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Our Time on Earth

A young fisherman walks under a living root bridge at Mawlynnong village, India. The Khasi people have used the trainable roots of rubber trees to grow Jingkieng  Dieng Jri living root bridges over rivers for centuries

Opening in May 2022, the Barbican presents Our Time on Eartha major exhibition celebrating the power of global creativity to transform the conversation around the climate emergency. Through art, design, science, music and philosophy, the exhibition presents a range of radical visions for the future of all species.

A journey through immersive, interactive installations and digital works, the exhibition invites visitors to experience a range of perspectives of our shared planet, exploring Earth as a community to which we all belong – humans as just one species among millions.

Aiming to reignite respect for our essential and complex biosphere and inspire awe and wonder for our beautiful planet, the exhibition explores different ways of existing on Earth and finding ways to reconnect with them, while also looking at the role technology has to play in deepening our understanding and connection to the natural world. Our Time on Earth encourages visitors to take an active role and leave feeling empowered to make positive change.

Our Time on Earth opens a conversation to examine this viewpoint from multiple global perspectives, look at the positive possibilities of an alternative future, and embrace the wonder of the natural world.

Our Time on Earth presents 18 works, including 12 new commissions, from 12 countries around the world to create a series of innovative new collaborations. Bringing together academics, architects, artists, activists, designers, ecologists, engineers, environmental campaigners, researchers, scientists, technologists and writers, the exhibition highlights the need to work in collaboration across disciplines to tackle climate change together.

The exhibition in the Curve takes place across three interconnected sections– Belong, Imagine and Engage, designed to create a shift in consciousness, changing the way we think about the natural world.

explores our connection to other species and the understanding of our place in the biosphere. In it, we encounter –

  • Sanctuary of the Unseen Forest by digital art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast with Bio Leadership Project co-founder Andres Roberts, a unique immersive video installation offering a window into tree time. The piece allows visitors to feel a sense of belonging by reconnecting to the natural world and contemplating our place within the wider systems of nature.

IMAGINE explores positive possibilities in a near-future world based on a new value system

  • Superflux ‘s Refuge for Resurgence imagines a new kind of home where humans, animals, birds, plants, moss and fungi prosper together with resilience, adaption, and hope. First presented at La Biennale Architettura, La Biennale Di Venezia 2021, this multispecies banquet showcases crockery and cutlery designed for 14 different species, creating a welcoming environment that invites visitors to rethink their position within the natural world.
  • Brazilian intersectional Indigenous-led collective Selvagem will present new film Wild Arrow #7 alongside the experiential commission Smīkra Wahikwa, created in collaboration with Choose Earth, featuring Indigenous leaders in Brazil. Centred around creationism and re-enchantment the piece explores different ways of knowing and listening, connecting the dots between knowledge, activism, creativity and culture change.
  • New commission Symbiocene looks at how Indigenous technologies are invaluable to our collective understanding of and response to the climate crisis. Representatives from the Khasis community in the North-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya, the Subak community of farmers in Bali and the Ma’dan community of southern Iraq collaborated with designer and author of Lo—TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson, architect and sustainability engineer Smith Mordak and Buro Happold to look at how urban environments in 2040 could benefit from incorporating Indigenous and local knowledge and technologies.
  • Liam Young’s Planet City, a speculative and provocative film about returning stolen lands and freeing the world for rewilding by housing the world’s population in one giant sustainable city that celebrates multiple cultures. Five costumes seen in the film, by Hollywood costume designer Ane Crabtree, will also be on display.
  • Queer Ecology: In this new commission, Colombian biologist Brigitte Baptiste and Institute of Digital Fashion have created a shared collective experience, which reflects on Baptiste’s assertion ‘there is nothing more queer than nature’. As visitors watch their singular identities dissolve into matter, beyond the physical body, leaving society’s binary labels, the piece looks at what humans can learn from nature’s own gender fluidity.
  • In A Biological Future for Fashion, sustainability innovators Biofabricate supported by environmentalists Parley for the Oceans imagine what a biofabricated (materials made by living cells) fashion industry can look like, at scale, in the near future. With garments designed by Yuima Nakazato and ZARA, amongst others.
  • Art direction studio DVTK in collaboration with UCL’s Institute of Global Prosperity explore what the relational economy could look and feel like in 2040. Their new commission Sharing Prosperity is an emotional and interactive gaming experience that encourages visitors to reflect on how the planet can flourish through radical solidarity, brought about by humans collaborating innovatively with other beings and sharing wealth equally across species.
  • Where Does Your Building Come From? Nairobi-based design-build firm, Build X Studio has been working with construction innovators Mycotile to explore the possibilities of global technology and local materials, which will revolutionise the way buildings are made and how knowledge and skills can be shared through a global community. Curated by design director Carolina Larrazabal, and architectural designer, Etta Madete.
  • Author, journalist and environmental activist George Monbiot and creative innovation studio Holition believe that the soil beneath our feet should be as revered as the Great Barrier Reef. In the immersive piece The World Beneath Our Feet, which draws on research from Monbiot’s forthcoming book Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet, visitors are transported underground to experience the wealth of amazing organisms first-hand.
  • 2040 - Sensible Zone by Territorial Agency analyses the zone where the biosphere interacts with ocean, atmosphere and land to maintain Earth in homeostasis (the state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions maintained by living systems) and allow inhabitation.

