Many species of artist get together for group show on Galapágos at the Bluecoat

By Mark Sheerin | 04 May 2012
Colour photo of a tourist on a rocky beach next to a sea lion
Photograph, Jyll Bradley (2008)© Jyll Bradley
Exhibtion: Galápagos, The Bluecoat, Liverpool, until July 1 2012

David Attenborough has a lot to answer for. Perhaps expecting his brand of High Definition, high gloss wildlife footage, visitors to Galápagos will come up short against the more prosaic photos of Paulo Catrica.

One such, bearing the title Estacion Terrana, shows what could be a village street in Spain. It holds a car, three-storey buildings and a cobweb of telegraph wires. Iguanas are nowhere to be seen, which brings home the remarkable fact the 30,000 people also live on the islands.

With an additional 200,000 tourists who visit every year, Galápagos is fast becoming a paradise lost. So concerned parties everywhere are ready to try anything.

In this case, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Galápagos Conservation Trust have even shipped in 12 European artists to raise awareness about the ecological threats.

Organisers have expressed a certain amount of handwringing about the ethics of setting up the residencies. A round trip will pump out four tonnes of CO2, compared with a 12-tonne average for one year in the UK. No wonder the entire programme has been carbon offset.

But visitors to this show should walk away with a richer understanding of the islands, and even a diminished desire to travel there for themselves. Jyll Bradley has responded by showing how bleak the tourist experience can be, with photos of the intrepid many. They are well equipped with cameras, but ill equipped to survive on those rocks.

And if you think the locals might be as innocent as Gauguin’s Tahitians, think again. Jeremy Deller, who also took part in the project, has made a ten-minute film about recently banned cockfights which were a much loved pastime for the Galápagos menfolk.

But this pays off with black humour as cockerels finish their bout, and their owners get into an altercation.

Marcus Coates also makes an investigation into human life on the island. He compiles a news report by a blue-footed booby, dressing up as the bird to mix with islanders in the street and in their homes.

The charming results were broadcast on Galapagos TV. And by a lovely twist of fate the anchorman trails a future show in which beauty queens, not artists, will be asked what they think of the islands.

But other artists have engaged with the science rather than the culture of the place. Kaffe Matthews has created a spellbinding sound piece using tracking data from hammerhead sharks.

Visitors are invited to lay back on a matted platform to listen to an ever evolving subaquatic loop. The sounds pulse through your body making it hard to leave.

Artist duo Semiconductor also work with data here - in their case, the unnerving readouts of a seismograph. These remind us that long before their discovery in the 16th century, these islands were formed by geological forces. And their continued inexorability is thrown into relief by the odd hand-scribbled note by humans practicing science.

Connections may exist, but in general the dozen artists in this show have staked out quite different spheres of interest and have, presumably, learned quite different things. But what might that add up to? Regarding this question a piece by Dorothy Cross haunts the mind.

The Irish artist has taken the skeleton of a Cuvier's whale and hung it out lengthwise to dry.

A rusty bucket is there to collect any lamp oil which may still drip from the five-and-a-half metre found object. But this is empty, and so the artist works on in the dark.
Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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