Channel 4 commissions year-long artwork and Man Made Planet season


Channel 4 has commissioned artist John Gerrard to create an original, year-long moving image artwork as part of a season of programming to mark this year’s Earth Day (22nd April 2017). The work – Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017 – will be broadcast across Channel 4, All4 and social media and shown on a screen in the courtyard of Somerset House in London.

The Man-Made Planet season explores the impact of humanity on Planet Earth Other programmes include Man-Made Planet: Earth from Space (w/t): a visually spectacular film using NASA’s enormous archive of photographs of the earth from space to show how human activity and technology has changed the very surface of our world over the last five decades. It also includes Escape to Costa Rica (w/t) - a series following writer and science-writer Gaia Vince as she moves to Costa Rica with her husband and young family to explore the country considered one of the happiest and greenest on earth.

The season comes as some scientists are arguing that humanity’s impact on Earth is now so profound that it amounts to a new geological era - the Anthropocene – in which human beings themselves have become the most powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet. It will explore both our impact to date and our options for the future at a time of rising concern and activism about climate change.

Overseeing Man-Made Planet is Channel 4’s Head of Specialist Factual, John Hay, who commented: “As a channel, we exist to find fresh ways of talking about the great issues of our time, and this season does exactly that. I’m particularly proud to be collaborating with an artist whose amazing work will – I believe – be seen by future generations as both prescient and profound.”

Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017
John Gerrard is widely regarded as a pioneer of simulation and the virtual in contemporary art. His work has been shown at the Venice Biennale, Tate Britain, Manchester International Festival and in a large-scale installation in the Lincoln Center plaza in New York (a piece bought by Leonardo Di Caprio and donated to Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

His new work for Channel 4 depicts the site of the 'Lucas Gusher' – the world’s first major oil find – in Spindletop, Texas. Gerrard has painstakingly recreated the site as a digitally-simulated moving image and placed at its centre a simulated flagpole bearing a flag of perpetually-renewing black smoke. The computer-generated Spindletop runs in exact parallel with the real Spindletop for a year, the sun rising and setting on screen at exactly the same time as it does in Texas.

John Gerrard commented: “One of the greatest legacies of the 20th century is not just population explosion or better living standards but vastly raised carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. A new flag attempts to give this invisible gas, this international risk, an image, a way to represent itself. I like to think of it as a flag for a new kind of world order.”

On Channel 4, the work will break into the schedule in short bursts over 24 hours. Disrupting normal viewing, the silent simulation will repeatedly appear unannounced in millions of homes around the UK. Online it will run continually on and on the screen at Somerset House for a week from 21st April.

Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017 was commissioned by John Hay for Channel 4. Its installation at Somerset House is supported by Thomas Dane Gallery, the JJ Charitable Trust, the Mark Leonard Trust and the Ashden Trust #westernflag

Man-Made Planet: Earth from Space (w/t) 1 x 60

In 1972, astronauts aboard Apollo 17 captured the iconic ‘Blue Marble’ photo of Earth, the first time the whole of the Earth had been captured within a single frame. At the time, this new perspective had a profound effect on our perception of ourselves; since then NASA has taken millions more.

In this epic, powerful and revelatory film, a new generation of astronauts (including Tim Peake) uses those images of the earth from space to reveal the astonishing transformation humanity has wrought in the 45 years since ‘Blue Marble’. Together the astronauts give us an armchair tour of the change they’ve witnessed from orbit, as they’ve watched us etching our presence on the planet. The film will show these images together in stunning time-lapse sequences to reveal how we are reshaping our world, for better and for worse - from the sprawling megacities of China to vast desert farms in the Middle East, and the melting snowcap of Kilimanjaro to and giant solar arrays in Nevada.

Man-Made Planet: Earth from Space (w/t) is directed by Kenny Scott for Arrow Media. The Executive Producer is Ash Potterton and the Creative Director is John Smithson. It was commissioned for Channel 4 by John Hay.

Escape to Costa Rica (W/T) – 3 x 60

This new series follows science-writer Gaia Vince as she and her family explore Costa Rica.

