Southern Guild presents Solastalgia, multidisciplinary artist Stanislaw Trzebinski’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, opening 8 September (until 10 November). The featured body of functional sculpture and artwork explores a dark vision of nature’s continuation after the extinction of man. In the current state of climate alarm, Trzebinski expresses a grief for what has already been lost to man’s rapacious self-interest. “I’ve been experiencing what environmental philosopher and sustainability professor Glenn A. Albrecht calls solastalgia,” he explains, “a nostalgia for the loss of places that used to give me solace – that made me feel fully human. Our very home, the Earth, is being ruined, despoiled. So much is already lost, and I’m homesick in my own home.”
Trzebinski delves into the notion of impending ecological collapse, and it is here the exhibition’s creations unearth themselves, emerging from the scorched undergrowth. The artist’s forms speak to the possible metamorphosised creatures of this future terrain: acid-tolerant amoeba, burrowing cave dwellers, giant carnivorous mushrooms sheathed in fungal, porous skirts. The organisms have been borne of biological necessity, shedding their own layers of being and seizing only what is needed to survive.
A trio of standing lights seemingly unfurl from the earth, each of their bronze tendrils holding a hand-blown glass bulb, mottled in bacteria-like dispersions of green and blue. Trzebinski collaborated with specialist glass studio Kitengela Glass in his native Kenya to make the unique handmade blubs. The exhibition features Trzebinski’s largest singular artwork to date, a 12-square-metre series of patinated copper panels etched with trails of Turing patterns that invite both microscopic and topographical associations. Another piece of sculptural furniture, a bronze coffee table, is laced with a textural intricacy inspired by Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, known to be the hottest place on earth.
The otherworldly forms of each work tell the disquieting story of a dystopian natural world, reconstructing itself after climate devastation. As an exhibition, Solastalgia stands as a macabre step beyond the artist’s usual exploration of man’s symbiotic yet tenuous relationship with nature.
A prolific artist who is unafraid to work with new processes and materials, Trzebinski explored the use of three-dimensional printing to create the bronze moulds for a selection of the featured works. Combined with the age-old technique of lost-wax casting, this application is reflective of a unique convergence of past and present.
There is an opportunity for catharsis in witnessing this imagined world. Nature will outlive us; from decay comes rebirth and so the cycle of all things continues. Trzebinski has intentionally woven a palpable thread of lightness through this body of work. The urge to create becomes a means to rage against futility, while moments of quiet humour alight the sunless depths of the unknown. “We need to keep seeing the magic in the world,” Trzebinski says. “Beauty for beauty’s sake, nature for nature’s sake – I want people to appreciate that the natural world is worth fighting for, not because of what it represents, but simply because it is.”
The thematic and aesthetic exploration of a world beyond the climate crises is unsettling in its stark contemporary relevance. Our fixation with the scientifically told doom of the future has the capacity to freeze us all into a state of inertia. In its embrace of the bizarre and the mutative adaptability of all natural things, Solastalgia prods us to reflect that if we can find hope in our trepidation, all is not yet lost.