Radical Nature

Before I forget, here’s a brief glimpse at another major exhibition I visited in London: Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet – an RSA Arts & Ecology project at the Barbican Gallery.

Air-Port-City, Tomas Saraceno

From the RSA:
“The beauty and wonder of nature have provided inspiration for artists and architects for centuries. Since the 1960s, the increasingly evident degradation of the natural world and the effects of climate change have brought a new urgency to their responses. Radical Nature is the first exhibition to bring together key figures across different generations who have created utopian works and inspiring solutions for our ever-changing planet.

Work by pioneering figures such as the architectural collective Ant Farm and visionary architect Richard Buckminster Fuller, artists Joseph Beuys, Agnes Denes, Hans Haacke
and Robert Smithson, are shown alongside pieces by a younger generation of practitioners including Heather and Ivan Morison, R&Sie(n), Philippe Rahm and Simon Starling.”

Such a massive exhibition covering a huge range of territory! It was a privilege to experience the visionary ideas, dreams and projects of so many brilliant people all under one roof. Over the duration of the exhibition (it continues until 18th October), there is also a host of fascinating side-events, talks and off-site projects, which will make a huge impact, and reach thousands of people. There is The Dalston Mill for instance, created by EXYZT, an experimental and socially-engaged architectural collective. They have turned a disused railway site into a functioning windmill producing flour and bread, and offering a range of public activities and feasts.

Being a retrospective, I had seen many of the exhibits before. As I said, it was great to see this body of work all together. All were interesting, though some rather dated of course, and some downright distasteful – like the one pictured below – of Henrik Hakansson’s ‘Fallen Forest’ a section of rainforest attempting to grow sideways out of giant black plastic pots.

Fallen Forest 2006, Henrik Hakansson

Which is why, I suppose, I was most intrigued with the architectural works. They were less familiar to me, being outside my usual frame of reference. I was particularly taken with R & Sie(n)‘s representation of their termite-shaped building: ‘Symbiosishood’ inspired by the topography of its site, a former minefield on the border between North and South Korea. The exterior will be covered with an invasive native plant, kudzu, which will slowly colonise and make the building invisible. Sorry I can’t find any images of this, but here’s a link to some of their work. R & Sie (n).

I am, of course, a great fan of Buckminster Fuller, and saw his influence everywhere – from the Buckminster Fuller exhibit itself to the Air-Port-City of Tomas Saraceno – a utopian modular flying cell of conjoined ‘cities’ (See top picture).

Best of all I liked ‘I Am So Sorry. Goodbye’ by Heather and Ivan Morison – a sort of Tea House – positioned outside on the terrace of the Barbican, just at the water’s edge. Buckminster Fuller would have adored it. It’s a double-domed pavilion, based on his geodesic dome principle and made out of chestnut wood (I think). I sat inside, grateful to hide for a few minutes from all the concrete and the harsh urban spaces. Sipping hibiscus tea, absorbing the sweet scent of warm wood and watching fluffy white clouds float by outside – all to the gentle background sound of trickling water – that was not a bad experience!

Please bear with the lengthy footage at the beginning, of notices and the stuffed wolf. You will see the Tea House towards the end of this clip.

I would like to have seen Agnes Denes’
‘Wheatfield-A Confrontation’, a restaging of her 1982 piece, where she planted two acres of wheat in Battery Park landfill, New York City. But I had grown tired, and it was enough just to know it was there.

There is no doubt the Radical Nature project is an extremely important landmark exhibition, and groundbreaking in the degree to which it reaches out to the public and integrates with real life as it is lived. It will for sure have a far-reaching influence for many years to come.

RADICAL NATURE Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969 – 2009.
19 June – 18 October 2009. Barbican Art Gallery.

Info on Radical Nature and other projects on RSA Arts & Ecology-Projects

Tree Radical: 50 trees take to the streets of London.

Radical Nature  site

Barbican: Radical Nature

Buckminster Fuller video on Respond! Persist!


About throughstones

I am primarily a visual artist, living on the North Devon coast, a beautiful semi-rural area in South West England. I am interested in the eternal movement of life, and in full engagement with 'place' - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual - particularly as it relates to what we call 'the natural environment'. It is a way of making myself at home in the world.
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6 Responses to Radical Nature

  1. Pingback: News Room :: 10 ways of looking at Radical Nature

  2. Pingback: 10 ways of looking at Radical Nature : The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts

  3. redstarcafe says:

    Thank you for the review and photos. For all of our Nature here in Canada, I’d love to see a show like this.

    The Fallen Forest is sad and obscene. I’m reminded of Guillermo Habacuc’s exhibit of a starving street dog a couple of years back.

    We in North America have lost our awareness of the vast forests that used to cover the continent, now reduced to threatened pockets of old growth trees on the west coast.


  4. artistatexit0 says:

    I would have liked to see this show and so your take on it is of interest. I agree about the plants growing sideways out of pots as being insensitive. I have seen many artists who view themselves as being sympathetic to the planet just because they bend plants and animals to “do” their art. I recently came upon an exhibit where animals were outfitted with small video cameras so we could see things from their point of view? Really!


    • Thanks so much for your feedback. it is always good to know others feel the same about things!! Actually, I missed the full significance of a lot of exhibits there, because I was suffering from Exhibition Over-Exposure at the time. I would very much like to go there again, and take more time pondering it all.
      As for the Fallen Forest – when i saw it, it was already half-dead, not at all looking like the publicity pictures. I felt a little upset – not because of what is going on in the Rain Forest (we all know the shocking statistics), but because of the artist’s vaguely obscene aaction.
      But then, I have done some pretty awful things myself in the past – and am still as hypocritical as anyone…yesterdayat a meeting, just after I had held forth at length and passionately about the environment, I got told off for not offering to share my car with the people living near me. Well deserved, I thought!!


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