Banner image: Anne Deeming, 'Whether this changes anything, weather it changes everything.' Image credit: Julian Abrams. This installation is open to the public at London Wetlands Centre.

Kicking off a new Shape commissioning project for 2021, artist Anne Deeming spoke to Shapers Jeff Rowlings and Eli Hayes about her current installation, 'Whether this changes anything...,' currently on display as part of the Paradox: Unravelled programme at London Wetlands Centre. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter and following us on social media to keep up with the rest of our Sustainability Season!

Could you tell us a bit about your current work, 'Whether this changes anything, weather it changes everything?'

The work consists of floating objects that visually reference the local built environment and the site’s previous uses. Weather-reactive, they change colour and drift around their pond. They exist as very visible indicators of the changes in our weather and highlight how our perception of our levels of control over the natural world are inconsistent with reality.

In the exhibition, your sculptures change appearance throughout the seasons, reacting specifically to changes in weather temperature and duration of exposure. Tell us about the thought process which went into this. 

I wanted to make the effects of weather and exposure on man-made objects very visible in the work. Our built environment is subject to the same changes that occur in nature, but we often don’t notice it. Stone erodes, metal corrodes and life – flora and fauna – occupy our buildings and grow on those same structures. In “Whether this changes…,” it felt important to highlight these sometimes-gradual changes and make work that was specifically made to be affected by the climate and site.

Additionally, as I knew the work would be installed for several months, I hoped that also meant the work would appear differently on each visit, thereby creating interest beyond an initial viewing.

The works, over time, have become much more part of their pond environment as algae and weathering have taken effect, which is interesting to me and again, makes the natural cycles of attrition, decay, and regrowth obvious. 

I think all art should endeavour to work towards the profound in some way...

At the heart of ‘Whether this changes anything…’ is a juxtaposition between the man-made and the ‘natural.’ What do you think is so interesting - and, perhaps, important - about this relationship?  

That we are not in control. There are unintended consequences to all our human activities, no matter how well planned they maybe. The resources we use are finite, so ideas about what is acceptable in terms of how and what we make are changing. Our insatiable use of plastic is a case in point – a wonder product in the early 20th century that now is considered to be one of the worst of our climate crimes.

I find the fact that the Wetlands land itself has had many previous uses and historically the land and waterways around it were put to industrial use really interesting – especially as it is now a site of conservation and leisure. I’ve tried to reference those layers of history in the work by the forms I chose to make. The site has evolved into the nature reserve it is today, but it is a man-made natural environment. Even when we are “conserving nature” we do it without the full understanding of the complexity of our eco systems and certainly the long-term future of sites like the wetlands are more dependent on the extremes of sea level changes than any well-meaning but temporary human interventions. Hence the title of the work!

Photo of Anne

Image credit: Anne Deeming.

The work’s meaning is, to some degree, dependent on the interactions it has: with the environment but also with its audience. When making socially-engaged art, do you think that the format and structure can be as powerful and meaningful as the content itself?

I hope they can be. I think all art should endeavour to work towards the profound in some way, and perhaps the success or failure of a piece is whether or not it manages to achieve both a physical resonance and/or elicit a more meaningful response in the viewer. Context is important and personally I often feel sculptural works that have a specific relationship to site can draw upon the history, current uses, and the physical qualities of that space, potentially allowing room for a more layered and thoughtful installation or intervention that reaches an audience beyond the “gallery goers.” 

The exhibition speaks to our need to address our relationship with the environment, which we’d have to say is at crisis point in many ways. What do you think the role of the artist is at a time or moment like this?

Photograph of an outdoor art installation. Green trees surround a small body of water, in which sit three sculptures. Each sculpture is white and resembles industrial aesthetics: stairs, for example.

I have really struggled with this particular question, especially over the course of the pandemic when being an artist didn’t seem as “essential” as so many other workers in society. I felt a bit redundant and really needed a long time to reflect on my practice and my recent work at the Wetlands. It has made me assess how I will make work in the future and how I might expand on the themes of sustainability and reducing waste in my work without comprising the rhetorical power of the work I make. 

However, aside from my own practice, I do believe that Artists working in collaboration with other disciplines – science, engineering, architecture, conservation, media etc. – could help provide the solutions we need to mitigate the worst of climate crisis. I think that combining a multi-disciplinary approach would have the best chance of developing the new ideas and/or technologies necessary and I feel very strongly that Art should be included in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering ,and Math) subjects taught at school to reflect this need for creative and innovative thinking. We still have a lot to learn but the answers are out there. We need to be much more open to learning and listening to different voices.

Sometimes the message from politicians, environmentalists, or climate change scientists can seem to make people believe that they will have to give up too much or make too many sacrifices to save the planet (give up meat, don’t fly, etc. when all they want to do is go on holiday and eat a steak). So I think there has to be a reframing of our relationship to the natural world and climate crisis, and this messaging needs to be powerful enough to override the desire of an elite few to retain the status quo and the entrenched idea that we, as humans, are somehow separate from our environment and other animal life. If we could think of saving the planet as increasing and enriching our quality of life and developing and progressing us as a species, instead of “giving up stuff” I think that more people might want to make the changes we need to see. 

Maybe this is where artists can present a hopeful vision, an articulation of new thinking.

What might a sustainable future look like to you, as a person or an artist? 

It would start with a peaceful Revolution! There are enough of us to revolt.

Hopefully we would end up with a more inclusive and egalitarian society that values quality of life and the gaining of knowledge above creating profit for a the deranged one per cent of humanity that are hoarding all the wealth.

I’m a dreamer…but I’m not the only one. 

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Above image credit: Julian Abrams.

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