#PlanetPartners: Art students highlight environmental threats in virtual exhibition
01 March 2021
An interactive online art exhibition exploring the connection between people and the natural world is presenting work by University of Reading students to the world this year.
The 15th Nature Created by Design exhibition, hosted by Seoul Institute of the Arts in South Korea, includes a digital recreation of an art gallery, allowing visitors to move around and view the art on display as if they were in a physical building, even while art galleries remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year’s exhibition theme is ‘Coexistence’, offering an artistic perspective on how animals and plants can live in harmony. Artwork by five Reading undergraduate students was selected for display, depicting the relationship between humans and the environment, and the threats faced by both.
The work exhibited includes paintings inspired by real and fictional landscapes to mimic exploration missions and raise awareness of international crises like conflict or famine, digitally manipulated images and collages illustrating feelings of imprisonment and a spiritual connection with the outdoors, and even a photography piece of a glacier-like object inspired by home haircutting during lockdown.
Professor Susanne Clausen, who directs international partnerships at Reading School of Art, said: “This was an opportunity for our students to respond to a pressing global issue and take their work to an international stage.
“Climate Change and the effects of the Anthropocene (the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth), are of great interest and concern to artists and students at the moment, and even though it is becoming a distinct area of research in art, it is in fact a historical condition that informs and impacts on all of contemporary art.”
“In Art we are fortunate to be part of this network of universities who have been working on the topic continuously over the last few years. This is an annual exhibition that normally takes place on site, in one of our partner universities across the world, and it is a major opportunity for our students to collaborate with international peers and to reflect on the future of the natural environment.”
‘Minds could change’
Fine Art student Eli Finn Taryn created a series of paintings, depicting manmade objects used for scientific explorations in imagined environments that are as yet unexplored by humans. In the paintings, a submarine and drone are shown in landscapes or the deep ocean, surrounded by unfamiliar creatures and natural formations.
Eli, who is in his final year at Reading, said he wanted the paintings to highlight how little we actually know about our natural surroundings and to build curiosity around this mystery in the hope it would inspire people to protect the planet. Viewing the images through a screen also puts the viewer in the place of research scientists, who often rely on technology for exploration.
He said: “I find that art can be a way for the artist themselves and the viewers to contemplate their current ideas on the climate crisis. Sometimes the anger and frustration that arises from climate discussions can hinder any possible progress. However, if you instead can take a moment just to look at a picture, sculpture or video to see a different interpretation and allowing for silent reflection, maybe some minds could change.
“Studying Art at Reading, students and staff are all able to present their unique experiences through their medium of choice. We are then able to have a calm discussion afterwards. This has helped sculpt me into the person I am today. We all have something to say and we are all heard in this art community.”
Glacier, a photography piece by undergraduate Dalga Hasmetoglu, was inspired by a haircut at their home, something millions around the UK and worldwide will have experienced during the pandemic lockdowns.
Dalga said: “At the end of the hair cutting, when I stepped back and looked at the stool under the spotlight, it looked more than a stool with all the aspects around it. It seemed like a structure that should have been beyond the circumference of a household.”
Big year for the environment
The international exhibition features work by artists at institutions around the world as part of the Asian Universities Network, of which Reading School of Art is a member, and will run throughout 2021.
The environment will be a major theme in 2021, with the delayed COP26 international climate change conference due to be hosted in Glasgow in November and hopes that countries will adopt green recovery plans as they look to rebuild their economies after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The University of Reading will be contributing its environmental science expertise to inform the next generation and the wider public about the importance of sustainability, as well as continuing to play its part in reducing carbon emissions through action on its campuses.
The Nature Created by Design exhibition started in 2006. Reading joined in 2014 and has worked with the network since then to organise an annual joint exhibition, hosted by one of the partner universities in turn.
The other universities are Shanghai Institute of Visual Art in China, Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, Seoul Institute of the Arts in South Korea, ZUYD University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, and University of Southern California in the USA.
The online exhibition can be visited at https://www.seoularts.ac.kr/mbs/kr/vr/nature_created_by_design/nature_created_by_design.html