Wednesday, 31 March 2010

BOOK REVIEW: 'Anthology of Illustration' by Amelia Gregory

This book review also appears in the latest issue of Red Pepper magazine

Anyone who has argued with deniers knows that explaining the science of climate change is hard work. Its complexity can be baffling and scientific experts have an unfortunate tendency to misunderstand the importance of communicating their ideas, believing that their data and their authority are enough to merit public trust. That may explain why a simple slide show, accessibly presenting complex ideas and attempting to make an emotional connection with its audience, turned Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” into such an unlikely success. Images wield tremendous power to inspire.

But if the science can be tough, explaining how the potential technologies of renewable energy involve far more than solar panels and wind turbines is an even tougher sell, particularly as the carbon-consuming and nuclear industries have succeeded in portraying renewable as a marginal contributor to our overall energy consumption. That probably explains why the Anthology of Illustration, edited by designer and Climate Camp activist Amelia Gregory, is self-published – I can’t imagine a mainstream publisher having the slightest idea how to squeeze a profit from sales of the closest thing I’ve seen one of those ‘Bumper Books of Knowledge’ that I remember from childhood, but devoted to renewable technologies.

Gregory has commissioned forty artists and illustrators to try and creatively explain the range and diversity of ideas – from bio wave power to Gorlov’s Helical Turbine (a horizontal axis hydroelectric water turbine, which sounds insanely like a giant egg-whisk but has been deployed successfully by the Korean government) – through a series of ingenious and wonderful drawings and illustrations. Not everything works completely, a couple of contributions confuse more than they illuminate, but the book is a celebration too of the illustrator’s art – including interviews with each of the contributors and other examples of their work, including the artwork for last summer’s Climate Camp at Blackheath.

The ‘Anthology of Illustration’ tries to take technologies often seen as difficult, cold and utilitarian and make them seem colourful, emotional and inspiring. No-one else, as far as I know, has even considered this necessary or important and for that, this vibrant and strange book deserves a wider audience.

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