Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair: Can Art Inspire Climate Action?

Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair
Nov 5, 2021 11:53AM

How do you tackle an issue like climate change? COP26 has highlighted the need for more than empty promises of numerical targets. Humans’ hardwired tendency to value personal experience over data requires us to engage emotionally with an issue before we take action. And that’s where art comes into the picture.

‘Climate Art’ makes the shocking statistics about the state of the planet vivid and accessible, tangible and relatable. Famous examples include Anges Denes, who sowed a field of wheat on a landfill site two blocks from Wall Street in 1982 to juxtaposition food and ecology with commerce and power; Cia Gou-Qiang’s fishing boat float down the Huang Po river to Shanghai filled with 99 life-size replica animals strewn forlornly across the deck; and Romona Galardi’s ‘Blood will fall’ warning that there will be a price to pay.

However, whilst these examples speak to us powerfully about the climate crisis, scaremongering does not inspire mainstream behaviour change. In fact, it tends to induce what they call psychological distancing and a perception that ecology is global and problematic rather than local and personal. What we need therefore is a different kind of climate art - one that helps us picture alternative futures that feel hopeful and relatable.

With the sixth edition of Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair coinciding with COP26, we decided to take advantage of the spotlight on the ecological emergency and celebrate all things ‘green’ in both the literal and figurative sense. With c. 4000 open-call applications, there were many artworks that spoke to us about the climate crisis and celebrated a better future. From fauna to flora and everything in between, WCPF artists certainly had a lot to say in response to the changing world and a year locked inside.

As well as curating for an ecological context, we also wanted to use our platform to influence others to also inspire change. And who better to combine optimism and creativity than young people? That’s why we chose the theme of our annual Young London Print Prize to be ‘climate art.’ Working closely with primary schools across London, we asked students to create a response to the climate crisis through the medium of print. The 20 shortlisted artworks were then exhibited at WCPF.

However, the climate crisis requires more than just stopping the damage. We need to take action to reverse what’s already been done and regenerate land, rather than leaving it to waste. In line with this, we are thrilled to breathe new creative life into Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal.

Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair was established in 2016 and inspired, in part, by the use and regeneration of Venice’s Arsenale with fine art during the Venice Biennale.

Our own Arsenal, steeped in industrial history, mirroring the industrial nature of printmaking, with architectural gems in terms of size, structure, and beautiful detail lost in today’s new ‘factories’ - how could we utilise these empty spaces and regenerate such a promising area in a similar way?

After five years taking over some of these fascinating derelict buildings, we now host our 2021 edition in the newly-refurbished ‘Fireworks’ Building, where the industrial history is intricately woven into the building’s architecture with exposed brick walls, a painted concrete floor and a dramatic asymmetric glass roof. It sympathetically celebrates both the new and old in perfect harmony, nodding to the future and the past, and we feel a fitting return to our ‘in real life’ event.

2021 exhibitors from across the globe speak to us through their original artworks about the earth, climate change and action through beautiful narratives that embody folklore, history, nature or just straight up action. (See Henry Wealth’s Going, Going, Gone)

On The Fifth Day by Thomas Moore surreally references the Bible description of the earth’s creation, 'Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.' and opens up the conversation about natural habitats, the state of the oceans and air pollution. While other artists focus on rising waters, global warming and global warming.

Aberdeen based Nigerian artist, Ade Adesina exceptionally combines the natural world and the industrial or ‘man-made’ through the rich symbolism, intricately embodied within his work with celebrated draughtsmanship. During an online interview between our Curator, Lizzie Glendinning and the artist, Adesina references the symbolism within his work not only as a creative, but also as a father, looking to the future world they will inherit.

As a curated body, we are ultimately looking for pertinent but celebratory works. Reflective but beautiful, expressive and enjoyable.

While Samantha Cary’s vivid voyeuristic aquatint, A Soap Opera Part 6, encapsulates a family home with colourful and painterly approach, it could also be commenting on the average household - the fuel burnt, the wasted energy - contributing to the world’s change.

It is exactly this openness and ability for individual interpretation within fine art that makes it so relevant in how it can inspire climate action. Art can speak so many languages and express a plethora of narratives, inadvertently, that can inspire each person differently and often, incredibly powerfully. Many of our artists continue exploring new mediums and innovations in materials and processes from sourcing paper to sustainable inks demonstrating sustainability through the most contemporary of art from the ground up.

Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair