Green House Britain and the Force Majeure
There is a gentle beauty in their work, and much charisma in the otherworldly maps and text panels that are poetic and personal rather than dryly official. The exhibition is, of course, a call to action, but it is foremost a lyrical meditation on what ecological disaster and collective recovery might one day look like.
— Elizabeth Mahoney, The Guardian, 2008
The Kala Art Institute is extremely honored to welcome Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison to the Kala Gallery with a major exhibition of their work entitled Green House Britain and the Force Majeure. For nearly forty years, the collaborative team of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison has been internationally respected as visionary pioneers of the eco-art movement. Often referred to simply as “The Harrisons,” the pair has worked closely with biologists, ecologists, architects and urban planners to explore ideas and solutions that support both bio diversity and community development.
The Harrison’s expansive practice embraces a range of disciplines that often casts them in the roles of historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators, emissaries and art activists. Presented in an art-viewing context, The Harrisons’ works features extensive mapping, text panels, models, digital animations and audio-visual presentations. Far from dryly didactic, their impassioned works serve as both a meditation on global ecology and also as a futuristic vision for environmental change and recovery. Global warming has been a central concern in their work since 1974, placing the team years ahead of the curve regarding environmental issues. Their boldly visionary projects have often led to changes in governmental policy and have expanded dialogue around previously unexplored issues leading to practical implementations throughout the United States and Europe.
Green House Britain and the Force Majeure,The Harrisons’ presentation at the Kala Gallery, is a multi-media work comprised of interrelated pieces that addresses global warming from an artist’s perspective. Included in the exhibition:
• On the Island of Britain: The Rising of Waters This is a model of the Island of Britain, resting on the floor, measuring 7 1⁄2 x 13 feet. Six overhead projectors show the rising waters, storm surges, and the redrawn coastline, with a 10-minute soundtrack of three voices.
• On the Upward Movement of People: A New Pennine Village Made in collaboration with the Land Planning Group at Sheffield University, the design proposes a 9,000-person village where the land around it is ecosystemically redesigned to absorb the local carbon footprint of the village through the use of forest and meadow.
• In Defense of the city of Bristol
A three-minute video that proposes a defense and salvation for the city of Bristol through unusual use of the Avon River and the Avon Gorge.
• The Lea Valley: On the Upward Movement of Planning
In collaboration with APG Architects, the work takes issue with the existing development of the Thames estuary, which the model shows is covered by water, and proposes redesigning the l,000-square mile Lea Valley watershed, while at the same time suggesting how approximately one million people might be housed in ecologically provident high-rise structures with solar power, stilts, and hanging gardens, while enhancing the water supplies of London.
• On Eco-civility: The Vertical Promenade The architects ATOPIA, Jane Harrison and David Turnbull, evolved the Harrison Studio concept of civility for Green House Britain that might be embedded in a vertical village by inventing highly original, multi-layered, multi-dimensional vertical structures, modeled on living systems. The model is both buildable and repeatable, expressing with structure a shared critique of the present-day large-scaled building practices which by their nature are alienating.
Other works from 1974 to 2009 provide a history of the Harrisons’ engagement with the topic of global warming.
• San Diego is the Center of the World, 1974. Documentation of a work in the Powers Gallery of Contemporary Art Collection in Australia that includes images from a book published in 1977 by The New Wilderness Press. The first of the Harrisons’ global warming works plays with the then current arguments about global warming and cooling.
• The Garden of Hot Winds and Warm Rains, 1994-95. A 24 foot x 36 inch drawing commissioned by the Künst und Austellungshalle, Bonn, Germany where two small ecosystems are designed, based on a predicted temperature rise of three Centigrade in middle Europe.
• The Mountain in the Greenhouse, 1999. A four-minute video that relates to the upward movement of species as the glaciers melt and the high ground warms, and extinctions are imminent.
• Peninsula Europe: The Force Majeur, 2007-08. 80 x 92 inches. Two large images that distill the problem that Peninsula Europe faces as the drought covers a third of the Peninsula and glaciers melt: a counter-proposal.
• The 10th Meditation on the Sacramento River, the Delta and the Bays at San Francisco, 2009. A drawing, text, and map, 80 x 42 inches, that expresses a three-meter water rise that changes the shape of the bays at San Francisco, reaching far inland to the city of Sacramento, suggesting that the change of climate calls for a new form of governance.
• Tibet is the High Ground, Part II: The Force Majeur, 2009. A 7 x 7 foot azimuthally-equidistant projection map of the Tibetan plateau with color and text shows that the seven rivers flowing from the plateau and nourishing 1.2 billion people in ten countries are endangered by the rapid melting of glaciers in the plateau.
Greenhouse Britain has been produced as an artist-led project by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison and principles of the Harrison Studio and Associates (Britain), which includes David Haley, Gabriel Harrison and Chris Fremantle, designed by Westergaard & Harrison. The work was done in collaboration with the Tyndall Climate Center, Great Britain and funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It was exhibited at the Rotunda at London City Hall and toured across England in 2007-08.
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, who have collaborated since 1971, are Professors Emeritus at the University of California San Diego and have exhibited at the Feldman Gallery since 1974. Their work will be included in Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009 at the Barbican Art Gallery in London in 2009.