This exhibition consists of a selection of images from a long-term project developed by Gideon Mendel documenting floods in various parts of the globe including England, India, Haiti, Australia, Thailand and Nigeria.
Somerset House presented this exhibition as a contribution to the World Stages London 2102 Festival and as a prelude to their collaborative cross continental theatre piece, Climate Refugees, The Opera that will be performed in 2013.
‘Drowning World’ is a poignant depiction of climate change through portraits of flood survivors taken in deep floodwaters, within the remains of their homes, or in submerged landscapes, in the stillness of once lively environments.
Keeping their composure, the subjects pause in front of Mendel’s camera, casting an unsettling, yet engaging gaze. These images, taken across the world demonstrate a shared experience that erases geographical and cultural divides. They invite the viewer to reflect on our impact on nature, as well as our attachment to our homes and personal belongings.
Beyond the documentary aspect of this project, Gideon Mendel subtly treads on the aesthetics of portraiture, yet pushes the boundaries by setting its décor in unlikely environments. Each portrait isolates individuals, couples or small groups that would otherwise be represented by statistics. The portraits also reveal personality and status through clothes, style and even elegance.
As well as representing destruction, water also contributes to the creative process. Damaged films produce soft tones and mysterious haze, while architecture and landscape are reflected in the sparkling natural mirror.
Mendel also draws our attention to abandoned or lost photographs, to which he lends a second lease of life as still lives, found images or objects containing anonymous memories. Displayed in a vitrine are photographs found in Australia and exhibited for the first time. Washed out pigments create new painterly patterns, turning these snapshots into strange watercolours, abstract compositions or “solarized” images.
The selection assembled for this exhibition highlights the confusion of senses between the sight of landscapes of desolation and the attractiveness of colours and compositions. It seeks to examine the tension between drama and picturesque, and the fine line between documentary and artistic imagery.
– Christine Eyene, Curator