Joanie Lemercier: Art for Climate Action

For his solo exhibition at the Telefónica Foundation, Madrid, the French artist has chosen seven audiovisual installations that reflect on the relationship between nature and technology. Lemercier's earlier installations explore relationships where technology is used to represent nature, while later works portray technology as a destructive force to nature. The exhibition is an extraordinary reflection on sustainability and nature, and a beautiful example of how art can serve climate action.

Joanie Lemercier, Fuji, 2014

The earlier works at the exhibition use technology like video mapping and projected light to capture the grandeur - the Sublime - in landscapes, while the more recent works in the second part of the exhibition shift to the grandeur in the technology destroying the landscapes.

  Bagger 293 / Slow Violence, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21


The Hambach Project and the Technological Sublime (2019-21) is one of Lemercier's recent works and is structured in four audiovisual installations each showing a different aspect of Europe's largest coal mine: its exploitation; the destruction of the community; the activism supporting its closure; and the beauty of the remaining forest.

Slow Violence, the most striking of the Hambach installations, features the mine exploitation. It shows a giant bucket-wheel excavator scooping up earth from a plateau - pictured above. The machine is impressive and we read that it is a Bagger 293, the world's largest machine able to scoop 240,000 m3 of soil per day. The scene is at the Hambach open-pit coal mine close to Cologne, Germany, and the excavator is destroying the last remains of the 12,000-year-old Hambach forest to access the lignite deposits beneath. Operated by energy giant RWE, the 85 km2 mine extracts 40 million tonnes of lignite yearly for electricity generation in North Rhine-Westphalia, and emits 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year.


In addition to destroying a forest and polluting the environment, the Hambach mine has inflicted damage to the local communities and cultural heritage with the demolition of buildings and towns as the mine was expanding.  


Immerath's St. Lambertus church demolition / Slow Violence, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21

The installation Here Once Stood a Forest celebrates the ancient Hambach forest - its beauty and rich biodiversity - with a projection of the forest during daytime and a night view where a laser lights up the smallest details.  

Over the past 40 years, 90% of the forest has been destroyed for coal extraction. Since 2012 the forest has been a symbol of Germany's fight against climate change.


Laser lighting / Here Once Stood a Forest, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21


Hambach Forest / Here Once Stood a Forest, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21

With Action, Comes Hope is the last installation of The Hambach Project and the Technological Sublime. It shows impressive environmental activism opposing the mine and how climate action can look like. 

The artist tells how The Hambach Project has shifted his perspective on climate action and how he wants to do something and support activists through his work. This might come in addition to Lemercier's efforts to audit and minimize his carbon footprint as a digital artist. In March 2021 Lemercier notoriously teamed up with other digital artists to raise awareness on the huge CO2 footprint of CryptoArt.


Activists / With Action Comes Hope, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21

The show closes with Desirable Futures, a space packed with a mix of photography and projections with the artist's version of the future, a rather green and hopeful one. The space is possibly an invitation to visitors to think creatively about the future, while the previous installations provide encouragement to question our own use of technology and to take action.


Artist and Desirable Futures, 2020-21 / Photo courtesy of Fundación Telefónica


Joanie Lemercier. Lightscapes | Espacio Fundación Telefónica, Fuencarral 3, Madrid | 11 February - 25 July 2021

Featured Artist
Joanie Lemercier (Rennes, 1982)

Further Reading
The End of the World's Capital of Brown Coal | BBC Future Planet, 20 April 2021
Photos by PS
Cover picture, Desirable Futures (2020-21) by Joanie Lemercier


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