On 4 July 2019 I visited Hull Ferens Art Gallery to see their new exhibition ‘Is This Planet Earth’. It features nine artists whose work addresses possible futures and alternative environments. It especially considers climate change and the relentless domination of humans on our planet. From a science fiction point of view it is thought-provoking and extremely interesting.
The exhibition is actually a roving one. It has been at Wrexham and Aberystwyth and is currently at Hull until the 28 July 2019. Hull is the last planned stop so I recommend you see it there while you can. The exhibition was the vision of curator Angela Kingston, who brought all the artists together. Her inspiration included the following novels and film (below). It is clear why these were at the front of her thinking. They consider the exhibition’s themes of environmental change and humanity’s exploitation and tinkering of the natural world.
- The Drowned World by JG Ballard
- The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells
- The Day of the Triffids by J Wyndham
- Silent Running (1972; directed by Douglas Trumbull)
During my visit, I attended a talk on the exhibition by Exhibitions Assistant Steph Jones. I’ll tell you a bit about some of the different artists and their work.
Katharine Reekie’s Bio Specimens
This is my favourite exhibit. It is a collection of paintings Katherine did after she visited Charles Darwin’s house. We see laboratory vessels and specimen trays, and inside them are the most curious creatures. Fungi and seaweed with eyeballs eye us through the glass, and there’s a bird with insect limbs. Some of the insects have hands like humans. The images are disturbing yet strangely cute. Is this the shape of things to come after human’s genetic experimentation has run wild? Or are they the final, mangled forms of life on Earth after evolution has gone spectacularly awry?
Dan Hays’ Landscape Paintings
There are a large number of very large paintings by the internationally renowned artist, Dan Hays. They are landscapes but they have all been created from digital photographs or webcam footage from the internet. Additionally, the photos and footage were all digitally distorted before Hays began painting. Moreover, every painting is created from tiny lines painted in countless rows and columns. They are like TV images constructed from tiny pixels. In fact one of them is indeed created from red, green and blue lines just like an old cathode ray television image. The amount of hours that must have gone into just one of these artworks is incredible to imagine. The paintings belong in this exhibition because they are a melding of the digital and the natural, distorted and warped. As such, they become at once greater and lesser than the sum of their parts.
Halina Dominska’s ‘Bound‘
This is another exhibit I absolutely loved. It is a sculpture made of a material similar to what prosthetics are made of. It’s a rubbery pink skin-like material. The sculpture is a number of pods on stalks that hang down from an overhead membrane. The membrane is also on the floor. So the overall effect is like walking inside the gullet or lungs of a giant beast. The pods vibrate, move and buzz when a person is in proximity to it. At first, I thought they must have motion sensors in them but later Steph told me there are actually pressure sensors under the floor membrane. I was totally fooled though. You can imagine these structures growing in the wild in a future world where animal organs grow like plants.
Jason Singh’s ‘Mimesis III‘
As you walk around the exhibition, you hear this soundwork in the background . It is a three-part track inspired by the sounds of morning, afternoon, and evening in Cheshire parkland. It is complete with the song and calls of birds. What is remarkable is that the ostensibly natural soundwork is actually an entirely human-made paradise. The calls of the wild creatures were made by the artist himself in an extension of his range as a beatbox artist and using digital processing. So the track is a meld of natural and human, ‘distorted’ by digital processing.
Conclusion – ‘Is this Planet Earth’ at Hull Ferens Art Gallery
There are many more exhibits in the ‘Is this Planet Earth’ exhibition, including videos and displays of light. However, from the ones I’ve described above you will hopefully see by now that the themes of the exhibition are the natural world melding with and/or impacted by the human realm, becoming changed and distorted. The exhibition did not feel like a condemnation of humanity to me though. Instead, it was an exploration of art and a challenge. It asks, ‘Could the art presented here reach into our imaginations, such that we begin to change?’
Final Word – Patrick Coyle’s ‘Kingstupon Hull Stumption‘
The exhibition ends on 28 July 2019 but just before it closes there is an associated one-off walking tour. Patrick Coyle’s ‘Kingstupon Hull Stumption’ is a guided tour of a fictional water-bottling plant in Hull City Centre. Coyle suggests that in the future, water has become a scarce luxury item. This is due to “radio sewage active tailings” having been detected in the Humber Estuary, which glows a luminescent brown. It’s from 8.30 – 9.15 pm on 25 July 2019. Meet outside Hull Ferens Art Gallery. It will be wheelchair and pushchair accessible. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance from here.
I highly recommend you visit the exhibition and attend the guided walk. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. Did you attend the exhibition – what did you think of it? Do you have anything to say about the wider topic of science fiction and art?