The Man Made Planet season explores the impact of humanity on Planet Earth.
As well as artist John Gerrard’s original, year-long moving image artwork, the season includes 'Man Made Planet: Earth from Space' - 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' - 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.'
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 all4.com/westernflag and on the screen at Somerset House for a week from 21st April.
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 snow cap of Kilimanjaro, to giant solar arrays in Nevada.
Escape to Costa Rica
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 dive 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.