“We’re living in a time of acute emergency… I’m trying to picture what we know will happen if we don’t stop this plunder.” – Peter Kennard.
When COP26 kicked off in Glasgow, Peter Kennard’s Code Red was on display at Trongate 103, emphasising the importance of the climate summit. Within the exhibition, Kennard uses photomontage to create images which express his outrage towards the current climate crisis, and the title comes from this summer’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which declared a “code red for humanity”. Consisting of 28 images, the exhibition fills only one wall but the impact it has on you is profound.
“The title comes from this summer’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which declared a ‘code red for humanity’.”
Upon first glance, the images’ stark contrast between the black and white immediately conveys their serious nature and elicits an initial sense of shock, which seems to be one of Kennard’s main aims. This lack of colour is definitely deliberate here and adds to the striking message of crisis which the photomontages successfully attempt to hammer home.
Past Midnight is a strong start to the installation, displaying a clock with a gas mask at the centre and missiles for hands. With the gas mask and missiles representing the potential of nuclear warfare and pollution, and the clock symbolising the need for action before our time runs out, this arguably simple image generates fear and promotes reflection on the current world situation.
What particularly stands out throughout the exhibition is Kennard’s continuous use and abuse of an image of the earth taken by the Apollo astronauts in 1972. By tearing it up and adding polluted dust, gas masks, and so forth, Kennard creates visual representations of our current and future destruction. Some notable montages containing the earth image are Burning, Non-renewable, Airless, Defence, and Eyeless. Burning is an especially compelling image which shows the earth burning on a gas hob, and it’s possibly one of the most powerful photomontages of the exhibition as it displays how the simple everyday use of a gas hob heavily contributes to the destruction of our planet.
“What particularly stands out throughout the exhibition is Kennard’s continuous use and abuse of an image of the earth taken by the Apollo astronauts in 1972.”
To close the exhibition, Kennard cleverly chose the image Pull Back which, once again, features the 1972 image of earth and a clock with some rope tied round its hands being pulled back by a human hand. According to Kennard, the earth surrounded by the clock symbolises climate and nuclear destruction, and the human hand trying to stop the clock from striking midnight represents the climate protesters trying to prevent the potential demise of our world. This adroit choice by Kennard seems to cyclically link the end of the exhibition back to the beginning: Past Midnight suggests that the following images depict what is already happening, as well as what will continue to happen past the point of no return (midnight), whereas Pull Back suggests that although, in reality, we aren’t quite at midnight yet, if we don’t make any effort to reverse the effects of climate change, the previous images will become our everyday reality and we will be “past midnight”.
Overall, Code Red is an extremely impressive and influential exhibition. It generates sudden feelings of fear and anger which are catalysts for inspiring the want to change and help reverse the effects of climate change on our planet before it’s too late. By presenting the installation alongside COP26 in Glasgow, it created the opportunity for the thousands of extra people in the city, as well as Glaswegians themselves, to physically see Kennard’s anger and reflect on the images alongside other important COP26 climate events taking place. However, Kennard’s work contains powerful messages which, regardless of COP26, need to be seen and will have a lasting impact on those who do.
You can learn more about Peter Kennard here.