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Ground Zero Earth – a new exhibition showing the time is now or the future is never

From climate change to political unrest, we live in uncertain times. A Black Mirror style art exhibition that explores our future and our reality in this pivotal moment of uncertainty has launched in Cambridge and runs throughout the duration of the Cambridge Science Festival (11-24 March). 

The exhibition, Ground Zero Earth, which is part of this year’s Cambridge Science Festival, draws on themes from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), a University of Cambridge research group that studies risks that could lead to human extinction or the collapse of civilisation.

CSER researches new and largely unstudied risks associated with emerging technology and human activity such as biological risks, environmental risks, and risks from emerging technologies. Ground Zero Earth asks five artists to interpret and explore the part humans must play across these themes.

Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and CSER co-founder, commented: “Risks to the whole of civilisation can be hard to get your head around. Art can help re-examine our place in the world and rethink our responsibilities. We’re delighted to work together with these artists to explore this vital subject.”

Curated by Yasmine Rix, the exhibition’s featured artists include David Lisser, Jillian Mayer, Olivia Domingos, Daniel Sean Kelly, and Bob Bicknell-Knight. Themes cover human wellbeing, future scenarios and universal truths.

‘Clean meat’ is the focus of artist David Lisser’s piece. Reducing meat consumption is widely seen as the single most effective lifestyle choice a consumer can make to lower their impact on the earth. Lisser explores the rise and fall of lab grown meat in the 21st century. His work includes the social, cultural and economic context for the twists and turns of this fascinating time that has not yet taken place. David Lisser takes an interest in material culture and what we can learn from what gets left behind. Describing his practice as ‘future archaeology’ he fabricates artefacts and objects that may be discarded by our descendants.

US-based artist Jillian Mayer’s survivalist art has drawn attention from several platforms, for instance her exhibition of ‘Slumpies’, colourful fiberglass sculptures designed to prop people up and invite new postures of standing, sitting, and lying alone or with friends to stare at your screen endlessly without having to worry about neck strain. By equal measures practical and parody, Slumpies comments on the kind of world we live in now and a potential utilitarian future that may lie ahead. Jillian investigates the points of tension between our online and physical worlds, producing work that attempts to inhabit the increasingly porous boundary between the two.

Olivia Domingos brings together light humour, wit and compassion towards challenging subjects. ‘Are You Ok Baby’ is a concept that Domingos has developed in recent years, with her clothing label provoking strangers to question the public domain of wellbeing, with interpretation cross-pollinating into climate change and environmental concerns. 

Daniel Kelly seeks to create a speculative space for the imagining of other realities – his work is the product of thinking about the human person and its environments, objects, tools, and the ways that these things are indexed to our understanding of time and thoughts about the past and future. 

Bob Bicknell-Knight builds automated and sculptural objects that examine the infrastructures of data and online consumerism. Life Raft is a 3D printed sculpture made by Bicknell-Knight during the rise in value of Bitcoin. It shows blue coloured miniature people hopping on board to escape common currency.

The exhibition is at the Alison Richard Building and runs daily until 22nd March (9am-5pm). Associated events taking place at the venue include a film screening, Rise of the machines, on 14th March at 6pm and Curator tour on 13th March at 4.30pm.

This exhibition is supported by CSER, ART at ARB, CRASSH, Arts Council England Lottery Fund, Cambridge BID.

Download the full Cambridge Science Festival programme here

Bookings can be made here or by calling the Festival on 01223 766 766 between 11am and 3pm.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media via Facebook and Twitter #CamSciFest.


Cambridge Science Festival brings science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine to an audience of all ages through demonstrations, talks, performances and debates. Run by the University of Cambridge, the Festival draws together independent organisations in addition to many University Departments, Centres and Museums. Most events are free.

The 2019 Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, AstraZeneca, MedImmune, Illumina, TTP Group, Science AAAS, Anglia Ruskin University, Astex Pharmaceuticals, Cambridge Science Centre, Cambridge Junction, IET, Hills Road 6th Form College, British Science Week, Cambridge University Health Partners, Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology, and Walters Kundert Charitable Trust. Media Partners: BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.