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Fragile Earth: seeds, weeds, plastic crust

29 June to 26 September 2019

Image credit: Copyright Uriel Orlow.  All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 An exhibition about the relationships between plants, animals and humans at a time of climate crisis.

The summer exhibition and public programme at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) and around the Tees Valley, addresses the biggest topic of our moment: climate change.  It is part of an extensive public programme of talking, making and exploring the Tees Valley with communities, artists and specialists. The exhibition includes works from the 1970s to today by 19 artists from across the globe, with video, installation, drawing and sculpture.

Climate change works on all scales. The planet is made up of complex and co-dependent systems and human activity has endangered, damaged and made extinct habitats, animals, plans and organisms. Oceans are swelling as polar ice melts; fresh water is shrinking; carbon-based energy sources are depleted and plastics are polluting our waterways. Faced with this scale of destruction, it can be hard to know how to take action. The exhibition and public programme demonstrate how artists help us connect with and understand the scale of climate change.  The project proposes that collective action and artistic practices can set the tone for transformation in industrial, commercial and governmental behaviours.  A number of new commissions engage with the particularities of the Tees Valley.

The Tees Valley is an area of massive industrial production in which regional emissions per person are almost three times the UK average. Among the most active fields of industry are chemicals, logistics, digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering and there is growing expertise in renewable energy. MIMA has commissioned award-winning author Helen Bynum to write a new publication that reflects on the botany of the Tees Valley and weaves together social, economic, agricultural and medical histories. North East artist Laura Harrington has been commissioned to develop a new video work – complete at the end of 2019 – that traces the River Tees back to its source (co-commissioned with Tyneside Cinema).

Within the exhibition, a new commission by Faiza Ahmad Khan and Hanna Rullman charts the changing life of the site in Calais formerly known as ‘The Jungle’ which is now starting life as a nature reserve, uncovering political priorities about what we choose to protect and preserve – in this instance a rare orchid over displaced humans. Delicate drawings of plant life on  Irish burial sites by Miriam de Búrca work as quiet memorials or markers of those not permitted to enter consecrated ground.

Cooking Sections continue their study of the impact of the much-maligned knotweed, highlighting our relationships with so-called invasive species. A video installation by Zina Saro-Wiwa shows the complex cultural, political, industrial and agricultural landscape of the Niger Delta region which has been profoundly impacted by the oil industry. Uriel Orlow’s installation Soil Affinities (2018) looks at the colonial relations that can be uncovered in tracing ownership of seeds and management of agriculture across continents.

Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s documentary, The Forgotten Space (2010), maps experiences and impacts of the global supply chain, following its routes and interviewing an array of people. Hartlepool-based artist Diane Watson has designed a new wallpaper for the exhibition with a pattern made from the plastic objects most frequently found on her beach trawls of the Tees Valley coast. She is working with local families to develop a spotters’ sheet for the most common plastic waste items in Middlesbrough to draw attention to our use of plastic. Elements of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ influential work Touch Sanitation (1979) show the routes she took during her monumental performative action in which she shook the hand and personally thanked all 8,500 sanitation workers in New York City.

MIMA’s work with constituents and publics at the museum and offsite focus on shared understandings of different scales of ecological life and making sustainable growing projects in the area. Wayward – an innovative landscape, art and architecture practice – have developed a portable garden which will move from MIMA to the residential area North Ormesby and National Trust site Ormesby Hall. The ‘Barrow’ forms a site of engagement for making, swapping, plotting and talking about the environment and the future of the area. Locations include care homes, community centres, a school and gardens.

Exhibiting artists: Maria Thereza Alves, Zheng Bo, Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, Miriam de Búrca, Laura Harrington, Andy Holden, David Lisser, Shahar Livne, Anne Vibeke Mou, Otobong Nkanga, Uriel Orlow, Faiza Ahmad Khan and Hanna Rullman, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Cooking Sections, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Diane Watson, Wayward.


With thanks to: Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough, for loaning elements of their collection; Alan Cristea Gallery for support.

The Opposite of Time is part of The Artangel Collection, an initiative to bring outstanding film and video works, commissioned and produced by Artangel, to galleries and museums across the UK. The Artangel Collection has been developed in partnership with Tate, is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Foyle Foundation and uses public funding from Arts Council England.


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