Habitus art installation is unveiled

Habitus is a new art installation at Edge Hill University that questions people’s behaviour and its impact on the environment.

It has been created by award-winning artist Robyn Woolston, who was commissioned to carry out the work as part of the University’s 80th anniversary of the Ormskirk campus.

Joan Steele, the University’ s Curator, said: “It’s now a year since our new Arts Centre was opened and during that time we’ve had numerous exhibitions and events. We are striving to bring a lot more art and culture to the University campus, for the benefit of both our staff and students and the local community, so we were absolutely delighted when Robyn accepted this commission. To produce this piece is fantastic, she embraced the history of the University totally.

“The ethos behind the sculpture sits well with where Edge Hill is now. This year celebrating its 80th anniversary of being in Ormskirk and the changes and developments that have occurred in that time.”

Are we in the geological Anthropocene era?

HABITUS 9 medium

A scientist and artist will debate what the ‘Anthropocene era’ is and whether we are already living in it during an Edge Hill University event to launch the new Geosciences building.

Human activity on the planet is far reaching. Deforestation, urbanisation, agriculture and industrialisation has led to problems of climate change, pollution, habitat loss and species extinction, leading some scientists to suggest that we are living in a new geological period called the Anthropocene.

Dr Nigel Richardson, the University’s Head of Geography, explained: “Although many of these changes began 200 years ago, the scale and pace of the environmental impact has accelerated over the last 50 to 60 years and also coincides with significant growth in the human population and the global economy, which is why we believe we’re living in this new geological epoch.”

These topics will be discussed on 13th November in an open talk and Q&A with Dr Richardson and award-winning artist Robyn Woolston, who explores where art fits within this relationship.

Robyn has created Habitus (2013), a large-scale art installation on the Edge Hill University campus that explores environmental themes and contrasts past geological eras with the Anthropocene.

She said: “Habitus includes 12 factual signs showing geological eras, epochs and eons that cover millions of years. You can see words like Silurian, Devonian and Jurassic on signposts within the trees on the campus. When you look more closely you realise they are all pointing towards the Vegas style sign. This is because they all detail histories prior to the one we are currently living in. Everything that has gone before has lead us to our current situation. Whether financial or environmental the state of the world has been built upon layer upon layer of knowledge, rather like sedimentary rock. And so, the centre-point of the installation is the sign that reads in gushing words: ‘Welcome to the Fabulous Anthropocene Era’. A time unlike no other where we are faced with signs that reflect back to us the care with which we choose to look after the planet…or not.

“I’m excited to be able to premier this work as it provides an opportunity to raise the profile of a pressing environmental question within the context of a University.”

Those who attend the event will have the chance to listen to their ideas about the Anthropocene in more detail and will also be able to tour the new GeoSciences Building, which features a large lecture theatre, small group teaching rooms, a geology laboratory, Geo-information laboratories, and a large social area for our students. These facilities will help to ensure that students have an even richer and more rewarding experience.

The talk is free and open to all who are interested from 1pm to 2.30pm in room GEO101, GeoSciences building. The art installation will be open to the public to view until 20th December.

Artist explains the meanings behind the signs

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Artist Robyn Woolston talks to Edge Hill University about the ideas behind her art installation on campus that is igniting curiosity among students.

Why the Vegas sign?

In some respects it’s very similar to its American counterpart but it’s also very different. Habitus (2013) marries the exuberance and expansion of a time in history when entertainment, consumption and institutional lending were booming at an exponential rate. During the post-war period of the 1950’s Las Vegas became a magnet for Hollywood stars and entertainment legends alike with hundreds of millions of dollars circulating through the bars, restaurants and casinos. The design aesthetic of the time mirrors this history with futuristic curves, cantilevered structures, bright colours and ostentatious embellishments like starbursts. I have referenced this illustrious history within the work so as to act as direct contrast to our current environmental situation.

In your version the words are different. Why is that?

Indeed, the place name is replaced by a geological period. Currently we are living within the Holocene period (a time that covers all human experience as well as all written history) yet a group of scholars had been convened by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) to decide whether or not we have entered a new geological period, namely the Anthropocene Era. Some say this new period began with the Industrial Revolution but some say it began earlier on, yet those that agree concede that our behaviors are having irreversible impacts upon the planet. Basically from radioactive traces within soil structures to species decline and glacial melt the effect we are having upon the earth is leaving permanent markers or signs within the history of the world.

