Exhibition at Modern Art Oxford transforms galleries into a public studio

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Exhibition at Modern Art Oxford transforms galleries into a public studio
Tania Kovats, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, all 2015. Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. © Chris Foster / Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester.

OXFORD.- From a prototype domestic wallpaper that changes colour in response to air pollution, to a large sculptural ‘lung’ made from a pioneering organic building material, Future Knowledge is a thought-provoking new exhibition that explores the role of visual culture in raising awareness about climate change.

Bringing together artworks, prototypes and projects by artists, designers and thinkers from a wide range of different disciplines, Future Knowledge offers a fascinating and diverse range of creative responses to environmental concerns. In particular, it asks: how might artistic inquiry and creative ecological design generate new perspectives on climate change?

Building upon the ambition of last year’s experimental edition of Future Knowledge (20 May – 25 June 2017), over five weeks Modern Art Oxford will be transformed into a public studio – a space where questions are asked, ideas are shared, and future possibilities imagined.

A series of large-scale artworks at the start of the exhibition highlight the deep interconnection between living beings and the global environment established over millions of years. American artist Rachel Sussman presents an epic visual timeline that stretches back 750 million years, depicting images from her 10-year project, The Oldest Living Things in the World (2004–14), which documents continuously living organisms that are over 2000 years old; Norwegian artist Eline McGeorge’s montage and weaving works, including a series of watercolours on delicate fabric that have been torn apart and stitched back together again (On Joined Flight Lines, 2018), symbolise an environmental cycle of damage and repair; and British artist Tania Kovats’ vast sculptures of steel and salt, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific (all 2015), reflect the theory that Earth has one interconnected, self-regulating ocean.

A set of newly commissioned works at the exhibition’s midpoint aim to raise awareness of environmental innovations through which we might better understand our domestic and local systems of production, resultant waste, and inadvertent pollution. Artist and designer Lucy Kimbell, who featured in last year’s Future Knowledge, returns with a new work entitled Air Pollution Toile (2018), a fascinating prototype for domestic wallpaper that changes colour over time in response to UK air pollutants. In the same space artist Andy Owen will present Whole Milk (2018), a new conceptual installation that takes a fresh look at innovations in farming domesticated livestock, drawn from his artistic research into ethical milk production in Oxfordshire. In the adjacent room a video link to Wytham Woods, Oxford’s SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) ancient woodland, one of the most researched in the world, will connect the exhibition directly to the outdoors. The video will demonstrate the robustness of a lung-shaped sculpture created using mycelium, the vegetative fibrous structure of fungus, which is being pioneered by biofabrication platform Ecovative as a sustainable building material that is grown rather than manufactured. The sculpture was made collectively by Modern Art Oxford’s group participants as part of a six-month project How Nature Builds.

The final section of the exhibition will act as a working studio, inviting visitor participation. A presentation of future-facing solutions from across the fields of art, design, and architecture will celebrate human ingenuity in the face of environmental change. Prototypes and working models include pioneering architectural biomimicry by Michael Pawlyn of Exploration Architecture, demonstrating the design and production of materials, structures and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes. Our interdependent relationships with the natural world and each other will be explored through an engaging range of table top experiments and hands-on activities, talks, discussion hubs, and playful creative sessions for Modern Art Oxford’s youngest audiences.

Climate change has already had a measurable impact on the environment, which scientists agree has most likely been caused by human activity since the mid 20th century. There has been a significant global temperature increase in recent years, causing warming oceans, melting ice sheets and increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Future Knowledge will acknowledge these facts and help raise further awareness of environmental concerns, but it will also celebrate the possibility that creativity and ingenuity in current and future generations can bring about a positive change.

Future Knowledge is part of the nationwide project Season for Change, which invites artists and arts organisations from across the country to explore climate change through creative presentation.

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