It seems fitting that I visit this exhibition during a winter vac that began with eyes on the Copenhagen climate change conference and a vac that has seen the longest cold spell in Britain in thirty years. Increasingly, we are fascinated and frustrated by the world around us.

For most of us, climate change is a reality and a defining issue of our time. ‘Earth: Art of a changing world’ brings together contemporary art that reflects on, explores, and engages with our evolving relationship with the nature. Works by established names Cornelia Parker, Anthony Gormley and Tracy Emin are interspersed with specially commissioned work by lesser-known emerging talent. Artists have actively sought out nuances in the climate change debate, as well as allowed it to pervade their working practices.

“It’s a thought-provoking exhibition, seductive and frightening. Fragile and powerful.”

 The exhibition is divided into sections. It begins with an introduction to the key elements of the natural world and the fragile equilibrium we find it in. The exhibition then goes on to question man’s perceived control over his and the planet’s existence. The third section presents work where artists have assumed the role of an explorer, developing the artistic interventions in monitoring and portraying our human, cultural and natural evolution. The penultimate section considers the damage we have inflicted and continue to inflict on the environment, foretelling worrying consequences of this continuing path of destruction. Finally, the exhibition ends with pieces that tell of a stark awareness of a challenging future that we continue to redefine and alter.

A whole range of work in different media is on display. Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey have planted young oak tree saplings on the portico of 6 Burlington Gardens, whilst Clare Twomey has created beautifully delicate unfired clay flowers, some of which are placed in a ‘protective’ cabinets, others of which are casually strewn on the floor, exposed to the damaging effects of visitors’ curiosity. A special mention should go to Antti Laitinen. It is amusing, annoying and intriguing to watch mini-films of the Finnish artist struggling yet persevering in building a homemade island in the middle of the cold Baltic Sea. The photographs of the newly constructed land mass alludes to our dream-like conceptions of paradise and are visually stunning.

 “The theme is overplayed, but should not deter you from visiting”

The exhibition is thought-provoking. It seduces as well as frightens. Fragility is presented alongside power. It navigates the discord as well as the beauty in the natural world that we may often take for granted. For those of you sceptical of the value of contemporary and modern art, let this exhibition connect ‘issue’ with ‘art’ and show strongly the relevance of the artist in the climate change debate. Equally, the exhibition’s overplayed theme should not deter you from visiting. The work presented is not an irritating pastiche of activist content and press cuttings. The pieces, though very relevant to our time, are refreshing, inventive portrayals and testaments of a changing world.

four stars

Earth is at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, 6 Burlington Gardens until 31 January. Admission is £7/5.

Photo: Anthony Gormley, Amazonian field (1992), courtesy of the artist and White Cube, London.