Heading into Scunthorpe you can’t help be blown away at the sheer size of the imposing steelworks that dominate the town. Acres of still functioning dark and dirty blast furnaces and all their ancillary buildings loom large and from a distance are seemingly interspersed with modern clean white wind turbines. It feels like a change is afoot with some of the landscape already returned to nature with the possibility that more will in the future but looking at it right now it’s hard to visualise just how. And the dirty and the clean are more interlinked than at first they may seem. Heavy industry shapes and moulds the natural resources that are needed to make the turbines that provide our clean energy. The car that I used to drive to this show was itself a product of heavy industry. It’s a fitting backdrop to Dan Rawling’s ‘Future Returns’ show (at the long standing 20-21 Visual Arts Centre) which examines how we utilise nature’s resources and how it ultimately responds.
The star exhibit of the show sits at the foot of the imposing church roof high above. Nestling atop a mound of earth an old redundant oil tanker has been carved out with intricate branch and foliage shapes. It appears as if nature is taking it back for its own and the theme is replicated in smaller installations of oil drums littered around the building and courtyard. What were once functional structures enabling our need for oil now seem delicate and, on their way, to decomposing. Everything comes together to create a unique and inspiring vista – the colossal space of the disused church making the tanker appear small in comparison and it’s cutaway structure turning it into a seemingly fragile object. Occasionally a mist eerily envelops the scene, and it feels like this is just a transition to future decay to the point where nature will reclaim the whole structure.
An accompanying video explains the whole project, how Rawlings had to learn a raft of new skills to make his idea happen including sourcing, shipping, cleaning and cutting up an oil tanker that nobody seemed to have a use for.
Future Returns runs at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre Scunthorpe until 25th September 2021.