Rodrigo Lebrun:
Green (Screen) Dreams

Rodrigo Lebrun, ‘The Sun Never Sets in Sunthorpe’, video still, 2018.

Rodrigo Lebrun’s opening remarks were jokes about the weather. The artist thanked us for attending his talk on new commission Green (Screen) Dreams in the adverse conditions: it’s a 15-minute walk from Scunthorpe bus station to North Lincolnshire Museum, and great unstable drops of freezing March rain had soaked through coats into every subsequent layer of clothing. I think we all thought about the sharp change in conditions from the unsettling phantom summer that had just rolled across the UK in mid-February, the winter temperatures soaring alarmingly close to 20ºC – Scunthorpe’s average summer temperature.

Green (Screen) Dreams is part of Surroundings, a 3-year artistic programme on environmental themes across the Humber region. Curated by the art and environment group Invisible Dust, the stated aim of Surroundings is to explore the region’s particular vulnerability to climate change, and in Scunthorpe ‘the challenges faced by the local community whose identity and economic future is still rooted in industry’. Lebrun’s minute-long video work is a mock advertisement for the holiday destination ‘Sunthorpe’, a lurid vision of Scunthorpe’s future based on a typo – though not the most famous[1] – in the town’s name. It renders the industrial town in lurid tones somehow similarly unappealing to its habitual greys, perched on the brink of environmental annihilation and blistering under an engorged, year-round sun. Despite this ‘Sunthorpe’ is sold as a home of ‘impossible diversity… a masterpiece carved out of the Earth’. The more farcical aspects of capitalism in the early Anthropocene – recognisable today in headlines identifying pockets of financial and mineral opportunity revealed by the changing climate[2] – are taken to their logical conclusion: a particularly sombre industrial town rebranded as a holiday destination, then immediately swallowed by rising sea levels.

The speculative fiction approach can seem like the only appropriate method for artists to deal with climate change, so utterly unprecedented that its effects remain completely in the domain of conjecture. However, in a site-specific commission like this in an overlooked town still plagued with post-industrial poverty, constructing a parallel future could be perceived as a way of avoiding much more sensitive local specifics. Lebrun avoids the titular green screen becoming a distancing veil by rooting his imagined future for Scunthorpe in present issues: the doomed domestic holiday destination can only be an oblique reference to Brexit. Like much of England’s east coast, Humberside is both extremely vulnerable to climate change and overwhelmingly in favour of severance from the EU. If the changing climate is characterised less by a growing warmth than a creeping instability, Brexit – ‘the panicky desire to return to the old protections of the nation-state’[3] in the face of an uncertain future – is inextricably related to this, though perhaps not directly symptomatic. Still, by choosing to make an environmental artwork devoid of overt didacticism, Lebrun seems to be treading carefully and thoughtfully, exhibiting no preconceived notions about his audience, highlighting the masses of information on the changing climate already available online.

Industrial capitalism is palpable as the catalyst and accelerator of ecological destruction in Lebrun’s work. The loop of the video reflects the many life cycles of Scunthorpe’s primary industry, which is inextricably tangled with its geology. The local steelworks – currently British Steel, formerly Tata, formerly Corus, formerly British Steel Corp, and that just in my 26-year lifespan – has fluctuated in ownership following the gutting of northern industries under Thatcher. Though the steel industry now provides only one tenth of the jobs it did in the 1980s, it remains under suspicion as one of the biggest emitters of dioxins in the UK[4]. Serious subsidence followed the closure of Scunthorpe’s iron ore extraction sites in the 1980s due to the washing out of clay (erosion is one of the biggest threats the Humber estuary faces) and some former quarries have become landfill. Green (Screen) Dreams actually felt most poignant in context with the Museum’s permanent collections: Dark Age relics dug up from nearby settlements, the long grappling histories of local industries – all are testament to centuries of human activity and Humberside as a site of constant struggle to survive. To think of this washing away with the slow sinking of the area is devastating, and highlights the realities of climate change locally – a level at which it is inescapably graspable.

Green (Screen) Dreams, North Lincolnshire Museum, Scunthorpe, 19 January – 17 March 2019

Green (Screen) Dreams

Jay Drinkall is a writer and editor based in the UK.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scunthorpe_problem

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/science/earth/arctic-resources-exposed-by-warming-set-off-competition.html

[3] Bruno Latour, Down to Earth, 2018, Medford, MA, Polity Press, p.5

[4] https://www.endsreport.com/article/1561602/british-steel-unveils-dioxin-emission-data

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2000/may/18/pollution.uknews

Published 23.03.2019 by Holly Grange in Reviews

782 words