Galapagos at the Bluecoat – Previewed

Darwin’s visit was the inspiration for his seminal work. Could the Galapagos play muse to the 12 artists undertaking residencies there?

Tomorrow sees the opening of Galapagos, the latest exhibition at the Bluecoat. Organised by the Galapagos Conservation Trust with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and further support coming from the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Natural History Museum, the scope of the exhibition is impressive.

Bloated with all manner of connotations and bound up in Darwinian narrative, an exhibition worthy of the name had better match it, at the very least, with lofty ambition.

Featuring 12 artists, the exhibition began with the likes of Marcus Coates, Jeremy Deller and Semiconductor separately undertaking residencies on the islands, situated off the West coast of Ecuador in South America. Described by Darwin himself as ‘a little world within itself’, the Gulbenkian Galápagos Residency Programme gave the artists a unique opportunity to engage with the islands and produce fresh interpretations of our relationship to them.

Sara-Jayne Parsons, Exhibitions Curator at the Bluecoat, explained. “The show is about raising awareness of something as special as Galapagos … it becomes a bigger platform of thinking about our own environment.” A world heritage site, she also revealed that some of the artists “expressed concern at being extra ‘foot-traffic’”, while co-curator Bergit Arends contributed an essay entitled Why I won’t go to the Galapagos to the official exhibition publication.

You sense that everyone involved understood that along with this unique opportunity came a weighty responsibility to the natural world, but what can we expect from whatever their experiences led them to produce?

In Marcus Coates, we have an acclaimed artist who certainly has form in looking at the ways in which humans relate to other species; his 2007 work Dawn Chorus saw Coates manipulating footage of people in everyday environments overlaying the video with birdsong. Another video work, Human Report (pictured), produced on Galapagos, should be one of the draws of the exhibition. It posits Coates as a blue-footed Booby, one of the islands’ most ubiquitous creatures, reporting for the local news.

Not the only video, the work produced as a whole encompasses a diverse range of media: Alexis Deacon’s encounters led him to developing a beautifully illustrated graphic novel; Dorothy Cross’ contribution includes a 5.5 metre long whale spine; Semiconductor (who you may remember from an exhibition last summer at FACT), fascinated by the volcanic geology of the Galapagos, present work in-part inspired by their research in this area.

Galapagos raises myriad questions about our impact on, and responsibility to, the natural world and our environments in general. Co-curator Greg Hilty said the residencies “convey fresh meanings about Galapagos … and exemplify the role of human culture within nature’s system”.  If the work created gets to grips with and compliments these themes, it promises much.

Galapagos at the Bluecoat previews tonight 6-8pm

Open Friday the 4th May until Sunday the 1st July, 10am-6pm 

Posted on 03/05/2012 by thedoublenegative