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An exhibition about the relationships between plants, animals and humans at a time of climate crisis
Uriel Orlow, Soil Affinities, 2018 Uriel Orlow / DACS.

MIDDLESBROUGH.- The summer exhibition and public programme at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and around the Tees Valley, addresses the biggest topic of our moment: climate change. The exhibition Fragile Earth: seeds, weeds, plastic crustruns from 29 June – 26 September 2019. It is part of an extensive public programme of talking, making and exploring the Tees Valley with communities, artists and specialists. The exhibition includes works from the 1970s to today by 19 artists from across the globe, with video, installation, drawing and sculpture.

MIMA is situated in the Tees Valley, UK, an area of massive industrial production in which regional emissions per person are almost three times the UK average. Among the most active fields of industry are: chemicals, logistics, digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering and there is growing expertise in renewable energy. A number of new commissions engage with the particularities of the Tees Valley. A series of artist talks, panel discussions and group site visits are also planned. As part of the programme, MIMA hosts the annual Tees Valley Nature Partnership Conference.

The planet is made up of complex and co-dependent systems and human activity has endangered, damaged and made extinct habitats, animals, plants and organisms. Oceans are swelling as polar ice melts; fresh water is decreasing; carbon-based energy sources are depleted and plastics are polluting our waterways. Ecological change is triggering political turmoil and contributing to natural disasters that impact people all over the world and lead to human upheaval and migration.

Faced with this disempowering scale of destruction, it can be hard to know how to take action. The exhibition and public programme show how artists help us to visualize, feel and understand the scale of the issue and the need for change. They show how communities and art projects can set the tone for change in industrial, commercial and governmental behaviours. Fragile Earth: seeds, weeds, plastic crustexplores intertwined issues of human extraction of materials and exploitation of resources; global networks of trade and production of waste. It highlights the agency of plants and animals and it tackles questions of responsibility for the future of our planet.

Details on Artworks and Commissions
A new publication accompanies the exhibition, with texts by award-winning author Helen Bynum that reflect on the botany of the Tees Valley and weave together social, economic, agricultural and medical histories. North East artist Laura Harrington is using the period of the exhibition to develop a new video work that traces the River Tees back to its source (co-commissioned with Tyneside Cinema).

A new commission by Faiza Ahmad Khan and Hanna Rullmann charts the changing life of the site in Calais, France, formerly known as ‘The Jungle’, which is now a designated nature reserve. The video uncovers the decision to protect a rare orchid over displaced humans as a way of questioning current political priorities. Delicate drawings of plant life on Northern Irish burial sites by Miriam de Brca work as quiet memorials or markers of those not permitted to enter consecrated ground.

London-based duo Cooking Sections continue their study of the impact of the much-maligned knotweed, highlighting our relationships with species that are thought of as alien or invasive. A five-channel video work by Zina Saro-Wiwa shows the complex cultural, political, industrial and agricultural landscape of the Niger Delta region which has been profoundly impacted by the oil industry. Uriel Orlow’s installation Soil Affinities(2018) looks at the colonial relations that can be uncovered in tracing ownership of seeds and management of agriculture across continents.

Allan Sekula and Nol Burch’s documentary, The Forgotten Space (2010), maps experiences and impacts of the global supply chain, following its routes and interviewing an array of people. Hartlepool-based artist Diane Watson has designed a new wallpaper for the exhibition with a pattern made from the plastic objects most frequently found on her beach trawls of the Tees Valley coast. As part of her awareness raising campaign, MIMA has commissioned her to work with families to develop a spotters’ sheet for the most common discarded plastic items in Middlesbrough. Elements of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ influential work Touch Sanitation(1979) show the routes she took during the monumental performative action in which she shook the hand and personally thanked all 8,500 sanitation workers in New York City, USA.

MIMA’s work with constituents and publics at the museum and offsite focus 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 will move from MIMA to the residential area North Ormesby, Teesside University’s campus and National Trust site Ormesby Hall. The ‘Barrow’ 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.

Exhibiting artists: Maria Thereza Alves, Zheng Bo, Allan Sekula and Nol Burch, Miriam de Brca, Laura Harrington, Andy Holden, David Lisser, Shahar Livne, Anne Vibeke Mou, Otobong Nkanga, Uriel Orlow, Faiza Ahmad Khan and Hanna Rullmann, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Cooking Sections, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Diane Watson, Wayward.

Senior Curator at MIMA, Elinor Morgan, comments: “Climate crisis is the topic that children and young people want to discuss. As a leading cultural and academic institution, we need to make space for debate and action. This is a generative exhibition; we are using it as the start of ongoing conversations, partnerships and commissions that are embedded in the region and connected to global conversations.”

Laura Sillars Director states: “Our environment and its future represent the single biggest issue of our time. Contributing to this conversation is a key concern for MIMA”

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