According to the United Nations, if we want to avoid a climate breakdown, carbon emissions must reach zero in the next 30 years. As we enter 2020, humanity’s baleful impact on the natural world is more tangible than ever: global warming is responsible for the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels and alarmingly regular extreme weather events. At Unit London we believe that art can and must continue to spread awareness of sustainable ways of living, whilst not shying away from critiquing modes of operating that have a deleterious effect on the environment; we believe more artists need to follow the example set by our own Zhuang Hong Yi and place environmental debate at the centre of their work. This winter the Royal Academy exhibition Eco-Visionaries: confronting a planet in a state of emergency (which runs until February 23rd) has brought artists concerned with the natural world to the fore. Inspired by this, and in anticipation of a similarly eco-minded show at Unit London, we take a look at four artists whose works interact with the natural world.
Turmoil, 2016, Mixed Media with Pheasant Feathers in Antique Dome
Kate Mccgwire works from a Dutch barge moored on the Thames, near Hampton Court. If there could be a Mrs Wilcox of British art MccGwire would most probably be her: gentle, pensive charm and an affinity for nature abound in an artist of extraordinary tact. Her work is concerned with human perspectives of nature, it considers how we deal with the border between beauty and disgust that’s so often presented to us by the natural world. Her roiling feather sculptures juxtapose a gossamer material with discomforting shapes – anguine convolutions seem to be in a state of inexorable constriction, sparking an asphyxiative emotional reaction.
Point of no Return, 2018, Oil on Canvas
Emma Webster is a young British-American artist who lives and works in La. Webster inverts traditional landscape painting with explorative mark-making and etched forms, creating “a giant nest of imagery that calcifies into a composition.” Webster’s idiosyncratic process starts with the construction of a diorama inhabited by clay maquettes of animals, lit meticulously against painted backdrops. The artist then studies these for the perfect perspective and creates 2D paintings that examine our natural environments and world building as a broader concept.
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
The Substitute, 2019, Paired Video Installation
To pigeonhole Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg as an artist would be reductive, the author of Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature is also the 2011 recipient of World Tech Award for Design. Her work The Substitute, currently available to view at Royal Academy’s Eco-Visionaries exhibition, is a response to the death of the last male northern white rhino. The installation uses rare zoological archive footage in conjunction with experimental data from AI company DeepMind to create a lifesize projection of ‘Sudan’ the rhino, who stomps and snorts (using sound footage of the last herd) in front of the viewer in a 3D space before being pixelated into obscurity. The brilliantly life-like form is distorted in front of the viewer until the previously visceral creature feels like nothing more than a distant memory.
Workbench With Snake Charmer, 2018, Oil on Plax
Dickon Drury is an exciting graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art and winner of the Desiree painting prize in 2016. Drury’s paintings depict a picturesque, imaginary realm that feeds off English folk-lore, one that’s detached from any of the contaminants associated with modern civilisation. The works respond to the idea of the ‘land of cockayne’ – a utopian idyll borne out of medieval literature where want is absent. This is work where unshackled nature merges with the artists’ imagination – mountainous horizons mirror lush undergrowth in these balanced compositions.