Gaia wants to understand how this small tropical country in Central America is so far ahead of the rest of us in finding a balance between our human needs and the needs of our natural world.

She, along with her husband Nick and their two young children have packed up their life in the UK to trek, climb and dives into one of the most biologically dynamic countries on earth. A country that has no armed forces, runs its national grid on volcanoes and rivers, and is leading the race to become the first carbon neutral country on earth.

This series will explore the issues we all face over the coming decades through this beautiful location and through Gaia's unique anthropological lens. The series is made by Century Films and commissioned for Channel 4 by Ralph Lee. The director is Eoin O’Shea and the Executive Producers are Katie Bailiff and Brian Hill.


About Western Flag:

Western Flag (Spindletop,Texas) 2017 is an artwork created by John Gerrard. The work is a digital simulation of a virtual world realised within a game engine, in essence it is a piece of bespoke software running on a PC. The virtual world is rendered by the software in real-time, it is in a sense a live performance. The computer running the software calculates each frame as it is required, up to 80 times a second, and then immediately discards it. The calculation is based on various environmental factors within the virtual scene: time of day, position of viewpoint and a complex algorithm which simulates the perpetually moving smoke. These frames fit seamlessly together in a hyper-real animation. The work can be seen to exist within the arc of an entire year, the time it takes the sun to return to the exact same position in the sky within the scene, but other than that will never repeat.

About the Artist:

Irish artist John Gerrard (b 1974, N. Tipperary, Ireland) is widely regarded as a pioneer of simulation and the virtual in contemporary art. He is best known for his commitment to large-scale works that take the form of real-time computer simulations, created in painstaking detail over the course of many months or years. Often exploring geographically isolated locations, as in his work for the 53rd Venice Biennale that featured large-scale projections based on documentation of the agrarian American Great Plains, the works frequently refer to structures of power and networks of energy that have made possible the expansion of human endeavour in the past century.

Recent solo presentations of Gerrard’s work include Power.Play, UCCA, Beijing, China (2016), Solar Reserve, Lincoln Centre in association with the Public Art Fund, NYC. USA (2014), Sow Farm, Rathole Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2014), Exercise, Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, Turkey (2014) , Pulp Press (Kistefos) 2013, a permanent install for Kistefos Museet, Norway. Exercise (Djibouti) 2012, for Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK. Infinite Freedom Exercise, Manchester International Festival, Manchester, UK (2011)

John Gerrard is represented by Thomas Dane Gallery, London, and Simon Preston Gallery, New York.

About Somerset House:

A unique part of the London cultural scene, Somerset House is an historic building where surprising and original work comes to life. From its 18th-century origins, Somerset House has been a centre for debate and discussion – an intellectual powerhouse for the nation. Somerset House is today a key cultural destination in London in which to experience a broad range of artistic activity, engage with artists, designers and makers and be a part of a major creative forum – an environment that is relaxed, welcoming, and inspirational to visit while providing a stimulating workplace for the cultural and creative industries.

Since its opening in 2000, Somerset House has built up a distinctive outdoor public programme including Skate, concerts, an open-air film season and a diverse range of temporary exhibitions throughout the site focusing on contemporary culture, with an extensive learning programme attached. In October 2016, Somerset House launched Somerset House Studios, a new experimental workspace connecting artists, makers and thinkers with audiences. The Studios provide a platform for new creative projects and collaboration, promoting work that pushes bold ideas, engages with urgent issues and pioneers new technologies. Somerset House is also one of the biggest communities of creative organisations in London including The Courtauld Gallery and Institute of Art, King’s College London Cultural Institute and over 100 other creative businesses. It currently attracts approximately 3.4 million visitors every year.<>

About the supporters:

The installation at Somerset House is supported by a group of three of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts. The Trusts are: Ashden Trust, JJ Charitable Trust and the Mark Leonard Trust. This group came together in 2011as the Climate Change Collaboration to support pilot and research projects to find ways of reducing CO2 emissions quickly, and that campaigns for a move from fossil fuels to renewable energy.


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