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May 27, 2006 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Earth From Above Exhibition.

It is generally not good practice to begin a receptive piece of writing with a negative statement, however I’m going to take a chance. You’d be mad not to visit Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s exhibition Earth From Above, no excuse would suffice for the greatness you’d miss.

In what has been described by the UK’s ‘Daily Mail’ as “The most amazing pictures you’ll ever see”, Arthus-Bertrand, a France based photographer with a travel record to be wildly envious of, provides us with a breath-taking aerial portrait of our planet. Motivated by the desire to protect and preserve our environment, Arthus-Bertrand has taken it upon himself to concurrently raise awareness of the issues our planet faces and create works of art that capture our imagination – thus distinguishing himself from conventional methods of campaigning for concern about the environment.

Located in the newly established Waitangi Park, Earth From Above is an open-air exhibition featuring 120 poster sized photograph boards trailing around the perimeter of the park. The exhibition is free (one Arts Festival event you can afford) and conveniently always ‘open’. At night each of the boards lights up, meaning you can choose the atmosphere in which you view the work. Daytime provides easier viewing but also masses of people, squealing children, noise and no space to really enjoy the work. Nighttime viewings are more relaxing (as is early morning), you are able to stand back and really look at the works – often becoming enveloped by the image – impossible during the day due to its popularity.

The exhibition is quite interactive and has been organized in great detail to provide as much information as possible – there is never any mystery left as to the artist’s intentions. I heard one father ask his son, “Would you like to go and walk on the world?” I soon discovered a large platform with a ‘walk-on’ map at the beginning of the trail, where you can explore where the pictures were taken and so place it in its geographic context. Alongside this is a 15-minute documentary shot with the artist speaking and subtitles provided, giving us an insight into the process of selection and photography. The exhibition’s temporary ‘Bookshop and Sustainable Development Centre’ provides awareness and information about threats to the environment and ways to help, and also sells various types of exhibition paraphernalia. From the artwork to the supporting installments, Arthus-Bertrand’s mission of raising environmental awareness is integrated in an attractive, harmonious and non-confrontational manner.

All of the photo boards feature text underneath: the title Arthus-Bertrand has given the work, the co-ordinates and the name of the place the photo was taken. There is also an accompanying text panel that explains why the artist chose to photograph this location, the natural phenomenon captured and interesting facts about the history, culture or environment of the photographed location. Many of the photo boards also feature facts regarding the environment or environmental issues. Without this exhibition I would never have learnt that it takes 1.8 tonnes of material to manufacture a personal computer. These facts serve to inform viewers, as well as forcing us to think of the issues and often also the role we play in consuming materials that may impact on the environment.

The themes of photographic subject Arthus-Bertrand explores within his environmental concern are varied, and do enhance the exhibition. His work includes photos that celebrate natural beauty, for example the image of the ‘Heart in Voh’ photographed in New Caledonia that will probably be familiar as the main advertising image of the exhibition. Both disasters caused by natural phenomenon, and as well as those caused through human means are shown, the latter obvious in the picture depicting the deserted city of Pripiat in the Ukraine, abandoned following the nuclear explosion in 1986, which resulted in a radioactive cloud causing several million people to suffer illnesses such as leukemia. People is another theme explored within this work. Sometimes they feature in order to emphasize the scale of the landscape and sometimes as the feature, such as the shot of the ‘Love Parade’ in Tiergarten Park in Germany which attracts over a million people annually.

It may seem an obvious thing to point out, but the photography itself is actually brilliant too (you’d be surprised how much marginal photography passes as art due to its subject matter). Arthus-Bertrand likes to play around visually and many of his works use their subject matter to showcase patterning or texture. Both the Moroccan ‘Patchwork of Carpets’ and the Grecian ‘Peasant working in his field’ combine their textural and colourful elements to become visually stunning.

I would strongly, strongly recommend that everyone visits this exhibition. I’ve yet to hear a negative report of it, and the variety of works on display mean that each individual finds an image with which they can connect, something they are drawn to inescapably. At the risk of sounding clichéd I truly feel the power of this exhibition is compelling and that Arthus-Bertrand manages to achieve his objective. It is impossible to be unaffected by his work – if simply to wonder at the magnitude of our planet. Earth From Above is awe-inspiring and totally unforgettable.

Earth From Above Exhibition.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Waitangi Park
Free, Runs until April 9.

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