This planet is weird, right? We’re all just here, going to our silly little jobs, meeting our silly little friends, staring at our silly little smartphones.
As it turns out, it’s not all about us. ‘Our Time on Earth’ reminds us there are actually other living things here too, even if we’ve been a bit neglectful of them. It’s an exhibition about interacting with the rest of the ecosystem, when that very ecosystem is crumbling more and more by the day. But it’s more of a fantasy than a warning: it’s a wild proposal to create a future that could almost, maybe, still be in our reach.
Taking place across multiple spaces in the Barbican, with the majority in The Curve, ‘Our Time on Earth’ is radical and hopeful, interactive and immersive. It opens with a tall, mesmerising projection of a ceiba pentandra tree, its multi-coloured roots flowing with nutrients as the installation slowly turns. It’s a statement about the vibrancy of the natural world, and a reminder about how much humans have sacrificed to build our way of life today.
It’s about interacting with the rest of the ecosystem, when that very ecosystem is crumbling by the day
What followed is slightly more disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the ideas here are good. Smirka Wahikwa’s fabric forest, a passage of material banners emblazoned with statements about indigenous communities, reminds us that the supposedly innovative proposal to live in harmony with nature isn’t as radical as it seems. Later, it talks about using root canopies as an urban transport network in a rewilded world, and about the reinvention of fashion design via regenerative materials like mushroom leather and carbon emissions. It discusses noise pollution in oceans and presents a vision of 2040, where buildings are made from flat-packed wood. These ideas are optimistic and exciting, but the pessimist in me can’t help asking: how would they work in practice?
Maybe, if the pieces were given more space to breathe, this wouldn’t have been an issue. But many parts feel like TeamLab Borderless had had babies with a GCSE geography project. Works are cramped and frantic, some parts even unfinished. A screen recording of a volume button randomly appeared in a film explaining indigenous engineering, and the names of people on a Zoom call were visible under the subtitles. This may be deliberate, but it looks unpolished.
Maybe we could re-establish our relationship with nature and kick climate change’s butt?
Towards the end of The Curve, you’re presented with a tight series of films about the climate crisis from around the world: stories of fear, hope and disbelief. It’s difficult to know where to look, but as a statement it works. Using the ideas and technology presented to us, maybe we could re-establish our relationship with nature and kick climate change’s butt?
This sense of urgency would have been an effective ending. Inspiring, even. Instead, they have to go and show us the underwhelming shitstorm that is Damon Albarn’s ‘Sonic Waterfall’. It’s basically a wall of flickering projectors, a pile of tinfoil and a boring soundtrack. Did old Damon forget all about the commission and cobbled something together last minute?
Bacofoil aside, the dialogue here between capitalism and nature, and the daring optimism to discover new potential ways of living, should be applauded. It all just needs a bit more space for reflection.