Artists: Ashok Sukumaran, Deimantas Narkevicius, Amy Balkin and Invisible-5 (Amy Balkin, Kim Stringfellow, Tim Halbur, Pond: Art, Activism, and Ideas, and Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice)
Curated by Fiona Parry
Thursday 27 October 2011 to Friday 23 December 2011
Private View: Wednesday 26 October 2011, 12:30PM to 2:30PM
In his 1974 book The Production of Space sociologist Henri Lefebvre conjures up a volatile image of the city as “a constantly burning, blazing bonfire,” because of “the truly colossal quantities of energy, both physical and human” that it consumes.
This “blazing bonfire” that Lefebvre imagines is largely concealed. It could be described as embedded within the devices it powers, flowing through human and material networks, deferred and at a distance, emitting its fumes invisibly into the air. The City is a Burning, Blazing Bonfire looks at how the spaces we inhabit are constructed, connected and divided through the energy that flows through them, that they produce and consume. It focuses on artistic practices and works that visualise and explore the relationships people have with energy and its infrastructure: including electricity flowing through the urban environment, towns built to support power generation, and pollutant emissions in the air we breathe. The works address access to energy and clean air, from the modernising and democratic ideals behind the electric grid, to the privatisation of the air through carbon emissions trading, as well as questioning how to imagine and approach the all-pervasive image of the network. The exhibition also includes Electrical Development Association leaflets (circa 1919 to 1922) promoting electricity to consumers when it was new and strange.
Postscript on the Order of Networks (2011) is a set of posters made for the exhibition by Mumbai based artist Ashok Sukumaran (part of the group CAMP) that critiques the network itself as a dominant form of imagination. Instead he invokes “neighbours and parasites, leaks and crowds, grids and groups as the forms and attitudes that could populate, and act as a distribution medium, in Lefebvre’s ‘burning city’”.
Energy Lithuania (2000) by Vilnius based artist Deimantas Narkeviƒçius is a meditative portrait of a town built to support the power station that provided the first central electrification of Lithuania in 1960. It was a modernising life force that drew people to live and work there from throughout the Soviet Union. The film evokes the optimism about producing electricity in that period and the deeply interdependent relationship between the human energy of the town’s inhabitants and the electrical energy that the plant generates.
Invisible-5 (2005) is a collaboration between artists Amy Balkin, Kim Stringfellow, Tim Halbur and organisations Pond: Art, Activism, and Ideas and Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice. It is an audio tour of the “invisible polluted landscape” and geopolitical history of the Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Narrated by environmental justice groups, it tells the stories of communities living near sites of energy production and other polluting industries behind the highway.
Public Smog (2004 – ongoing) by Amy Balkin (based in San Francisco, US) is a critique of the comodification of the air in the form of a fluctuating clean-air park in the atmosphere. Constructed within the legal confines of emission trading markets such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the park is created by buying and withholding carbon credits so they cannot be used by industry to emit pollution, as well as an ongoing attempt to nominate the atmosphere as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Thanks to the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester and The Wellcome Trust, London