GroundWork and the Climate Emergency

All exhibitions at GroundWork Gallery tackle Climate Change. It is inevitable that any environmental subject or theme has to do so. Unfortunately the climate crisis is upon us right now and we are increasingly suffering its consequences. Recently Extinction Rebellion made a  film The Art of Rebellion, about the role of art in their campaigns Quite deliberately and overtly, they are connecting with the traditions and methods of protest and propaganda. They are making posters and banners with simple design guidelines which can be used around the world, ‘same font, same logo, same colours’ have been their three rules. But also music is a strong motivator. Composer and folk singer Sam Lee talks compellingly about the power of song to move people, to appeal viscerally to the emotions and stir people to action. Performance is altogether a strong element in Extinction Rebellion. They have turned a street protest movement into street theatre, always thinking carefully not only about the banners and chants, but about staging, timing of stunts and costumes. Their Red Brigade who appear silently in protests around the world are chilling and powerful in their impact, were devised by Bristol group ‘Invisible Circus’ to be ‘sympathetic and humble, compassionate and understanding, and to ‘divert, distract, delight and inspire the people who watch us.’

The role of art at GroundWork is different, but complementary. It appears still, quiet, peaceful, thought-provoking, and people often comment as such. It is not intended to fire up anger (except perhaps sometimes), but, no less than Extinction Rebellion, it is intended to stimulate change, and to delight and inspire. Rather than aiming to ‘divert and distract’, however, the art on show at GroundWork aims to help people to concentrate, to intensify their gaze and to think through the consequences of what they are seeing, to follow through with some specific and positive action.  I believe firmly that in any aspect of the art-world, the audience, so often content to drift about art galleries in an appreciative daze, has a responsibility to respond actively, to do something positive as a consequence of the experience and learning they have gained, and not to let it evaporate into the continuum of daily life.  For the artists, their intentions are normally to be true to their own art. Few artists put campaigning before that, indeed most artists prefer not to be pigeonholed by any close alignment to a cause, even though they might be intensely sympathetic to it. This was certainly the case for the first two artists I showed, Richard Long and Roger Ackling, for both of whom the earth and sky were crucial media, yet neither wanted to be overtly aligned to the environment movement. 

The year 2020 has begun at GroundWork with an exhibition about insects, Bugs, Beauty and Danger (14 March – 30 May). Of the eight artists showing in this, two, maybe three, are strongly motivated by concern for the massive decline in bug populations, which is happening largely because of human actions, the biggest of which is climate change.  Sarah Gillespie, for example, has studied the common moths in her garden in detail, and she was indeed strongly stimulated by concern at their plight, for though common, all are in decline. Numbers have decreased by a third since 1968 and 62 species have gone extinct.  The UK Government has identified more highly threatened moths than birds or butterflies. She made a series of 20 mezzotints of moths (a very difficult medium), representing them with the tenderest and most sympathetic detail. Her way of responding to climate change is to make art which is moving spiritually and emotionally, like Sam Lee’s music, and is entirely ethical in its motivation and making. Her attention to detail demands an empathetic  response, which she hopes, and we all hope, will inspire greater care and, as she says:  ‘an antidote to our careless destruction’. 

Culture declares the climate emergency

GroundWork Gallery joins the many hundreds of organisations as part of ‘Culture Declares’ to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency. An absolutely key part of our strategy and entire reason for being, is to use the power of art and responses to it to aim for a healthy and sustainable environment. The signs of climate change are ever more present and we aim through our own practice and example and the people and organisations we associate with, to reduce our harmful impact and increase our beneficial influence wherever possible.

Ecological breakdown – a statement by Culture Declares

‘Although it is difficult to estimate, or to project future rates of loss as the Emergency worsens, already three species are lost to eternity each hour. In February 2019, there were reports of a catastrophic decline in insect populations which will soon affect our food supplies. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that 63% of plants, 11% of birds, and 5% of fish and fungi are in decline. There is a debilitating loss of soil biodiversity, forests, grasslands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species. Dead zones are growing in the oceans due to acidification and warming. 

The main causes of ecological breakdown are: intensive agriculture with its use of chemicals; deforestation for logging, biofuels and livestock rearing; growing urbanisation and transport infrastructure; over-exploitation of water; over-harvesting and wildlife poaching; invasive species and diseases; pollution; and the burning of fossil fuels and climate change.’

We pledge to work with and support our community and local government in tackling this Emergency, and we call on others to do the same. 

These are our intentions:

1. We will tell the Truth

Governments, and their public broadcasters and cultural agencies, must tell the truth about the Climate and Ecological Emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and communicate the urgency for far-reaching systemic change. 

We will communicate with our public and our partner organisations  and support them to discover the truth about the Emergency and the changes that are needed. 

2. We will take Action

Governments must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.

We pledge to work towards reducing our emissions to net zero* by 2025.

We will challenge policies and actions of local and national governments and their agencies, where we interact with them, that do not help to reduce emissions or consumption levels.

We will work actively to imagine and model ways in which our organisation can contribute towards regenerating the planet’s resources. 

3. We are committed to Justice

The emergency has arisen from deeply systemic injustices. Arts and Culture can imagine and forge shifts in the ways we relate to one another and the world, in our values and behaviours.

We are committed to engage in dialogue in the most diverse and inclusive ways possible with our communities about how the Emergency will affect them and the changes that are needed. 

We will support demands for more democracy within our civic institutions and government.

We believe that all truth-telling, action and democratic work must be underpinned by a commitment to justice based on intersectional principles*, led by and for marginalised people.

Declaration ends.


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