This is a retrospective about the Human Aquarium. Words by Lucy Meredith
Human Aquarium Exhibition was created by Yorkshire Life Aquatic in February 2019. One of the things we do, is use art to tackle environmental issues. Firstly we looked at the consequences of animal captivity, and after that, we put our attention toward single-use plastics. Most importantly, we linked these single issues back to the impact it has for people.
Firstly, we were really worried about the volume of single-use plastics used in Leeds. Secondly, we were aware that a lot of this waste could not be recycled. This is a problem. In contrast, we wanted to create a project that promoted the ideas of re-using materials and up cycling. More importantly, we wanted to create fun ways to do this.
It is especially relevant in land-locked cities such as Leeds as people may simply not see the impact of these issues on the environment. The Human Aquarium was a way of getting people to think about their plastic use in an interesting and visual way. This is because art and creativity are powerful ways to provoke curiosity and interest from people about challenging subjects.
The Aquarium | How we transformed the space
We took over an empty shop in the St John’s shopping centre and transformed it into this aquarium. We worked with lighting and set designers so that we could do this. The aim was to create an interactive exhibition that people could immerse themselves within. We created sculptures and installations made from single use plastics. We used the lighting and set designs to evolve a multi- sensory and child friendly space. Visitors were able to explore it freely and safely.
After that, we worked with a photographer to create thought provoking images. The photos told a narrative of sea mammals and their captivity. The story put people in the places of dolphins and orcas. Similarly, the underwater film told this story of captivity. What is it like to live in a tank?
Preparation | What we did Before the Project
In preparation, we collected thousands of used plastic bottles which formed plastic trash islands within the space. We also worked with a local group Plastic-Free Me. They worked with young people to create a giant octopus that lit up. It represented the amount of rubbish one person makes in just one month. Visitors found this information really surprising. As well as this, we collaborated with many Leeds-based artists, makers and students from Leeds Arts University. We found this exciting.
Over the 12 day exhibition, we had a massive 7642 visitors to the space. We ran 12 creative workshops and talks. We sold out on our environmental talks night. Hence, we can surmise that people really do care about what’s happening to our planet.
What is noteworthy is that the exhibition proved to be a major success and as a result, we are planning our next steps. Would you like the exhibition to pop up in your town? Do let us know if you would.
Feedback | Comments from visitors
“Incredibly inspiring and such an important message. I am so proud of the exhibition because this is what’s going to make a change.”
“An inspiring, resourceful and wonderful exhibition. It made us think about what we could do to save our world. Thank you.”
“What an AMAZING exhibition. It had a beautiful energy and also felt mysterious. It made serious points that made me think about the environment and the impact I have. I believe that it was much better and more effective than preaching with a public information leaflet.”