Exhibition a perfect fit for our political climate

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Shifting Surrounds is an exhibition for the ages. It’s the first major solo exhibition by Yandell Walton, part of CLIMARTE’s biennial Art+Climate=Change Festival at Newport’s The Substation and the culmination of more than two years’ work by the Melbourne-based artist. While we continue to look to our elected representatives for leadership on limiting the worst effects of climate change, Shifting Surrounds explodes into the political vacuum like a supernova, exposing the results of our inaction in a blinding light.

But a little perspective first: Yandell is the daughter of Mornington Peninsula Magazine publisher Lisa Walton and was born on the Mornington Peninsula. Her work encompasses projection, installation, and interactive digital media; she has exhibited nationally and internationally in galleries and non-traditional public spaces including the Light City Festival in Baltimore, Digital Graffiti in Florida, Experimenta Speak to Me in Melbourne and Brisbane, the Melbourne Festival, Sydney’s Vivid Festival and Melbourne’s White Night Festival. 

Through works that meld architectural space with the projected image, Yandell has become recognised for her public projection works that merge the actual and the virtual to investigate notions of impermanence in relation to environmental, social and political issues. Her distinct aesthetic and interest in innovative practice are underpinned by a deep concern with contemporary ideas that aim to shift audiences’ thinking and immerse them in a unique new world. Her art is expertly executed and profoundly engaging.

Bronwyn Johnson is the festival’s director and the executive director of CLIMARTE, an independent charity harnessing the creative power of a broad alliance of arts organisations, practitioners, administrators, patrons and academics to inform, engage and inspire action on climate change. “In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we have 12 years to act to limit global warming to no more than 1.5C,” Bronwyn says. “In Australia, bushfire, flood, cyclones and drought are ravaging our country like never before. Nine of Australia’s 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005. The climate emergency has arrived and is happening now. 

“How do we make sense of the impact of global warming? What is the role of the artist in these challenging times?  CLIMARTE believes that contemporary art has the intellectual and creative capacity to be a powerful and persistent change agent. Shifting Surrounds is an inspired and luminous representation of what is happening to our planet now. Shifting Surrounds invites us to do no more harm to our planet and demand a just and sustainable future for all life on Earth.”

Arts writer Emma McRae says: “In Shifting Surrounds, Yandell Walton presents a series of six new site-specific installations that examine the continual process of change and adaptation that is the nature of life — in the planet, its ecosystems, and us. The scenarios presented in Shifting Surrounds are speculative; they sit within a discourse of science fiction and use metaphor to suggest the extent of the impact humans are having on Earth. In the exhibition we travel from the sewers beneath our feet to Earth’s outer atmosphere, visit a digital forest and an industrial wasteland, and experience the alarming intensity of a tidal wave engulfing the building — all while observing the steady countdown towards a world that is 1.5C warmer thanks to human activity. These works express the vulnerability of the planet we live with — the planet we are part of — and therefore underscore our own vulnerability. 

“Our time is running out. The ice caps are melting, the seas are rising, the rubbish is accumulating and the insects are dying. The realities of climate change are here, yet awareness of climate change is not new. We are now in the year that marks the 40th anniversary of the first World Climate Conference, and climate change has finally come to be recognised as the most urgent issue of our time.”

Shifting Surrounds is on until July 20 at The Substation, 1 Market St, Newport. Go to www.thesubstation.org.au for exhibition opening times, and see it before it’s gone.

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