimension at the COP26 climate summit.

It may not be obvious, but art pollutes. So much so, in fact, that its carbon footprint has become a real concern for artists and professionals in the field. Many have decided to take up the issue on the occasion of the 26th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow.

Take Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, for example. According to The arts journal, this artist is about to present a film with South African environmental activist Kumi Naidoo, exploring how the worlds of art and activism can work together to tackle the climate crisis. “What we need right now is a new perspective through which to look at old issues – issues that our generation simply hasn’t been able to address with the intensity and urgency what she needed,” Naidoo told the trade publication.

Other artists, such as Robert Montgomery, make similar points when presenting works expressing their ecological commitment during the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The Scottish artist and poet is currently exhibiting the ‘Grace of the Sun’ installation at the Landing Hub, a temporary space created for COP26 by Glasgow City Council. The installation takes the form of a giant poem, which lights up every day at sunset. It also happens to be powered by a thousand Little Sun Diamond solar lights, developed by Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen as part of the Little Sun project.

late wake up

If cinema and music have been attentive to ecological issues for decades, the visual arts have taken longer to establish themselves. Some works, such as “7000 Eichen” by Joseph Beuys, testify to a certain environmental awareness in the 1970s and 1980s. Here, the artist takes advantage of his last participation in the Documenta contemporary art exhibition in Kassel in 1982 to propose the planting of 7,000 oak trees on the outskirts of the German city. This long-term reforestation project aimed to remedy the damage caused by excessive urbanization.

Since then, the art world has become more and more involved in the protection of the environment. Indeed, the non-profit association Art of Change 21 has made it its mission to actively promote for six years the link between contemporary art and the major issues related to climate change. The association recently launched the ART-CLIMATE-COP26 program to highlight “the need to include creative and imaginative actors and allowing an emotional response to the issues”, explains Alice Audouin, president and founder of Art for Change 21.

On November 5 and 6, John Gerrard presented one of his latest creations, entitled “Flare (Oceania)” on the south facade of the University of Glasgow. This monumental work, which follows his famous “Western Flag”, evokes the link between climate change and the ocean. Meanwhile, Lucy Orta – from the duo Lucy + Jorge Orta – will present the social sculpture “Nexus Architecture COP26”. Fifty students from Glasgow School of Art and University of the Arts London will participate by simultaneously customizing blank Nexus Architecture canvases, creating “an interconnected chain of solidarity from Glasgow to London”.

An ecological odyssey

Promoting the power of the collective in the fight against climate change was also at the heart of Bamber Hawes’ ambitious ‘Clarion the Bear’ project. The British artist set out on a journey from the English county of Shropshire to Glasgow in the company of Clarion, a three-meter-tall polar bear made of bamboo, willow and layers of tissue paper. They arrived at their destination on November 2, according to the “Clarion the Bear” Instagram account.

So what was this trip all about? “Our goal is to come together to walk, talk, connect with each other and connect with the landscape by slowly walking through it,” Bamber Hawes writes online. Adding that: “Walking towards the climate talks won’t change the world – but I can’t think of anything better to show the seriousness of my belief that we must learn to talk together and build community, this is that in unity we will make a better, more just world.

(Main image credit: Bamber & Clarion)

This story was published via AFP Relaxnews.