Barbican’s Purple delivers climate change truths

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: A general view of John Akomfrah: Purple exhibition at The Curve, Barbican on October 5, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. Running until the 7th January 2018 (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)

Mounting concern over the environment and climate change has provided plenty of fodder for filmmakers in recent years, from Al Gore’s oldie-but-so-good-we-should-have-listened An Inconvenient Truth through to Leonardo DiCaprio’s heartfelt plea for action Before The Flood.

But while there’s no shortage of environmental home truths to be consumed by way of Netflix et al from the comfort of your sofa, sometimes a big screen delivers a bigger impact. Artist and documentary maker John Akomfrah has found one in the Barbican’s Curve Gallery, the perfect canvas to stage an ambitious follow up to his acclaimed Vertigo Sea.

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artist: John Akomfrah

Purple, is a six-channel video installation charting incremental shifts in climate change across the planet and its effects on human communities, biodiversity and the

Where three-channel Vertigo Sea delved into a range of histories from whaling, international migration and the transatlantic trade, Purple points the lens firmly towards us, the human race.

Staged across a variety of disappearing ecological landscapes, from the hinterlands of Alaska to desolate, icy Arctic Greenland and the volcanic Maquesas Islands in the South Pacific, each location prompts the viewer to meditate on the complex relationship between humans and the planet.

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John Akomfrah’s Purple. Photos by Anthony Harvey / Getty

The installation has been divided into six ‘movements’, each with its own score, which chart the ways the population’s desire for anything from energy through to weapons has damaged the earth.

On paper it all sounds rather depressing, like a hour-long blame game, but Purple actually makes for an uplifting if deeply unsettling reminder of the earth’s beauty and fragility.

Part of this can be attributed to the visuals – Akomfrah layers the footage with archive material and staged video to create a multidimensional view of the state of the world.

And then there’s the staging; all six films play on a continuous loop on the colossal screens, which are positioned to draw the viewer further into the gallery, which Akomfrah has described as “one of the most challenging international art spaces I know of”.

“I feel both blessed and honoured to be exhibiting here,” he said of the launch.

“The challenges ahead of us, of how we treat the planet and relate to matter and beings are daunting and hyper real.”

“I hope these works contribute in a small way to some of the very necessary conversations we need to have about the uncertain roads ahead.”

Purple is on at the Barbican until 7 January.

Photos by Anthony Harvey / Getty