To coincide with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be convened in Paris in November 2015, the EDF Foundation has funded and curated an exhibition called Artificial Climates, which opened on 4th October, attracting more than 1,500 visitors on its first day. Pepperstein contributed six works to the exhibition alongside other renowned contemporary artists, including Marina Abramović, Hicham Berrada, Spencer Finch, Laurent Grasso, Hans Haacke, Ange Leccia, and Yoko Ono.
A passion for the environment, and a longing to draw attention to man’s impact on the planet, have long been driving forces behind Pavel Pepperstein’s work. In 2001 he produced a series of drawings (presented at this exhibition) entitled ‘Bikini 47’, highlighting the heavy-handed manner in which the United States of America conducted atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean, and its blasé attitude to the consequences of its actions.
Image © Pavel Pepperstein
The theme of this series is dramatic and disturbing. Pepperstein allows his depictions of the atomic bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean to dominate the space, creating the impression that the beautiful surroundings are of the utmost insignificance. The mushroom cloud attacks the viewer with its violent rage; the tiny fishing boats quiver in horror. And yet the works are never overcome by grand depictions of tragedy, for Pepperstein’s virtuoso skill refuses to allow even the smallest feature to go unnoticed.
The environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico – the BP oil spill – inspired another collection of drawings (also presented at this exhibition). Pepperstein has often returned to the motifs and iconic images of the Russian avant-garde, just as Malevich himself repeatedly resorted to the Black Square to convey feeling. But here the ‘pure form’ is inverted by Pepperstein to represent something very impure.
Image © Pavel Pepperstein
The two events featured here are separated by sixty years and yet, be it the Colossal Superpower or the Mammoth Corporation, the victims remain the same. The victims are small. It ought to be difficult to pass over these works without reflecting on mankind’s capacity for self-delusion and self-destruction.
Pepperstein’s aim is not to scare, or necessarily to shock, but to draw our attention to how ignorance, greed, and lust for power can lead to a Day of Reckoning. Can we, will we, do something and change the fate of our planet?
As always with Pepperstein’s work, the drawings are full of exquisite detail, and a true fascination with nature’s minutiae. It ought to be difficult to pass over these works without reflecting on mankind’s capacity for self-delusion and self-destruction.
The exhibition will be open until 28th February 2016.