The glass front of the Art Pavilion in London’s Mile End Park looks out onto a large pond which is home to a wide variety of birds; coots, ducks, moorhens, seagulls, and pigeons all come here to rest, wash, and feed. A swan glides past slowly, craning its neck to look beyond its glassy reflection and apparently peeking in at the artwork inside the pavilion.
Integrated into the landscape of the park and overlooked by newly built tower blocks, it’s a space that offers a constant reminder of the uneasy relationship between humans and the natural world. This makes it an appropriate setting for Depictions of Living, a group show of over 70 artists curated by Samuel Ivan Roberts and Roshi Khakban.
The exhibition is dedicated to artworks that grapple with the causes and legacies of climate breakdown. These narratives are closely interwoven with the stories of climate activist movements, and the exhibition also features protest items contributed by groups such as Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion, such as a dry suit worn on an activist intervention at sea.
Many of the works on show straddle the divide between art and design. For example, Freya Freeman-Taylor – an environmental activist responsible for much of Extinction Rebellion’s iconic graphic design – presents a poster and collage, while Alisa Ruzavina’s “Stories from the Faraway Land: Armila” (2019) utilizes organic cotton clothing to encourage the use of textiles as a form of everyday environmental activism.
Several works in the exhibition speculate about what life might look like in a future beset by the complications of a damaged environment. These “depictions of living” evoke emotions from anger to hope. Kypros Kyprianou & Roland Denning’s documentary video piece “La Zad – The Zone to Defend” (2018), for instance, explores a commune in France established by an unlikely combination of traditional farmers, environmental protestors and urban squatters as a way of resisting the building of a new airport in France. La Zad therefore offers an ongoing example of ecologically viable and collaborative living.
The aesthetics range from the slickly technological – such as Chloe Uden’s solar-panel designs – to the distinctly hand-made – for example, Kanerva Lehetonen’s “I am very angry” (2019), a tiny sign constructed from a pencil and a Post-It note produced spontaneously by the artist as part of a desk-based protest.
Depictions of Living imagines the exhibition as an act of protest, touching on both the microcosm of individual actions and the macrocosm of the Anthropocene, suggesting the need for radical change on both levels if we are to avoid impending environmental collapse.
Depictions of Living continues at The Art Pavilion (Mile End, London, UK) through 28 January 2020. The exhibition is curated by Samuel Ivan Roberts and Roshanak (Roshi) Khakban.