Eco-Visionaries review – the salt flats will die and the jellyfish shall rise

Royal Academy. London A mixture of dystopia and daydream, this show lets artists, architects and designers look to the future. It’s bad news for sacred lands and rhinos – but a great time to be a jellyfish

By Oliver Wainwright

21.11.2019 /

Saving the best until last, the final room is the most alarming of them all. Groups of visitors are divided into two separate little auditoria and instructed to put on headphones, where they are told a lengthy tale about the unstoppable rise of jellyfish – in front of a giant swirling tank of the pulsating creatures.

“We are in this crazy, unforeseen and incomprehensible situation where we are competing against jellyfish,” says one of the marine biologists narrating the story. “And they are winning.”

Rising water temperatures have been a boon for the tentacled invertebrates, which are increasingly taking over the oceans. Another voice says that half a billion jellyfish per day drift into the sea of Japan. “Warm water is a disaster for anything that breathes,” says another, “and a dream come true for anything that doesn’t breathe much, like jellyfish.”

Rimini Protokoll, the artist collective behind the work, says that pretty much everything that damages our ecosystem seems to benefit jellyfish: overfishing brings down the number of predatory fish that could reduce their number; plastic bags in the oceans kill other predators like turtles; warm water extends their breeding season. Last year a massive jellyfish invasion threatened to wipe out the fish population of the South Australian seaport Whyalla, while another influx paralysed the nuclear power plant in Swedish Oskarshamn when jellyfish plugged up the cooling water supply.

The unnerving conclusion is that humans are not long for this Earth, while jellyfish are set to inherit the planet. It’s a bittersweet ending. While we mine, harvest and burn the planet’s resources, intoxicating everything around us, at least we’re creating a nice place for our new gelatinous overlords to reign supreme.



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