Enter London’s Old Sorting Office (a gigantic space that has previously hosted events like DesignJunction) anytime over the next three weeks, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the sounds of wild animals as well as an exciting, carefully curated selection of contemporary art. The exhibition, “Here Today,” is named after the saying “Here today, gone tomorrow” that reminds us of the fleeting nature of everything. The exhibition is being held to mark 50 years of the IUCN Red List, which was started to keep track of plant, fungi and animal species at risk of extinction. The Red List tracks over 74,000 species, giving an invaluable overview of how mankind is affecting the environment and those who share it with us—more than 20,000 of the species assessed are threatened with extinction.
At “Here Today” visitors are confronted with our crimes against nature through artworks made by over 50 artists, spanning from Andy Warhol to recent RCA graduates via Carsten Höller and Tracey Emin. The exhibition begins with Warhol’s 1983 commission of endangered species for Ronald and Frayda Feldman, a selection of screen prints of animals that were at risk then. Upliftingly enough, two of them—the bighorn ram and bald eagle—have actually increased in numbers since, thanks to conservation efforts. “For us it was a wonderful introduction to the exhibition.
“Thirty years ago, Andy Warhol was asking the same questions and using his status and his art to communicate what was happening with the endangered species,” says Laura Culpan of Artwise, which curated the show.
In the next room hangs British artist Gavin Turk’s wallpaper “Pandy Warhol,” which was specially commissioned for “Here Today.” Culpan explains, “It’s a direct homage to the Andy Warhol piece, and to have it at the start of the exhibition is almost like passing the baton over to the next generation. At the end we’re passing it on again, to the recent graduates.”
“Here Today” is divided into eight sections, each focusing on different challenges to the environment. One of the most striking is “Human Footprint,” which touches on subjects like mass consumerism and waste, and how they affect the planet. Among the pieces are Chris Jordan’s touching, heartbreaking film “Midway,” which shows baby albatrosses dead from eating plastic waste. Khalil Chishtee’s floating, dreamy human figures made from trash bags seem to offer a counterpoint to the film, a way of reclaiming plastic waste and taking responsibility for what it’s doing to the environment. The piece “One after the other” was also commissioned for the exhibition.
Other remarkable works include Douglas Gordon’s “Play Dead; Real Time,” of the elephant Minnie performing tricks in an empty Gagosian Gallery, and RCA graduate Stephanie Quayle’s statesman-like orangutans in “Congress.” The exhibition ends on a hopeful note, with information about how the work to preserve endangered species is going forward, but most of all it serves as a powerful reminder of the beauty of nature and animals, and of the inspiration they give.
“Here Today” is on display at the Old Sorting Office (49 Station Rd, London) through 17 December, 2014. Entry is free. On Saturdays, it will also host free workshops for kids aged three to 12 from 11-3PM.
Warhol image by Cajsa Lykke Carlson, all others courtesy of Old Sorting Office and respective artists