June 27, 2019

Fragile Earth: seeds, weeds, plastic crust

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Uriel Orlow, Soil Affinities. © Uriel Orlow, All Rights Reserved DACS 2019.


An exhibition about the relationships between plants, animals and humans at a time of climate crisis.

“The waters of the River Tees pour into the North Sea between two breakwaters. These piers extend the mouth of the river and quieten the agitation of the tide. They were built in the nineteenth century from the abundant slag waste of the ironworks, witnesses to a confident domination over nature. In 1978 among the dune grasslands of the North Gare John Richards found over a hundred northern marsh orchids with unusually large purple spots on their leaves and flowers with an intensely purple lip. This was something new….

Today the human-made landscape inland from the North Gare dunes is dominated by a nuclear power station. Go back a hundred years and the skyline was broken by the chimneys of a zinc smelter and sulphuric acid factory. The zinc came from Australian mines, shipped around the globe, processed and used to galvanise Tees Valley’s steel. Some people think that the extra colour found in the orchids is a response to the pollution leftover from the zinc works… Research indicates that plants placed under environmental stresses… synthesise more of the chemical responsible for the colour purple.”

Excerpt from Plants In and Out of Place, a new publication by Helen Bynum, commissioned by MIMA, that reflects on the botany of the Tees Valley and weaves together social, economic, agricultural and medical histories.

The most urgent topic of our time is ecological crisis; the armory of the arts is the imaginative protential for change. Fragile Earth presents works from the 1970s to today by 20 artists working around the world. Pieces explore the linked issues of exploitation of resources, global networks of trade and production of waste. Artworks show the construction of "nature" as separate to human life and propose bridges across this separation.

The exhibition and public programme demonstrate how artists help us to connect with and understand the scale of climate change. The project proposes that collective action and artistic practices can set the tone for transformation in industrial, commercial and governmental behaviours. A number of new commissions engage with the particularities of the Tees Valley.

An area of astounding drama and beauty, swathes of protected ecological sites abut the architecture of heavy industry in the Tees Valley. Regional emissions per person in the area are almost three times the UK average, with chemicals, logistics, digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering as the most active fields, and growing expertise in renewable energy.

An extensive public programme of talking, making and exploring the area with constituents, publics, artists and specialists focuses on shared understandings of different scales of ecological life and making sustainable growing projects in the area. Wayward—an innovative landscape, art and architecture practice—have developed a portable garden which forms a site of engagement for making, swapping, plotting and talking about the environment and the future of the area. Locations include care homes, community centres, a school and gardens.

The exhibition includes the following artists: Maria Thereza Alves, Zheng Bo, Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, Miriam de Búrca, Laura Harrington, Andy Holden, David Lisser, Shahar Livne, Ian Macdonald, Anne Vibeke Mou, Otobong Nkanga, Uriel Orlow, Faiza Ahmad Khan and Hanna Rullmann, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Cooking Sections, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Diane Watson, Wayward, as well as historic drawings from the Middlesbrough Collection and fossils from the Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough.


Art in Action
We work with constituents who inform and shape who we are and what we do and we have a space for presenting our extensive community-based work that takes place within MIMA and beyond the museum.

Community Day
At the centre of the programme, our weekly Community Day brings together people of all ages, ethnicities, genders, abilities, classes and nationalities to share food and collectively make, learn, and debate.

Middlesbrough Collection
The Middlesbrough Collection, housed by Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, encompasses art and craft made by British and international artists from the mid-1800s to today.

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