Everybody Talks About the Weather: the 'most democratic topic of conversation', yet not yet prominent in mainstream art, is the leitmotif for talking about the environment and climate change. The exhibition is conceived by Dieter Roelstraete and hosted until 26 November 2023 at Ca' Corner della Regina, the Venetian headquarters of the Fondazione Prada.
An agreement between the Fondazione Prada and Ca' Foscari’s THE NEW INSTITUTE Centre for Environmental Humanities (NICHE) directed by Francesca Tarocco, allowed a team of lecturers, researchers and students to actively collaborate in the scientific research that is at the core of the exhibition. The scientific coordination was supervised by Cristina Baldacci, lecturer in History of Contemporary Art at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage and coordinator of NICHE's Ecological Art Practices research cluster, and by Enrica De Cian, lecturer in Environmental Economics at the Department of Economics, member of NICHE's scientific board, researcher at the CMCC Foundation and coordinator of the PhD in Science and Management of Climate Change.
"It all started when the Fondazione Prada contacted Professor De Cian and me asking us to collaborate on the scientific programme of the exhibition," says Cristina Baldacci. "Curator Dieter Roelstraete had been intrigued by Venice and the Anthropocene: An Ecocritical Guide, published by wetlands in 2022, which I edited together with Shaul Bassi, Lucio De Capitani and Pietro Daniel Omodeo. A collective publishing project on Venice as a privileged observatory of climate change, stemming from Anthropocene Campus Venice, a conference organised by our university in 2021. Roelstraete was already working on the idea of an exhibition that would address the issue of the environmental crisis from the perspective of artistic practice. In NICHE he and Fondazione Prada found an ideal interlocutor, conscious as they were of the importance of a deeper reflection, one that would involve several voices and branches of knowledge.
NICHE gave a polyhedric contribution to the exhibition, bringing together the centre's interdisciplinary expertise and focus on water with research and debate on the climate crisis.
Following an open call, Soraya Melinato, Master's student in Science and Management of Climate Change, and Lorenzo Campus, PhD student in Scienza e Gestione dei Cambiamenti Climatici, were selected to participate in the project with the Fondazione Prada. They contributed to an updated bibliography on the climate crisis that captures a wide array of scientific perspectives.
The texts are an integral part of the exhibition and make up real 'research stations', where visitors can stop and browse through the books: a library and archive for which researchers have plucked from an extensive bibliography a selection of scientific articles, archival documents and videos from various international climate institutions. All documents are arranged in archive folders, accessible to visitors.
The selected bibliography brings together a large number of Italian and international works, offering a precious overview on topics such as meteorology, climatology, climate change, the Anthropocene, climate model, ad hoc literature and films, pollution, climate vulnerability, palaeoclimatology, biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation.
"If I had to walk visitors through the exhibition, I think I would start by showing them Hockey Stick, an infographic by Michael Mann," says Lorenzo Campus. "It is a graph that shows the temperature trend over the last 2000 years, with the temperature rising over the last few decades due to anthropogenic causes. It is known as “hockey stick” because of the shape that the data takes when arranged in the graph."
The scientific panels
"The exhibition is based on scientific notions," Dieter Roelstraete told Radio Ca' Foscari: the scientific insights punctuate the viewing of the works and are inserted into the didactic apparatus as a visual tool.
Panels resembling articles from scientific journals are placed next to the works and contain artistic insights, each relating to a climate change theme. Each theme is accompanied by infographics and scientific sidenotes, which enrich the visitor’s experience by adding broader reflections to the artistic enjoyment. The notes at the foot of each 'article' are the actual captions of the works.
Melinato and Campus contributed to the creation of these panels by identifying for each theme a significant scientific contribution with effective infographics to illustrate the relevant data.
“The scientific data in the panels is channelled by the power of the work”, Soraya Melinato says. “In the Cloud room, for example, the panel is about the layers of the atmosphere, so the link between the scientific and artistic aspects is rather straightforward. Alternating aesthetic visionand scientific investigation is key to the exhibition’s approach”.
The feeling of a constant dialogue between art and research, of a continuous semantic transition, attracts visitors and wants to make them think, to be aware of the urgency of doing something now.
“Everyone Talks About Water, in Venice”
The exhibition catalogue is designed as a chorus of voices. Each expert involved was asked to create a 'weather report' on specific issues, offering their scientific contribution on a particular theme. Cristina Baldacci wrote Everybody talks about water, in Venice, a report in which she tackles the city's unbreakable bond with water:
"The relationship between Venice and water is historically, first and foremost, a relationship of man's power over nature[...]”, says Baldacci. “Since its birth, Venice has extensively transformed the lagoon to make it habitable. It sought to maintain a balance between the natural and the artificial and had to acquire a set of scientific and vernacular skills for survival on water. This has turned Venice into a unique model of sustainability, and a particularly relevant one today if we want to understand, locally and globally, how to address problems and risks caused by rising sea levels as a result of climate change [...]."
Autumn Public Programme
Another important aspect of the collaboration between NICHE and Fondazione Prada is the public programme jointly organised around Everybody Talks About the Weather. On 15 May Dieter Roelstraete delivered a lecture around the themes of the exhibition at Ca' Bottacin: this was the first in a rich series of events and activities which will take place in October in collaboration with scientists, experts, and international artists. Some of the events will also actively involve Ca' Foscari students.
The autumn project is meant to tap into the exhibition at the Fondazione Prada, where the close dialogue between art and science proves particularly effective. Carlo Barbante, Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics and Director of the CNR Institute of Polar Sciences (ISP), has also been involved in this dialogue: an interview with him as an expert on climatology is part of The Flood, a video by artist Theaster Gates that was expressly made for the exhibition.
THE NEW INSTITUTE Centre for Environmental Humanities (NICHE) is a research centre that promotes research and public outreach activities related to the environmental humanities and has a focus on water. The Centre supports and develops artistic and academic collaborations with local and international partners through workshops, meetings and exhibitions. NICHE promotes dialogue between the humanities, communities and natural sciences, to create a positive impact on the city and the world.
The environmental, sociocultural and economic impact of climate change is a leading theme for Ca' Foscari. Over the years, our university has developed solid scientific expertise in the field of the Environmental Humanities. It has set up the first Master's degree course in Italy expressly dedicated to the Environmental Humanities, and offers various pre- and post-graduate study and research courses in this field. It also hosts the CMCC@Ca'Foscari, born out of a partnership with the CMCC Foundation: it is the largest academic research centre on climate change in Italy.
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