Red Air

Balaskas, Bill [Artist] (2019) Red Air. Cork Midsummer Festival 2019. .


For a very long time, the automotive industry has been one of the major contributors to climate change. At the time when TOYOTA’s vibrant red signs were first installed on the façade of the Cork Opera House, 30 years ago, climate change was far less visible than today. As a result, consumers and companies alike adopted for many decades an attitude that underestimated the problem – often wishfully thinking that the consequences of our actions would only be felt after hundreds of years, or that scientists and technologists would find immediate solutions if needed. Although no panacea has emerged since then, technological research has transformed the automotive industry in recent years, through the development of hybrid and electric cars. However, at the same time, scientists are warning us that such reactions might have come “too little, too late”. There is increasing evidence suggesting that we are rapidly approaching critical “tipping points” in the way that human activity is altering our planet’s atmosphere. After crossing those thresholds, climate catastrophe on a global scale would become an inevitability. ‘Red Air’ was inspired by this historical and ideological context. Pairs of the same letters from the TOYOTA signs created binaries expressing the urgent need to confront climate change and to respond to the dilemmas that we are faced with. In each pair, the first letter became a flower bed that now hosts a different type of red flora, while the second letter was filled with red sand. The planting adopted the form of a communal activity led by different environmentalist groups and agriculturalists of Cork. The letters were initially positioned in front of the Cork Opera House, where the planting event took place on Thursday 13 June 2019. Each pair was, then, donated to a different garden across the city. The title of the work and the colour of the plants were employed both as a symbol of alarm and danger, as well as a reference to TOYOTA’s original signs. However, we should not forget that red also constitutes the colour of life, viscerality and love. Notably, the future of life on Earth and humanity’s very survival are now inextricably connected with the fight against climate change. ‘Red Air’ is an emphatic reminder that the dangers of ignorance and inaction are the biggest threats that we are collectively facing today.

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