In a month of unseasonable heat, when world leaders met to discuss an uncertain future and hurricanes hit the British coast, we spoke with art collective désolé about their confronting and emotive inaugural exhibition.
“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth’’
– Albert Schweitzer
Photography: Adam Popli, Elena Cremona and Simon & Simon
Text: Anna Sanders
On Saturday the 12th of December, 195 countries signed the Paris agreement following the UN Summit on Climate Change (COP21). The event, in implicating real and tangible changes, was effectively the culmination of talks which began in Berlin in 1995.
Désolé, a collective of individuals spanning disciplines from music to science, held the final night of their show just hours before the decision was reached.
The collective, including Adam Popli, Elena Cremona and artistic duo Simon & Simon, look to challenge our shared apathy through breathtaking landscapes haunted by humanity – our presence to be found in ghostly limbs, plastic waste, and the sour taste of consumerism left upon spoilt land and melting ice.
Elena’s pink washed postcards from Iceland have featured on PYLOT before: alien landscapes shot in infrared captured our attention for their ability to show us something known, yet entirely unfamiliar. In her latest work, the concept of global warming, an abstract notion in itself, finds personification in once snow dusted rock and dark fissures cut into unfreezing ice. The cracking sounds of this world (our world) ripping at its seams accompanied Elena whilst she documented the changing face of Iceland.
In ‘Limbscapes’ we see nature spliced with the unwanted, unnerving presence of ‘us’. The limbs are at once in perfect synergy with their environment – skin tones matching the ochre hue of the rocks, curves of the body as their own landscape in miniature – yet also oddly jarring. Separated from their whole, the limbs seem disjointed and strange; movements cut and paste from other situations, body parts washed up on shore. The sense of alienation and death reflective of our relationship with our natural surroundings: instinctively part of it, yet forcefully removed.
‘I stand for change!’, a short film by Adam Popli, shows a solitary figure clothed in black. He returns ice to water; water falls in reverse: a wishful thought of damage being undone. Scenic vistas are interjected with scenes of refuse; plastic litters the rock face like man made weeds, a washing machine stands vigil over a road that cuts through the countryside. When the film ends, and the figure finally faces us, it’s to hold out the ice and a human head formed in polystyrene, imploring us perhaps, to choose.
Curated by Elizabeth Fleur Willis, and hosted by Metro Imaging, the exhibition sought to expose the quiet destruction of our world, and through our inaction, our role within its demise. Introduced with words of action over the mourning, heartfelt sounds of musical collective ‘Rains’, the exhibition blended warnings and hope for the future through the unique meeting of art, film, music and science.
We spoke with the artists following the exhibition to ask their thoughts on the Paris agreement, of art as a vehicle for social change, and the creatives that inspire them politically.
What message do you hope to communicate through your work?
Elizabeth Fleur Willis: Urgency.
Adam Popli: How the human population has become so separated from a collective consciousness and how inevitably, something will have to change.
Tawanda mark Parish-Gavhure: That music can be as powerful as and collaborate with the visual arts. And that climate change can be addressed as a culture that encompasses all traditional means of expression.
Elena: A lot of people forget we aren’t apart from nature, but a part of it. Through photography I hope to show the immense beauty of nature, and that it won’t be around much longer if we don’t all come together as one to conserve it.
Joseph Barnes: The art we create, through photography, videography and music is aimed at inspiring and informing people of arguably the most important issue in all human history – climate change.
How important do you think the role of photography is in forcing us to confront uncomfortable truths?
Elizabeth: Art and photography have always been used as a method of documenting the changing world around us. We hope that this way people might be more receptive and emotionally impacted by the concept of climate change.
Adam: Humans are deeply complex, I’m starting to understand how convoluted our brains are. Artists have a role to bring these buried thoughts and emotions to the surface and translate them through a visual medium. Photography allows one to use a visual language in which to convey meaningful topics.
Tawanda: Photography is an important way to raise the profile of issues that typically exist in the form of charts and graphs. It can not only powerfully convey the realities of our world, it can also attract people towards understanding these realities through beauty of form and aesthetic appeal.
Elena: For me, photography has always been a medium for portraying the truth and triggering emotions. That’s what drew me to it in the first place.
Joe: Photography is a priceless tool in its ability to capture what is sometimes difficult to talk about, or challenging to explain. It can breach all language barriers and cultural lines.
Which artists, or works of art, do you admire the most for their ability to inspire social change?
Elizabeth: I am a big fan of documentary photography, and one image that stands out to me more than any is Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl”. It changed the course of the Vietnam War, and through its frank portrayal of the horror that is war, moved public opinion entirely. It is not beautiful, it is not aesthetically pleasing, it is simply a visceral, shocking reality. This is why I feel photography is one of, if not the best, way to inspire social change and move the public in their opinions and behaviours.
Adam: Three artists who have inspired me greatly are Yayoi Kusama, Antony Gormley and Richard Mosse. Each have their own unique visual language, conveying their thoughts and emotions through powerful methods of artistic expression.
Tawanda: The band Sigur Ros really appeal to me, they’ve used their music to portray the Icelandic landscape, yet also its slow degradation.
Joe: Each year I visit the wildlife photographer of the year exhibition in the Natural History Museum, London. I see artists producing some of the most moving photographs of nature I have ever seen. These photos inspire me to take action to protect the biosphere from anthropogenic climate change. This year I was particularly taken by the work of Wildlife photojournalist Brent Stirton for his work on the ivory wars of South Sudan.
What are your thoughts on the decision reached at the UN Summit for Climate Change?
Elizabeth: Of course it is an amazing thing that this happens every year. However, it is also worrying that it is becoming ever so slightly habitual.
Adam: I hope what has been agreed will now proactively be put into action. I’m remaining positive in the hope this time the United Nations acknowledge change needs to be implemented for the world to support future generations. But actions speak louder than words!
Tawanda: We knew that with all those nations, each with their own interests, coming together we could never reach a perfect deal, yet I’m happy with what we’ve achieved. The reality of the United Nations is that whilst it doesn’t always deliver what we might hope for, it is still a noble and largely successful attempt at true global cooperation.
Elena: It is inspiring that more and more people; especially youth are standing up for their generation and the future of generations to come. We can only hope that what has been agreed upon by the United Nations will be set into action.
Joe: As an academic climate scientist, I do not see this deal as enough.
What projects will you be working on next?
Elizabeth: We will be travelling this exhibition, picking up traction, and developing ourselves as a collective endeavour.
Adam: I will continue developing my ‘I STAND FOR CHANGE’ performance, hopefully travelling back to Iceland and other countries, which are now directly dealing with the impact of Climate Change.
Tawanda: We’ll be continuing to work on our music, which focuses on climate change as well as our separation and need to rekindle with nature.
Elena: I am currently working on a couple of new projects; one is documenting animals in enclosures to raise awareness for their hostile environment.
Joe: In conjunction with my academic research on climate change, I intend to express the importance of protecting our biosphere for human wellbeing, especially biodiversity, with wildlife photography and short films, coupled with emotive new music. Combined, these platforms can inspire huge change.
The collective, désolé , is compromised of:
Elizabeth Fleur Willis – Curator
Adam Popli – Installation, Performance Artist and Photographer
Elena Cremona – Environmental and Landscape Photographer
Tawanda Mark Parish-Gavhure and Baris Robert Evans from ‘Rains’, a music collective
Joseph Barnes – Climate Scientist