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Exhibition brings together work by a group of artists who have travelled to and spent time in the Galápagos
Semiconductor Worlds in the Making, 2011. Installation view at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). Photo: Brian Slater.

EDINBURGH, IL.- This exhibition brings together work by a group of artists who have travelled to and spent time in the Galápagos archipelago through a residency programme initiated in 2007. Each artist was invited on the basis of their profound engagement with the opportunity, and each found the experience transformative for their artistic practice and their life.

The Gulbenkian Galápagos Residency Programme gave the artists a unique opportunity to engage with the islands on their own terms, whether observing the strange wildlife, spending time with scientists carrying out research, travelling with tourists or meeting members of the local population who have chosen to live there. They found plenty of material to inspire new work, providing insights into the complexity of the social and environmental challenges that impinge on this fragile ecosystem.

A World Heritage Site of iconic importance, Galápagos is a place of extraordinary biodiversity, home to species found nowhere else on earth. It is synonymous with the discoveries of Charles Darwin, whose visit to the islands in 1835 led to his theory of natural selection. But this living laboratory is also a place of competing interests: those of the rare animals and plants, the scientists who are trying to study and protect them, the settlers from sovereign Ecuador seeking a way to support themselves, and tourists who travel across the world to encounter the wildlife.

Between 2007 and 2011, artists Jyll Bradley, Paulo Catrica, Filipa César, Marcus Coates, Dorothy Cross (with actor Fiona Shaw), Alexis Deacon, Jeremy Deller, Tania Kovats, Kaffe Matthews, Semiconductor and Alison Turnbull spent time on Galápagos – diving with sharks or studying butterflies, working with botanists to develop gardens with local people, or canvassing, from a bird’s point of view, people’s opinion on ‘human colonisation’ for Galápagos TV.

Tasked with inviting a number of artists best suited to examining and reflecting Galápagos, co-curator Greg Hilty said: The residency project was always about dialogue and exchange: the place providing artists with an inexhaustible supply of content and ideas, the artists giving back their imaginative engagement. The results convey fresh meanings about Galapagos, and more broadly exemplify the role of human culture within nature’s system.

Galápagos shows the resulting art works together for the first time, encompassing a range of different media: film-making, video, installation, painting, sculpture, photography, animation, illustration and sound. Works include: Marcus Coates’s acclaimed video Human Report, which takes the format of a nature documentary but sees Coates turn the tables by dressing as a blue-footed booby, Galápagos’s most recognised bird, to go about observing human behaviour. Kaffe Matthews’s three-dimensional sound piece inspired by the route taken by hammerhead sharks as they trace the magnetic map of the earth. Jeremy Deller’s film of the customary cock-fighting event, a social gathering that has since been banned, Alexis Deacon’s drawings of wild creatures he encountered during his visit, which he has developed into a graphic novel for children.

Ian Dunn, Chief Executive of the Galapagos Conservation Trust said: The Galapagos Conservation Trust is delighted to have been able to sponsor and facilitate the delivery of the Gulbenkian Galápagos Artists Residency Programme. The educational and cultural impact of the Programme has been truly excellent and is helping in the development of a broad based approach to meeting the conservation needs of Galápagos.

Andrew Barnett, Director of the UK Branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation said: Strange wildlife in stark landscapes, apparently devoid of people, are the familiar images of Galápagos. But increasing numbers of people also inhabit these islands, and tourists visit. People are both the problem and the potential solution for the Galápagos, as of course they are everywhere. Artists can bring this reality into relief, offering fresh points of view and opening up the possibilities for a change of attitude towards the Islands, a change that we can bring closer to home: encouraging greater respect for each other and for the places in which we live, a greater awareness of the vulnerability of individuals, and ultimately of our planet.

The Gulbenkian Galápagos Artists' Residency Programme and Galápagos exhibition were organised by the Galapagos Conservation Trust in partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Additional support has come from the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Natural History Museum.

The exhibition is one view at the Fruitmarket Gallery through 13 January, 2013.

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