5-channel HD video playback with 5.1 surround audio
LED displays, steel & wooden frames, glass, hinges, handles
Electricity generator, petroleum, oil, offset credits for 82kg of CO₂e
Dimensions (open/closed): 2400 x 905 x 170mm / 1200 x 905 x 340mm
First exhibition: 4-11 Dec 2013, Sydney College of the Arts, Australia
No Man is an Island is a 5-channel “documentary polyptych”, a form artist/filmmaker Adam Sébire has been developing ever since an encounter with the van Eyck brothers’ Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432), perhaps the world’s most famous ‘painting with doors’ in Ghent, Belgium. The few polyptychs still in existence can no longer be opened or closed as intended, denying the form its unique kinaesthetic affect.
This affect is vital: the work reveals itself via physical engagement, through a gesture of openness made by the visitor's arms. The wings perhaps constitute an Early Renaissance form of immersive interaction, and here they are updated for an era marked by the proliferation of digital screens. Only very recently have new, thin LED screens made such a work possible.
The artwork takes as its theme the phenomenon of sea level rise, contrasting experiences on two ‘utopian’ isles (Venice & Maldives), and juxtaposing them with Norway’s rapidly retreating glaciers. Shots at meniscus-level create a sense of drowning while consistent horizons and parallel actions link geographically disparate locations.
The ‘unseen’ nature of anthropogenic climate change poses particular challenges, both for a culture that emphasises ‘seeing is believing’ and for documentary forms traditionally reliant on visible evidence. The work explores crucial dislocations — of cause from effect, of today’s action from tomorrow’s result, of behaviour here from outcome there — through the spatialised form of a multi-panelled polyptych with which the visitor physically interacts.
Rather than displace its own carbon emissions to a coal-fired power station out of both sight & mind, the polyptych is powered by a fossil-fuelled generator (pictured left) outside the exhibition venue, challenging our habitual dislocation of responsibility, of action from consequence, every time we flick a power switch.
Carbon offsets have been bought according to the work’s projected emissions, and are displayed in the style of a Church indulgence certificate. Indulgences were popular in the Netherlands during polyptychs' 15th century heyday. It was writer George Monbiot who linked carbon offsets with indulgences, noting that both enable the purchase of absolution, allowing the rich to feel better about sinful behaviour without actually changing their ways:
"This [carbon offsetting] is not the first time such schemes have been sold. Just as in the 15th and 16th centuries you could sleep with your sister and kill and lie without fear of eternal damnation, today you can live exactly as you please as long as you give your ducats to one of the companies selling indulgences.” ¹
1. George Monbiot, "Paying for Our Sins," The Guardian, 18 October 2006..
Adam Sébire is a photographer & filmmaker with numerous broadcast credits to his name. His artistic practise focuses on multi-screen documentary polyptychs to explore both sea level rise and the cognitive dissociations underlying climate change. His previous gallery exhibitions include Roads to Nowhere (2012, part of the Head On Photo Festival, Vivid Sydney and Rocks Pop-Up); and Raise | Retreat | Rise (2013, part of the Re:Cinema exhibition in Sydney & New York City and a collateral event of ISEA Sydney). Adam’s films include Echoes Across the Divide (2006) and Carried by the Wind (2008).
With thanks to:-
Dr. Krishnakant Budhavant, Maldives Climate Observatory
Ryszard Dabek (MFA Supervisor, SCA, Sydney)
Rifga Fathmath (Hanimaadhoo, Maldives)
Dr. Mitchell Harley, University of Ferrara (Italy)
Wim Lambrecht (Supervisor, LUCA, Ghent)
Puntolaguna Venezia (MOSE) (Italy)
Sue Theron (Architectural advice & CAD)
Merlijn Twaalfhoven (Composer)
Film excerpt from:
La Bête Humaine (Dir: Jean Renoir, 1938)
With support from:
The Fauvette Loureiro Memorial Artists’ Exchange Scholarship, 2013.
Interview about the work: 2'49".
Link to Polyptych Nº1: Raise | Retreat | Rise.