The Cause: Gavin Turk, Tracey Emin and Climate Crisis Art Co-auction


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In an industrial area in east London – surrounded by rattling vans, horns and screaming sirens – a mountain of junk taller than an electricity pylon is stacked with old washing machines, crooked bicycles and rusty cars. Opposite, a cotton flag flies above a corrugated silver metal door. “Climate and ecological emergency”, we read, in capital letters. “#CultureTakesAction.” Gavin Turk, the British artist known for his provocative approach to waste, opens the trap on the fly; this garage-like entrance leads to his workshop. “Here, we are in the business of recycling”, jokes the artist, who has already transformed six overflowing garbage bags into an avant-garde sculpture, Battery, and turned a rotten apple core into a bronze work of art. “A lot of my work is about what we throw away. ”

Engine oil, 2015-2021, by Gavin Turk © Gavin Turk

Hanging on the wall inside his studio, a black square on canvas, painted with motive fluid recovered from a white public transport van. Title Engine oil, 2015-2021, it will be sold at Sotheby’s this month to benefit the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), as part of a stellar auction that runs October 8-15 and will see artists such as Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor, Jadé Fadojutimi and Turk come together to raise funds for the association’s 60th anniversary and ahead of the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

Turk’s concerns about climate change match those of Tracey Emin: “‘There’s a giant tidal wave coming down the Thames and it’s going to shatter London into matches.” She donated a neon sign titled Field of flowers, 2017 at the fundraising event.

Field of Flowers, 2017, by Tracey Emin

Flower Field, 2017, by Tracey Emin © Tracey Emin / HV-Studio, Brussels

The funds will be used to support WWF’s major international projects, from replanting seagrass – which provides a nursery for fish and sequesters carbon but which is 92% depleted in the UK due to pollution and overfishing – to combating Amazon deforestation and implementing tiger conservation. programs. Antonia Gardner, contemporary specialist and deputy director at Sotheby’s, says the auction “will help amplify the mission… For 60 years, WWF has played a major global role on the front lines of the climate emergency. We must join hands to continue this fight. “

A confused mind that is never confined, by Jadé Fadojutimi

A Confused Mind That Is Never Confined, by Jadé Fadojutimi © Jadé Fadojutimi. Photograph by Mark Blower

Jadé Fadojutimi, one of the artists raising funds for WWF

Jadé Fadojutimi, one of the artists raising funds for WWF © Anamarija Ami Podrebarac

The organization is known for its work to protect endangered species, but in recent years it has focused on expanding restoration initiatives – to “put back what has been lost,” said WWF Executive Director , Tanya Steele. “Nature is our survival system, but we lose a piece of the Amazon the size of a football field every 12 seconds. The rainforest is the lung of our planet, ”she says. “We need to restore and replant to make sure the species – and us as humans – survive. ”

The Sotheby’s auction is part of a larger initiative, Art for your world, which culminates in November and includes an online sale of exclusive prints by artists such as Chila Kumari Singh Burman, Heather Phillipson and Bob and Roberta Smith. Burman, the Punjabi-Liverpudlian artist who illuminated the facade of Tate Britain with his poignant Remember a new and better world neon work last winter, created prints with images of tigers – “a Bangladeshi motif that runs through my work,” she says. Art for your world will also see a global array of galleries such as Victoria Miro and Hauser & Wirth galvanize their efforts to tackle the climate crisis and tackle their own carbon footprint. “It creates a ripple effect,” explains Ewan Venters, managing director of the gallery. “One of our main obligations is to preserve and protect the heritage of our artists and our domains… We cannot do this if we do not take seriously our responsibility to the environment.

The art world is notoriously carbon-polluting – works are transported around the world for fairs, sales and exhibitions. Brett Rogers, director of Photographer’s Gallery in London, thinks there is an “urgent” need for the industry to change. He also cites the “toxic effects of chemical compounds” used in analog photography, and metal mining for digital photographs (as well as iPhones) that “exploit rare earths”, regarding: “We have to hand over order in our house. . “The gallery is currently commissioning pieces that examine these environmental effects and encourage its participants to explore sustainable alternatives, for example to high-resolution image files, which are shared widely via email but have a high carbon footprint that is often overlooked.

Jessica Rankin, 2021, donated at auction

Jessica Rankin, 2021, auctioned off © White Cube / Dan Bradica

Jessica Rankin at work in her studio

Jessica Rankin at work in her studio

Whether it’s digital or IRL, “the distance between people and things is filled with carbon,” explains Turk. He has an “obsession” with unmarked transport vans – and their impact – resulting from seeing continuous pickups and deliveries from a nearby Amazon hub; he even crashed some vehicles into cubic works of art. “They come and go carrying all these things,” he says. He is now trying to calculate emissions budgets to create new works, and is looking at hydrogen vehicles to transport them.

Back in his studio, my eye is again drawn to this framed splash of black motor oil on paper – the pollution made visible to the naked eye. Is it oil or an oil painting? Turk laughs. “Artists are always philosophizing and proposing ‘what ifs’. We are here to make people think.

WWF Art For Your World auction, from October 8 to 15,;

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