Inside the Barbican’s Our Time on Earth exhibition
What will the future of Earth look like and how will art, design and science influence this vision? These are the questions that underlie the Barbican’s latest exhibition Our Time on Earth.
The exhibition – a collaboration between guest curators Kate Franklin and Caroline Till and Luke Kemp of the Barbican – showcases responses to the climate crisis from the perspective of design, art, science and technology.
Universal Design Studio (UDS) designed the 3D elements of the show, while Hato worked on the graphics.
“There is more scientific evidence than ever demonstrating the scale of the climate emergency,” explain Franklin and Till (who make up the FranklinTill research studio). “Science is essential – there is no doubt about it – but art, design and culture have the power to move us [into taking action].”
The show is told in three chapters, under the titles of belonging, imagining and engaging. Throughout these interconnected sections, visitors can immerse themselves in a video installation on the life of trees, in a piece by the indigenous-run Brazilian collective Selvagem, on our connection to the living environment.
Space10 also launched an interactive installation called The Ideal City 2040 at the expo, which visualizes how cities can embrace solutions to the climate crisis and improve people’s daily lives (you can watch a visual in the video below) .
“Radical visions for a sustainable future”
The ambition behind the scenography of the exhibition was to embrace as faithfully as possible the theme of the exhibition. “Our main focus was how to best present the narrative that FranklinTill and Luke Kemp were curating: radical visions for a sustainable future,” says Lisl du Toit, senior interior designer at UDS.
Du Toit and his team spent a lot of time determining the biggest design impact they could have, deciding that ultimately they should show “visitors the beauty and richness of sustainable design.” “We wanted to introduce visitors to a different design future – a positive and achievable future – and offer a radical alternative to sustainable exhibition design,” she adds.
Not surprisingly, materials played an important role in this process. A series of modular plywood structures (which can hold screens on both sides) and material dividers form the backbone of the exhibit. A sweep of hemp and felted wool curtains is used to further structure the sections.
These frames are combined with a variety of materials, which aim to reflect the themes of the section. The corrugated iron panels are made on a farm in Cambridgeshire, formed from hemp fibers and bound in a sugar-based resin made from agricultural waste. It’s a good alternative to corrugated iron, points out du Toit. Other materials include a leather-like material from Latvian designer Sarmite Polakova, derived from the inner bark of pine trees and a by-product of the logging industry. The panels were formed from recycled paper pulp from Barcelona-based materials start-up Honext.
The design team made sure to vary the layouts and material applications to keep things “vibrant and interesting,” du Toit says. Much of the exhibit is digital, and the design team’s emphasis on natural materials and organic forms is intended to provide an attractive contrast. “We liked the idea of juxtaposing natural materials with digital, because an important part of the exhibit is to remind people that we are from the Earth and have an intrinsic connection to the natural world,” adds the designate.
Our Time on Earth is a traveling exhibit — heading to Quebec City, Canada — so the design team had to think carefully about mobility, du Toit explains. This involved removing non-essential elements and keeping weight and mobility at the forefront when choosing materials.
The use of materials, ease of movement and adaptability have been on the minds of exhibit designers for some time, but it was equally important to show that eco-friendly exhibits can also be beautiful. . “It can be rich, warm, intuitive and poetic,” she adds, pointing to the organic shapes, use of raw materials and “natural vibe” that contrast with more traditional exhibit staples like the white baseboards and half-timbered walls.
The designer adds: “These are beautiful, optimistic materials that are versatile and, above all, they are already available to us.”
Our Time on Earth is now open at the Barbican and will run until August 29. Tickets start at £18. More information on prices and opening hours can be found on the Barbican’s website.