ENGAGE encourages us and shares how we can take collective action for widespread systemic change.

  • Keralan architecture firm Wallmakers have designed an immersive space in which to present Stories of Change for visitors to explore action, looking at grassroots organisations and change-makers around the world to find out what is happening on the ground right now.
  • Stories of Change by The Earth Issue is a series of video interviews featuring global voices spearheading grassroot environmentalist initiatives. Presented across 10 screens and focussing on the global south, with each storyteller creating positive change through direct activism or by amplifying the actions of their communities. Through stories of change and accountability, each video has the power to ignite hope and courage while inspiring viewers to discuss, reflect, and consider their own power to protect the natural world.
  • Sonic Waterfall is a sound and light installation by Silent Studios (Nathan Prince and Liam Paton) inspired by their work with Damon Albarn on his solo album The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows. Set in The Curve, the installation is a time for reflection and a therapeutic journey into awareness, creating a sense of wonder at the natural world and nourishing our innate biophilia (the tendency for humans to seek connections with nature and other forms of life).

Alongside the main exhibition, Our Time on Earth will extend all over the Centre, including an installation in The Pit and free interactive and digital exhibits presented in the Barbican’s public spaces across the summer and will be accompanied by a live events programme to be announced soon.

In the Pit

  • Noise Aquarium, by US artist Victoria Vesna and Austrian scientific visualisation collaborators presents a 3D Audio Visual Experience of Plankton in Noise Pollution.

On Barbican’s Level G, a series of pieces will be on display for free to the public, with the theme of raising awareness, including:

  • Eyes as Big as Plates: a photography series about belonging to nature by Finnish-Norwegian artist duo Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth.
  • Sculptural work Wither illustrates a slice of rainforest disappearing at the Amazon deforestation rate, developed in collaboration with UNESCO on Barbican's Level G by Dutch artist Thijs Biersteker.
  • Life Forces: a digital art installation in the Barbican’s Silk Street Entrance, providing a portal to an interactive living landscape by Australian art duo Tin & Ed.
  • A new commission, The Ideal City 2040 from research and design lab SPACE10 in partnership with Modem, invites visitors to experience how our cities could tackle the climate crisis while creating a better everyday life for people, viewed through virtual reality binoculars, exhibited openly to the public on Barbican’s Level G.

Luke Kemp, Barbican International Enterprises, said: It is an essential moment for the Barbican to contribute to this urgent issue and showcase how unique collaborations across a range of disciplines can create a vision of hope and possibility, that will aim to shift perspectives and immerse visitors in the wonder of our planet. Culture has a key role to play in accelerating the response to the climate emergency. It provides a platform to challenge the way we engage our communities to respond.’

FranklinTill, guest curators said: ‘There is more scientific evidence than ever demonstrating the amplitude of the climate emergency. And the science is essential – there’s no doubt about that. But art, design and culture have the power to move us, and creative propositions of the sort we have gathered within Our Time on Earth aim to seduce the visitor into another way of seeing – another way of being. They invite us to listen, to feel, to really see, what it could be like to live and thrive in an alternative and positive future’.

Stéphan La Roche, CEO of Musée de la civilisation said: ‘This exhibition calls on the power of reflection and imagination of contemporary artists as well as visitors. The Musée de la civilisation, with our vision of ‘a museum for a better world’ and mission as a museum of society cannot wait to partner with the Barbican Centre to present this one-of-a-kind exhibition in a multidisciplinary approach enveloping a highly relevant subject, having the power to change perceptions and push to action’.

Curated by Luke Kemp, Barbican curator alongside guest curators FranklinTill, the show is created and produced by Barbican International Enterprises (BIE). The Barbican’s touring arm, BIE develops and curates exhibitions focused on contemporary culture, emerging technology and digital creativity. Often immersive and experiential, these major shows then travel internationally. Previous shows by the team include Virtual Realms: Videogames Transformed (2021), AI: More than Human (2019), Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction (2017) and Digital Revolution (2014), which became the Barbican’s most visited exhibition, attracting 93,000 visitors to the Centre.

Our Time on Earth will open at Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City, Canada, co-producers of the exhibition, from 15 June - 17 December 2023, before continuing its international tour.

Our Time on Earth gives us an opportunity to pilot new ways of sustainable working at the Barbican. Initiated and led by Guest Curators FranklinTill with support from Julie’s Bicycle, we have developed a set of guidelines for sustainable touring exhibitions and asked all our partners and collaborators to sign up to our sustainability commitment to ensure all involved in delivery of the exhibition are working to the highest possible environmental standards. We are developing this practice in collaboration with other departments in the Barbican Centre as part of our five-year sustainability strategy that will be published in Spring 2022.