Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto
Guest Curator: Bénédicte Ramade
An interview by Jacques Doyon
On September 14, 2016, the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto inaugurated an exhibition titled The Edge of the Earth – Climate Change in Photography and Video, featuring works by more than twenty contemporary artists from Canada and abroad, as well as press photographs from the celebrated Black Star collection. Curated by Bénédicte Ramade, a specialist in environmental art living in Montreal, The Edge of the Earth focuses on contributions by various artists and journalists to the recognition and consideration of issues linked to climate change, with a particular emphasis on the challenges posed by recognition of the central role played by humans in the disruption of their environment in what is now known as the Anthropocene Era.
JD: You wrote a doctoral dissertation and have produced several exhibition projects related to environmental questions. What path or circumstances brought you to this most recent project? What is its origin?
BR: My doctorate was devoted to the inception of American ecological art in the 1960s and its development over three decades. This little-known movement has been overshadowed by Land Art, with which it is often erroneously compared. I undertook to write a critical history of this art movement in conjunction with that of American environmentalism in order to show the relevance of these practices, even if they had their problems.
In parallel with this work as a historian, I began to be interested in contemporary ecological practices (both artistic and curatorial) and to question their performance on the ecological and political levels. This led me to organize Acclimatation, with the Centre d’art de la Villa Arson in Nice in 2008; it was my first exhibition on the issues of artificial nature – or, as I call it, humanature. All of the spaces were devoted to an intuitive, and implicit, very versatile narrative built through works by about thirty artists, some of them clearly engaged in ecological issues and others without a position. The ethical stance of this exhibition was to not try to be a science museum or be dogmatic, so that the public had the freedom to apprehend things of nature. The fundamental mechanism of my exhibitions is the deconstruction of the public’s presumptions – the expectations generated by certain keywords, such as “nature” and “ecology.” Therefore, my second exhibition, Rehab, at the Fondation EDF in Paris in 2010, worked with the notion of recycling in the same way. As soon as the word “recycling” is uttered, everyone has a preconceived idea about it. I wanted to pick apart this mechanism and ask people to consider the fact that recycling is not always so very virtuous on the ecological level. We continue to be huge consumers of bottled water because the thought that the bottles will be recycled is reassuring. But recycling uses a lot of energy and requires a lot of water. An artwork by Tue Greenfort, 1 kilo PET, explained it perfectly.
The Edge of the Earth in Toronto works on a similar principle. Climate change, whether you believe in it or not, almost involuntarily evokes images and ideas among visitors. People think they know what might be exhibited in a show devoted to climate change. They have information; they expect certain standard presentations (images of catastrophe, “National Geographic” moments showing the resiliency of nature). But at the dawn of the Anthropocene Era, the geological period in which humans have become a considerable disruptive force at the telluric scale, it seemed to me that we should change visual paradigms…
[See the printed or digital version of the magazine for the complete article and more images.]
Purchase this article