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Melanie Oliver: This Time of Useful Consciousness

Author: Melanie Oliver, Senior Curator

This Time of Useful Consciousness was inspired by the increasing concern and media attention around climate change. It seems that part of the problem for addressing climate change is the difficulty of both communicating the urgency of the situation and imagining a different kind of future, and this is where I think art can play a key role.

The exhibition features artists from Aotearoa New Zealand who are concerned with political ecology (the relationships between political, economic and social factors with environmental issues) and the urgent need for climate change action. They address a broad range of concerns—from land use to cloud computing, global supply chains to indigenous responses to coastal erosion—offering local perspectives on complex global problems. Essentially these artists are interested in our capitalist and ecological limits, encouraging discussion and prompting consideration of potential alternatives.

Angela Tiatia, Holding On (video still), 2015. Courtesy of Alcaston Gallery, Narrm Melbourne

Angela Tiatia, Holding On (video still), 2015. Courtesy of Alcaston Gallery, Narrm Melbourne

The metaphor ‘time of useful consciousness’ is taken from an aeronautical term that describes those few moments between being deprived of oxygen and passing out, a period in which the full extent of the danger is known, but it is still possible to act. Initially used as an analogy for climate change by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and adopted by Amy Howden-Chapman and New Zealand climate expert Dr Ralph Chapman, this time is now. We have until 2047 to take steps globally and locally to avoid catastrophic sea level rise, extreme weather and irreversible changes to our environment. Hopefully this exhibition makes people more aware, and inspires them to consider what they can do—simple things like writing to your MP to say you want to see policy on climate change can make a big difference!

Vea Mafile'o, Over the Line (still), 2016. Courtsey of the artist

Vea Mafile'o, Over the Line (still), 2016. Courtsey of the artist

Matthew Galloway interrogates our use of imported fertiliser for farming; Matavai Taulangau observes the labour conditions associated with pine forest plantations; Bridget Reweti raises questions around perceptions of our natural landscape; and the Kei Uta collective offer some solutions for adapting to imminent coastal erosion. The Distance Plan and Richard Frater explore the language associated with ecological issues and the ways in which corporate interests appropriate ‘green’ action. Amy Howden-Chapman has interviewed experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research to help simplify the complicated science involved, and Tim Wagg shows that technology will not save us. Sea level rise is already having a big impact in the Pacific, and the works by Angela Tiatia and Vea Mafile’o reveal how the effects of climate change are already seen in Tuvalu and Tonga.

Matavai Taulangau, Forestry-Pruning (video still), 2016. Courtesy of the artist

Matavai Taulangau, Forestry-Pruning (video still), 2016. Courtesy of the artist

Climate change can seem overwhelming, and I didn’t want the exhibition to be negative or gloomy, but to provide a space for learning more about various aspects and to acknowledge climate change as the most pressing issue for our times.

Richard Frater, Stop Shell (oyster version), 2017, Install Image, Courtesy of the artist.

Richard Frater, Stop Shell (oyster version), 2017, Install Image, Courtesy of the artist.

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