Why use signs? What do they mean?

Because, very simply, we are surrounded by ‘information’ in the form of signs that post us in the right direction. They inform us of what’s happening, where to go and what to avoid. They direct you across the country and into the right traffic lane when you’re joining a motorway as well as indicating that it’s safe to cross the road. Well, signs like this appear in nature too, colour signifies if a mushroom is poisonous, flowers are bright to attract pollinators and species decline can be physically and literally ‘seen’ in terms of the effects felt across food chains for example.

Habitus includes 12 factual signs showing geological eras, epochs and eons that cover millions of years. You can see words like Silurian, Devonian and Jurassic on signposts within the trees on the campus at Edge Hill. When you look more closely you realise they are all pointing towards the Vegas style sign. This is because they all detail histories prior to the one we are currently living in. Everything that has gone before has lead us to our current situation. Whether financial or environmental the state of the world has been built upon layer upon layer of knowledge, rather like sedimentary rock. And so, the centre-point of the installation is the sign that reads in gushing words: ‘Welcome to the Fabulous Anthropocene Era’. A time unlike no other where we are faced with signs that reflect back to us the care with which we choose to look after the planet…or not.

Habitus artwork to mark 80th anniversary

Portrait R Woolston

A series of unusual signs are appearing around Edge Hill University’s campus as part of a new art installation that questions people’s behaviour and its impact on the environment.

Habitus contrasts the preceding geological periods with our current, human influenced ‘anthropocene era’ irrevocably altering the world in terms of mass extinction, biodiversity and climate change.

It has been created by award-winning artist Robyn Woolston, who was commissioned to carry out the work as part of the University’s 80th anniversary of the Ormskirk campus.

“I’m incredibly excited to be able to premier this work within an educational institution,” said Robyn. “Edge Hill University provides an opportunity to raise the profile of a pressing environmental question within the context of a University that should see thousands of viewers pass by its location within the grounds of the Arts Centre.

The installation features a number of signs that have been erected around the campus referencing geological eons, eras and epochs. In contrast, the larger, final signpost is brash and transatlantic in nature. Similar to the archetypal American ‘welcome’ billboards, it states ‘Welcome to the Fabulous Anthropocene Era’, inviting the viewer across a threshold they have perhaps already stepped over.

Robyn explained: “We are surrounded by compelling evidence that our actions are creating fundamental changes that could affect our very existence. Mass extinction, climate change and glacial melt alone manifest life-changing realities. Yet these are not theoretical notions but physical realities. My installation is a contradiction piece that questions our ability to read the signs we are surrounded by; a predicament which, in its essence, is influenced by the stories that we share and the values around which we construct meaning, in short, our chosen habitus.”

Habitus, the title of the work, refers to the expectations, values and dispositions that are acquired through the activities and experiences of everyday life. Anthropocene refers to the period within which we are currently living – a time perhaps unlike any other where physical markers within the geological record are pointing towards permanent global impacts upon the Earth’s ecosystem as a result of human activities.

“I’m inspired by arts ability to frame questions, initiate debate and comment upon the supposed status quo in any given situation,” said Robyn. “For that reason I continue to examine the environmental urgencies of our time within the framework of arts practice.”

Roy Bayfield, Chair of the University’s Arts and Culture Group, welcomed the installation: “Since the grounds were landscaped and planted with specimen trees back in the 1930s, our outdoor spaces have always been a part of the educational environment here. Habitus continues this tradition, situating an artwork that asks challenging questions about human impact on the planet on a campus where creativity, environmental science, ecology and sustainability are taught and researched.”

Robyn, winner of the Liverpool Art Prize 2012, works across installation, photography and moving image. Her work focuses attention upon the parts of life that others shy away from, from waste materials to difficult emotions.  She questions commercial meta-narratives and material ‘use’ against the back-drop of environmental urgencies.

Her previous installations have included 7,500 ice-cream containers, 45,000 carrier bags and a selection of trees from Ash to Silver Birch all classified as rubbish.

The latest art installation at Edge Hill University free to view and will be open to the public from 23rd September until 6th December. Please visit the website for more details visit www.edgehill.ac.uk/events/2013/09/23/installation-robyn-woolston/.