Islands, Constellations and Galapagos
Yokohama Triennale, Japan, 4 August – 5 November 2017

The sixth edition of the Yokohama Triennale, Islands, Constellations & Galapagos, ostensibly makes reference to a wide range of issues, from data overload, online communities, ‘island mentality’ and the rise of populism, to Brexit, the refugee crisis and public disillusionment with centralised political systems, throwing the whole theme open to ‘thinking about the world through “‘connectivity” and “isolation”’. But reading the exhibition instead through geography and human relationships, with each other as well as with nature, both softens the visual chaos of the group show and lets one seek out something more than instant visual gratification. Politics is popular and the digital realm affords escapism, but our natural environment is bigger than us, and provides a more profound lens through which to make sense of the 40 artists and artist groups involved in this year’s triennale.

Fossil Necklace is a string of worlds,’ explains the pamphlet accompanying Katie Paterson’s work. Understated but utterly captivating, the 2013 necklace, suspended from the ceiling by two nearly-invisible strings, is made of 170 beads of fossils spanning the beginning of life on Earth – from a sphere of single-cell organic matter (Archean Eon stromatolite in butterstone) to the carved fossil of a Cyprian hippo in the Holocene Epoch – and charts human evolution alongside plants and other animals. Each unique bead is both planetlike and otherworldly, an aeon of time made physical and turned into an item of jewellery to be worn and treated with care. A parallel form of perspective is provided by Kathy Prendergast’s Atlas (2016) at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse No 1. A hundred road maps of Europe are laid open on trestle tables filling an entire room, each spread inked-out black except for the cities and towns, forming a new kind cartography that rejects notions of borderlines and territory. The volume of atlases becomes a night sky that encourages visitors to search through the tiny specks of civilisation like we would the stars on a clear evening. Both works remind us, through a macroperspective, of our place in Earth’s history.