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Art for the Environment

Art for the Environment Rob Harris
31 Jan
This intimate east London exhibition provides a multi-sensory exploration into the natural environment

One outcome which should not be unexpected when artists turn their attention to the broad scope of the natural world is an extremely eclectic mix of resulting artworks. So it proves, at this small but thought-provoking exhibition at Bow Arts’ Nunnery Gallery, supported by University of the Arts London, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, and Arts Council England.

If there is any one recurring theme, it might be materials. Matteo Valerio embraces this most enthusiastically, his use of wooden frames recycled from London’s council houses are draped in cotton and wool fabrics dyed in extracts derived from everything from cochineal and turmeric to onion and beetroot. A film entitled Melting For You by Noemi Niederhauser takes this into a more solid form, depicting the creation of various blown glass products. Inspired by her residency on Murano, the Venetian islands famous for its craft in glass making, she asks probing question about the age-old process of converting sand into glass, and the inevitable return to the earth once its use has expired.

Materials also take centre stage on looping films – Steal Life – by Nana Maiolini. Viewers are invited to listen to the sounds of disembodied hands performing everything from crunching dry branches to crumbling large rocks into dust. While the theme of these films revolves around the notion of desertification, it’s hard not to see the process of entropy alive and well, gradually reducing the natural ‘order’ of world back to its raw component parts.

Meanwhile, Annabel Duggleby mixes the distinctive appearance of fragile plants with a film that juxtapositions the idea of a natural world with the all-conquering attitudes of previous generations, directly implanting the language of early agricultural colonisers (‘They began with nothing but their bare hands...’) onto examples of the ecological species they were destined to abolish in the search of economic success. ‘COLLECT. COLONIZE. CULTIVATE.’ repeatedly shouts the film, unnervingly.

Finally, and unexpectedly pleasingly, two aural presentations remind us that the environment is far more than just what we see: to open our ears and engage all our senses. While Magz Hall explores the idea of dreams, inviting visitors into a shed filled with the haunting sounds of people recalling some of their strangest subconscious moments, Matt Parker’s field recordings fill the space with both natural and artificial sounds from a supposedly ‘protected’ landscape in Spain – a precursor to his workshop on 3 March around London’s Olympic Park which also forms part of the #ArtForTheEnvironment programme.

Overall, it's a diverse and stimulating exhibition, densely packed with numerous interactive artworks, and a welcome introduction to the environmental visions of multiple emerging artists stepping out onto centre stage.

Art for the Environment is open until 18 March at the Nunnery Gallery, London. Free entry. Closed on Mondays. For more information go to bowarts.org/nunnery/art-for-the-environment

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