LAST CALL FOR GLOBAL ACTION
Vienna Biennale of Change
AT THE VIENNA BIENNALE FOR CHANGE, WE ARE ONCE AGAIN REASSURED THAT DESIGNERS ARE NOT SHEERING AWAY FROM THE IMMEDIATE CHALLENGES OF GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE.
During the past and current weeks, our readers have been confronted with shocking images and videos that show the devastating effects of climate change within Europe. Numerous cities, towns and villages both in and out the Low Countries were plagued by unprecedented rainfalls, causing a deluge as never experienced before. Caught by surprise, countless families are affected as destructive flooding cascaded through their communities. Now, more than ever, action must be taken to prevent or adapt to the impacts of these growing catastrophes.
Since 2015, the Vienna Biennale of Change at MAK has proved itself to be a critical voice that brings together intriguing testimonials on how designers, artists and architects tackle the various issues that arise from global climate change. This year, the overarching theme of PLANET LOVE: Climate Care in the Digital Age reflects on the current human-nature relationship and how the increasing exploitation of non-durable resources creates a growing impact on our everyday lives. Through the selection of visionary projects from the fields of art, architecture and design, a diverse group of concerned activists and designers are presented with a platform to give form to their concerns and ideas. Already at the main entrance of the biennale, the visitor encounters Thomas Bayrle’s startling portrait of a leading figure in this debate: the Swedish climate protection activist Greta Thunberg. Composed from a collection of microscopic images of blood cells and presented on an analogous wall, the work can easily be understood as a metaphor for the increased development of youth activism, bringing ‘new blood’ to the active fight against climate change.
At CLIMATE PANDEMICS: Dark Euphoria, the Vienna-based artists Kerstin von Gabain and Ivan Pérard took science fiction literature as their point of reference to create a phantasmal installation, set up as an archeological collection of otherworldly relics. Exploring global pandemics and environmental catastrophes within a broad range of post-apocalyptic novels, their display of mysterious bone oracles and high-tech sculptures evoke a vision of what an alternative gloomy future could be like. Furthermore, it raises the unexpected question on how we can attempt to live "post-catastrophe" without first having to live through an actual planetary apocalypse.
In 2020, the artist Angelika Loderer began renting the grounds of a large self-harvest garden in Vienna and assigned various plots to artist friends. Serving as an alternative retreat during the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, the garden became a refugee for artistic research and experimentation. Following the integration of the project in the program of the biennale, the exhibition FOSTER: The Soil and Water Residency shows works from the artists’ practices that was developed during their stay. The dual sculptures of Loderer, composed of pressed quartz sand and shatterable glass objects, accurately reflect the fragile nature of the common garden. Built in situ with a perpetual risk of collapse, the sculptures embody the garden as a utopia that ceases to exist without continuous care and precaution.
At the heart of MAK, the Anglo-Indian design studio Superflux created the sensorial installation INVOCATION FOR HOPE in the form of a seemingly lifeless forest. An impressive group of 400 fire-blackened trees, brought from areas that have recently been afflicted by wildfires, are positioned on a rigidly square grid. The imposing installation confronts its visitors with the monoculture of planting forests where the main goal to maximize yield has resulted in the increase in wildfires, causing wide-spreading destruction among its areas. Amidst the remaining tree skeletons, a fragile oasis grows from the ashes and serves as an uplifting symbol of hope. As Anab Jain, cofounder of Superflux explains, “The experience of the installation reminds its visitors on how we as humans are part of a larger ecology, rather than being masters of nature. Within this complex ecosystem, we all play a part in mutual survival and evolution. Without it, we cease to exist.”
Along with the various exhibitions taking place, the biennale organizes events that focus on political and social issues rising from global climate change. These additional moments of discourse aim to transcend the classical format of the biennale by urging its visitors to think and speak critically about current government policies. The discursive event GETTING WET, consisting of talks, film and video screenings, addresses the growing issue of the depletion and privatization of freshwater resources. In her short film Kowkülen (Liquid Being), the non-binary Mapuche artist Sebastián Calfuqueo criticizes the water commodification in Chile alongside the systematic discrimination and exploitation of its native Mapuche people. From their point of view, nature is an inherent part of history, spirituality and politics, and should not be observed separately from science or economical growth.
The Biennale of Change continues to succeed in its deep-rooted ambition to spark our minds. Its category-spanning and interdisciplinary approach brings together a diverse selection of projects, art objects and design that confirms the growing metamorphoses of how creators are corresponding to global climate change. Visitors are not only urged to demand their governments for concrete action, but also to reflect on their own individual decision making in their everyday lives. By doing so, we ourselves can develop into exemplary stepping stones for widespread positive change.
Vienna Biennale of Change runs from 28th of May until 3rd of October 2021. viennabiennale.org