Opening of the exhibition "Unsustainable Earth" at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig
Opening Speech of Prof. Dr. Erik Gawel, UFZ (excerpt)
"For us as scientists, the topic of sustainability and the challenges of achieving sustainable development are of course familiar - from a scientific perspective. However, the exhibition shows us a different perspective - a different look at the subject through the eye of an artist.
Art can address anything, free as it is. So, I find it all the more remarkable that
sustainability also resonates in contemporary art. When I saw the works for the first time, I immediately thought that this had to be shown at the UFZ. And I am very grateful that this also
worked out and that we are allowed to show these photo works here.
When it comes to sustainability, Art and science naturally proceed in a completely
different way, but they complement each other excellently. Science makes it possible for us to know more and more about the frá-gile, even critical status of the planet. But this is precisely
what can make people feel overwhelmed and frustrated. It can create that "I can't do anything anyway" feeling. Art has subtle tools against this immunisation and fatigue effect. It is about
focus, about visual language, about aesthetics. Aesthetics does not only mean mere beauty, but above all - awareness of the senses. What artists can perhaps do better than others (even than us),
is namely to make connections intuitively visible, create an emotional access, and appeal to people's imagination.
So who is the artist who has created the nine large-format photographic works on display here? Marcel van Beek is an aspiring young artist from Leipzig-Lindenau. He studied painting, graphic arts and photography at the Alanus University of Arts and Society in Alfter near Bonn. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with honors in 2017. Since then, he created an impressive œuvre of artworks in photography, painting and graphic arts and presented them in various exhibitions.
Since 2020, he has been working in Leipzig. He was attracted to the school of representational painting for which Leipzig is famous – and which stands against the still predominant mainstream of abstract modernist art. Also, he has presented art publications including his major retrospective »Schattenlicht« (»Light of Shadow«), presenting a decade of his personal creativity.
For a long time, Marcel has been biographically connected to the topos of
sustainability. His preoccupation with the life reform movements against the dark sides of modernity has influenced him just as much as early ecologically dystopian cinema (like “Soylent Green,”
just to mention one). And his education at the anthroposophically oriented Alanus University of Arts and Society. At an early stage, art becomes a kind of tool for him to express opposition to
what is happening to the social environment and our resources.
But let’s get back to the artworks we can see here and now. What is special about this?
For a start, let’s have a closer look at the artwork on the left front side of the room. It is called „Spring“. But – it presents a rather cleared landscape with burnt trees. Spring presents a sad picture here - marked by climate change impact, heat stress and fires. The title, of course, must recall the famous book of Rachel Carson, „Silent Spring“, from 1962. The book was, at that time, about chemicals in the environment and their toxic impact on, for instance, bird life. Here, it reveals climate change impacts on landscapes.
Apart from that, we also see a meaningful landscape composition with strong atmospheric
expression. And it is not coincidentally reminiscent of the equally silent compositions of famous painters like Caspar David Friedrich or Eugen Bracht, which, by means of aesthetically
constructed landscape compositions, tell us of mélan-choly and decay. Marcel van Beek feels very connected to the painting epochs of romanticism and symbolism. And It is no art, so-to-speak, to
recognise exactly this here in this artwork.
In contrast to that, if you have a look at the pictures on the other side next to the second door over there – a total of four artworks dealing with unsustainable agriculture. Here, at first glance, it is not at all clear what exactly one actually sees. They are geometric or organic structures of apparent beauty. Seemingly insignificant details. Marvellous forms. And yet the photographs stand for a problematic plastic agriculture which is becoming more and more widespread. Aesthetics and shudder are very close together here, fascinating the beholder.
Again, the works of van Beek create, as always with him, deep moods -- and fascinating
spaces for mystery and threat, but at the same time also for grace and silent beauty. The artworks subtly reveal the djubiousness of the subject just through assumed grace of the photo
The nine large-format works here are all photo motifs from the (wider) region, but that is only contextual information. The works are - as always in art - about what the artworks communicate to us, what they can trigger in us.
All displayed artworks together with additional photographs of Marcel, likewise sustainability-related, are collected in a really nice full-colour catalogue in both German and English available in bookshops, but also directly from Marcel.
And If you might be personally interested in one of these artworks (be it in the
exhibition be it in the catalogue) please do not hesitate to contact our artist. He will be happy to sell everything he created. And, If you still haven't had enough after this exhibition, Marcel
will continue this year on the twenty-third of June with another very exciting exhibition at Galerie Bilderbogen Leipzig. It is called "Naturraum - Stadtraum" (Natural Space - Urban Space). This
time, in addition to photographs, he also features paintings on the subject of "Nature in the City", and urban spaces. Again, a really relevant topic for us at UFZ (keyword „urban
So, the artist is happy to be available for all of us here now. We are very happy, too! I hope we all have a great time enjoying the arts. Thank you all for your kind attention – and please give a big round of applause for Marcel and his excellent work. Thank you."