Paul Huxley RA was commissioned to make a wall drawing for one of the two Azerbaijan Pavilions at the 2015 Venice Biennale. The work is titled Where do we come from? Where are we going? and constitutes a 6 x 6m room in the exhibition Vita Vitale housed in the 13th Century Palazzo Garzoni on the Grand Canal. The theme of this exhibition focused on the work of international artists and scientists confronting the ecological challenges we all face globally.

Paul Huxley’s work used measurements and proportions taken from scientific data on subjects such as human and animal global population, greenhouse gas pollution and rising sea levels.  The work, executed in acrylics painted directly on four walls follows the character of his previous large-scale wall projects that used geometric structures and intense colour.

Vita Vitale was commissioned by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and curated by Artwise Curators.

Wall 1, 15 x 18 ft 9 inches (4.6 x 5.72 m)

Wall 1 shows the rise of human population (red), the growth of animal farming (blue) and the resulting decline of natural wildlife (yellow). The vertical dimension is a measure of mass (Terrestrial Vertebrate Biomass) measured in millions of tonnes.

For hundreds of thousands of years the biomass stood at about 200 million tonnes mostly wild animals shown in the lower left corner of the wall. This is estimated to be the approximate global carrying capacity. The horizontal dimension measures time in four further fifty-year steps from 1900 to a projected 2050. The volume of humans and their domestically bred animals has risen dramatically, doubling in the last fifty years and set to reach 1.45 billion tonnes in the next thirty five years; seven times the global carrying capacity.

Human population has risen from 3 billion in 1950 to 6 billion in 2000, 7 billion in 2013 and potentially 9.6 billion by 2050. This has caused the loss of forests to human habitation and agricultural land, bringing about emissions of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Wall 2, 15 x 17 ft 5 inches (4.6 x 5.31 m)

In Wall 2 the bands of colours on the right side of the wall show the approximate ratio of human generated greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year: Carbon dioxide 74% (pink), Methane 16% (dark green), Nitrous oxide 8% (purple) and Fluorinated gases 2% (light green) in total equivalent to approximately 34 billion tonnes.

The ratio in this stack of colours is replicated in monochrome in reverse order in the main area of the wall, the smallest at floor level, the largest reaching beyond the ceiling, representing the precarious balance that threatens our planet.

Greenhouse gases contribute to the blanket of gases that surround our planet absorbing more heat from the sun than they reflect. The largest natural greenhouse gas is water vapour but the rising amount of gases caused by human activity adds to its effect upsetting the natural balance and causing global warming.

Wall 3, 15 x 19 ft 10 inches (4.6 x 6.04 m)

Wall 3 is about potential rising sea levels. As the planet warms from the effect of greenhouse gases, the oceans expand and icecaps melt.

There is agreement between all scientists that sea levels are rising and will continue to do so. The most conservative official estimates are 1 to 1.5 meters by the end of this century.

However, alternative research forecasts greater sea level changes. The oceans are not static and waves, storms, hurricanes and tsunamis will add to the effect on low-lying coastal regions.

The Arctic sea ice is rapidly shrinking exposing black holes of sea that absorb heat rather than the reflective white of ice and snow. Rivers of ice-melt are cutting through the glaciers that cover Greenland and may cause their disappearance sooner than expected.

In the Antarctic the great western ice sheet is being eroded by climate change and is in danger of suddenly breaking away. These factors may cause a rapid rise in sea level by up to five meters.

Wall 4 displays a small screen set in an alcove between two tall Renaissance windows. The screen shows some hard numerical facts that informed the design of the three walls .

Worldometer was commissioned to create a version of their rolling data showing in real time the escalation of human population, the rise of pollutant greenhouse gases, the erosion of land and the rising sea level.

Wall 4, 15 x 17 ft 9 inches (4.6 x 5.42 m)

Completed 4th May 2015

Painted by: Paul Huxley. Nelson Huxley and Mark Huxley

Where do we come from? Where are we going?  May 2015

Vita Vitale the Azerbaijan International Pavilion, Venice Biennale

Acrylic and emulsion. Three walls 15 x 56 ft  (4.6 x 17 m)

2015 - Venice Biennale