Can Artists Change the World?

Sculpture, photography, architecture, and biology are some of the disciplines that intersect in Ackroyd & Harvey’s work, revealing an intrinsic bias towards process and event and often reflecting urban political ecologies by highlighting the temporal nature of processes of growth and decay. In this exclusive interview they discuss their work and ideas with Helen Moore.

Ackroyd&Harvey: Living Skins

Ackroyd&Harvey: Living Skins

Helen Moore: Your work is expressed in this powerful mix of intersecting disciplines – sculpture, photography and film, architecture, science – and I wonder if this breadth has emerged as part of your process, possibly out of a desire to find the right means for narrating and/or making physical your response to the issues and themes you address (climate change, extinction, natural cycles of growth and decay etc); or if a multidisciplinary approach was there from the start, perhaps arising out of your different skills and interests?

Ackroyd&Harvey: It tracks back to formative influences and decisions, chance meetings and free-ranging instinct. In the late ’70’s Heather studied a degree in Combined Arts, the first Honours Degree in the UK to actively encourage cross-disciplinary work. Concentrating on performance and sculpture, the disciplines of sound, text, design, video and movement all played a key part too and throughout the ’80’s she was involved in the British avant-garde theatre world, working across Britain, Europe and the USA. Dan completed his Masters in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 1982, and started showing with Birch and Conran, a London art gallery based in Soho. One of his exhibitions was seen by art directors Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs who were working with filmmaker Peter Greenaway, and subsequently Dan worked on three consecutive films on specialized prop making and set design. He grew Caliban’s Pit for Prospero’s Books and worked on the magical books. In 1988, he also created some sculptural pieces for Derek Jarman’s War Requiem. So, the stage was set early on for us to feel that we could draw on and intersect different disciplines when we started collaborating together in 1990.

HM: By coincidence, we independently responded to the mock Ecocide trial held at the Supreme Court in September 2011 – I, as a poet, with ‘Earth Justice’; you with your film of the proceedings, which was exhibited the following year in Texas.  How was your film received in an American state readily identified with the oil industry, and to what extent do you hold the reality of ecocide at the centre of your practice?

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