- Thursday, November 9, 2023
- Sunday, April 14, 2024
- Lewis Gardens, Colchester, Essex
- East England
- Firstsite, Colchester, Essex.
Claire Cansick’s (b.1971) new exhibition, You and I Are Earth – her first in a public gallery – acts as a stark reminder of the increasingly damaging effects of climate change.
After a summer scarred by wildfires across Europe and North America, accompanied by record temperatures and floods in countries across the globe, Firstsite’s presentation of Cansick’s exhibition is especially poignant. Featuring over 40 artworks, it is the culmination of a project the Norfolk-based artist began in 2022, intending to chart climate change-related weather events.
“The objective was to record an entire year of (TV news and social media) reports, effectively freeze-framing the fleeting images we are fed through various media, allowing time for appropriate reflection of their serious nature and then collectively observing the entire picture of climate change over 12 months,” she explains.
With this in mind, Firstsite is showing the entire collection of paintings in chronological order, with patterns of weather moving sequentially across the artworks. In so doing, an emerging repetition and rhythm becomes apparent.
“In exhibiting all the work in this way, I feel there will be a power in the magnitude of climate change, which will resonate with the viewer,” Cansick says. “I hope that a clear realisation and urgency to act will emerge as people see the sheer spread of locations, with rich and poor countries being united in the issues.”
The first painting in the chronological display marks a pivotal moment in the artist’s career, as Cansick explains: “The project came about after a long artistic block, when I saw a report on TV of the aftermath of cyclone Idai. The footage was of a man wading through a flood, looking for clean water. The composition echoed a painting I’d made previously, so I took photos of the screen and painted it. I didn’t realise how this painting would change my work at the time, but it interested me to paint something moving and so immediate.”
Claire began to take iPhone photos of TV reports on various weather events and screenshots from videos on social media. These were all a mix of firsthand accounts from members of the public and journalists working for mainstream media channels.
As more climate emergencies unfolded, selecting what to paint from the thousands of images she was amassing relied on Cansick’s personal reactions and artistic instincts. Using her signature palette of four colours heightened the sense of patterns emerging through the artworks. This creates a feeling of unity through the series, demonstrating the connections that stretch across continents and tying them together into a literal interpretation of the bigger picture of the Climate Crisis.
Some paintings in You and I Are Earth show the same place or area experiencing multiple natural disasters. For example, scenes in Argentina show wetlands wreathed in smoke as figures battle a belt of fire; a subsequent image depicts the same location heavily flooded just a few weeks later. Paintings of wildfires in the USA feature, and Cansick has also captured last summer’s fires in mainland Europe, which spread as temperatures reached, what were then, new records.
This unflinching exhibition highlights an increase in tornados, spreading vegetation in the Arctic as it warms, and the war in Ukraine. It also explores other significant issues, such as drought, historic storms, snowfall and deforestation.
You and I Are Earth vividly reminds the viewer that climate change is not only occurring in distant lands. The artwork ‘Geldeston, Norfolk 08.01 Mike Page’ depicting vast swathes of flooded fields in the eastern region demonstrates that the UK, and specifically East Anglia, cannot evade the ravages of the climate emergency.
Revealing the meaning of the exhibition’s title, You and I are Earth, Claire says: “It comes from an inscribed plate dated 1661, found in a London sewer and now exhibited in the Wellcome Collection. It explains, in one perfectly formed phrase, our connectivity to nature, how it isn’t there to serve us, and that by ignoring its messages, we are effectively harming ourselves. The title succinctly conveys the overall meaning and purpose of my paintings and the aim of this project.”
Sally Shaw MBE, Director of Firstsite, comments: “You and I Are Earth continues our commitment to support emerging local artists. We are delighted to host Claire’s first solo show in a public institution and highlight the vital issue of the Climate Crisis through art.
“At Firstsite, we encourage everyone to think differently and challenge the status quo – and You and I Are Earth embodies this completely. Claire has turned the tradition of landscape painting on its head. Rather than celebrating the beauty of an environment, Claire’s artworks show the destruction of landscapes and the real human and ecological tragedy caused by climate change.
Sally adds, “By confronting us with over 40 artworks that document the devastation of nature across the world, the exhibition helps us to understand the enormous scale of this issue and the urgency needed to address the crisis. Notably, her focus for this project has included many worldwide environmental events that were not widely reported by the UK’s news media and ultimately passed many people by. She shows us how these tragic events are not isolated incidents in far-flung places but are interconnected and affect us all. Right here, right now.
“You and I Are Earth demonstrates the true value of art, highlighting a critical issue and prompting us to consider our own impact and the creative solutions we can build together to create a better future for ourselves and our planet.”