As soon as you enter the exhibition and find yourself face-to-face with the infamous bright red panda, bright blue rhino, and red-and-yellow-striped zebra which form part of Andy Warhol’s Endangered Species collection from 1983, all just as endangered as they were 30 years ago, you can’t help but feel that this is an exhibition where the gloves are off with regards to the global state of conservation efforts.
The exhibition as a whole demands that we confront our central role in the current condition and, ultimately, the fate of natural environments and animal species across the world. Leaping from artworks depicting waste-filled oceans to species loss to climate change, amongst others, it’s a relentless laying out of the charges we face for the actions humans have taken against the environment.
One principle theme is regarding discarded plastics and microplastics in the ocean, most shockingly illustrated by Chris Jordan’s images of dead seabirds whose interiors are filled with bottle caps and other small pieces of plastic, despite living and dying on Midway Atoll near Hawaii, 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. The global effects of gigantic plastic waste dumps swirling around our biggest oceans is further underlined both by Mike Perry’s artfully shot collection of old flip flops, and Alice Dunseath’s Plastic Shores Animations, where she explain how microplastics digested by fish make their way up the food chain until they end up in our own diets.
Species loss is a major theme of the exhibition, especially addressing the threats facing pollinators such as birds, bees and other insects, and it plays on the idea of animals under siege throughout. A personal highlight is Mat Kemp’s Protectors of the Forest, a colourful sculpture built from Playmobil toys, showing pandas, wolves, monkeys and other animals, all armed with rifles and heavy artillery, defending a small patch of green trees atop of a piece of driftwood. It may sound humorous, but visually it is a touching and poignant visualisation of the state of the natural world.
Another strong area of the exhibition focuses on man’s failed attempts to conquer the natural world, and provides numerous examples of where attempts to control the environment, especially water management, have gone horribly wrong, such as Edward Burtynsky’s aerial photography of the Colorado River delta in Mexico. We are also reminded of threats facing the UK, through Julian Perry’s wonderfully playful, yet sombre drawings of houses suspended in the air, as the land beneath them as been eroded away.
Whilst some exhibits perhaps slide too far towards being quirky rather than informative or inspiring, this exhibition has many more strengths than weaknesses, and provides much food for thought.
HERE TODAY... is at The Old Sorting Office, London, and runs until 17 December, 2014. Admission free. For more information, visit www.heretoday.org. HERE TODAY... marks 50 years of the IUCN Red List. For more information visit www.iucnredlist.org.