Not a day goes by without the Dutch talking about the weather, especially after recent floods and months of record-breaking temperatures. Just the other day, hailstones the size of fists hammered down on a district near Eindhoven.
Perhaps the weather gods were making mischief with Weather or Not, an exhibition at the city’s MU gallery. Its curator Hanneke Wetzer wants to explore our experience of the elements, and ask ourselves how we marry that with what we know (or at any rate believe) about our changing climate.
The exhibition space is dominated by a tornado. The fans powering Alistair McClymont’s The Limitations of Logic and the Absence of Absolute Certainty give the space its own weather system, breezily animating the works hanging nearby. It’s not all clouds, wind and rain, however: Spectrum MU by Berndnaut Smilde projects a rainbow across the Klokgebouw concert hall, opposite the exhibition space (pictured above), while indoors, visitors lie back and relax, watching clouds drift through glass spheres in Commonplace Studio’s Lumière, before venturing through the plywood spiral entrance to experience the Mediterranean sun in Paolo Di Trapani‘s installation built around a Coelux artificial skylight. The illusion is uncanny, and the irony of having to enter a room inside a room to see some decent “sunshine” is lost on no one.
So much for works that seek to investigate their subjects through capture or simulation. They elicit the sensation that the laws of nature have been suspended, and I can’t shake the feeling that when it comes to our changing climate, they offer a dangerous, false sense of control.
A larger group of works respond to the weather, in a more or less detached fashion. There’s typographic work by Niels Bakkerus, which reveals itself only in the rain. Aernoudt Jacobs’s Heliophone turns sunlight into sound. Other pieces take external weather conditions as their input and turn them into abstract forms. Weather, Feathers & Frost by Martijn Koomen is a sort of visual weather station: inside his “weather glasses”, downy feathers float on local air currents, and a drop in temperature will cause crystals to form. Ik ga weermuziek maken, a charmingly lo-fi harpsichord-like weather station by Jelle Mastenbroek, turns the surrounding weather into music, while David Bowen’s Tele-Present Wind adds an element of distance: its 42 dried plant stalks rattle with the force and direction of real-time winds being recorded in Wisconsin. The geographical displacement here introduces a much-needed sense of global interconnectedness.
Gideon Mendel’s The Water Chapters stands alone in explicitly dealing with the human consequences of extreme weather. He has documented the conditions in communities across the globe following severe floods. The scenes are human and familiar. Living conditions in different parts of the world may differ, but a water-damaged family photo is the same across the globe.
“Surrounded by all this curious, ingenious and often quite beautiful artwork, I found myself hyperventilating”
Weather or Not is both delightful and fascinating, but in addressing the scale, complexity and utmost urgency of global anthropogenic climate change, it could have kicked up more of a storm. “We seem to respond to climate change with pragmatism rather than panic,” says the exhibition’s blurb.
Surrounded by all this curious, ingenious and often quite beautiful artwork, I found myself hyperventilating. Even catastrophic events aren’t changing people’s attitudes towards climate change. A 2 °C rise in average global temperatures is inevitable, and the future is likely to be bleak. Awe and wonder are all very well. But don’t let anyone tell you that panic is an inappropriate response.
Weather or Not is on show at MU artspace, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, from now to 25 September 2016