Using Art to Change the World
The artist Petroc Sesti is a co-founder of Platform Earth, an organisation which aims to bring together artists and scientists to deal with the pressing environmental issues that face humanity
“Artists are the conduits for new cultural narratives,” says Petroc Sesti. “We are well placed to engage the public and help make the cultural shift needed to get to net zero.”
He’s talking about Platform Earth, an organisation he co-founded in 2021, which “was born out of the desire to steer the contemporary arts toward environmental activism”. It aims to bridge the gap between the arts and the sciences, educate the public and provide finance streams for scientists who are working on carbon capture and marine projects.
Platform Earth’s most recent project involved using Air-Ink, made from particle pollution captured on the streets of India, and asking some of the world’s most celebrated artists, including Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Shezad Dawood and Brian Eno, to create works from it. These works were sold at a charity event in London in February 2022 featuring the likes of US astronaut Nicole Stott and actor Jude Law, both of whom are supporters of Platform Earth, with all proceeds going towards the restoring of a forest of carbon-sequestering kelp, a sea plant that naturally stores carbon and promotes biodiversity, off the UK coast.
Sesti was born and now lives in London. His parents, who are from an old Italian family, moved from the UK to Tuscany where they own a wine estate that produces the region’s eponymous Brunello di Montalcino. He studied at the Chelsea School of Art and, after graduating, he briefly trained in classical sculpture in Carrara, Italy (home of the famous marble), then opened his first studio in New York before returning to London, where he now works in Hackney. His art is in museums and private collections around the world.
Sesti’s work is characterised by its interaction with both viewer and its environment, and his exploration as an artist of the metaphysical nature of existence beyond day-to-day human experiences reflect his passion for physics and astrophysics, fluid dynamics, ecosystems, marine biology and climate change. And so, Platform Earth is a natural extension.
“We live in a time where we can’t ignore what’s happening on the environmental front,” he explains. “Platform Earth is a direct response to this. I want art to play a leading role in defining how we react to the climate crisis and the ocean crisis, in the same way that music played a role in defining civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”
Sesti says that, as an artist himself, he saw that artists were often individually very concerned about the environment but not engaged as a cohesive group. “I thought, ‘Let’s create a platform where artists can start engaging with scientists and environmental movements.’
“What led me into natural carbon sequestration and the creation of Platform Earth was time spent in Asian rainforests using laser-scanning techniques to harvest 3D models of vast ancient trees for my Tree Beacon sculpture project. I had a waking moment working with scientists studying the amount of carbon locked in trees using laser-scanning techniques to effectively capture the complexity of the largest living habitats on the planet. And then I imagined an organisation where artists and institutions work closely with scientists, sharing knowledge and providing financial streams to protect and restore carbon locking habitats.
“My fascination with marine blue-carbon habitats stems from science papers that compared land-based forests to marine kelp, seagrass and mangrove carbon sequestration. The marine data was so encouraging, as the ocean habitat grows back exponentially faster than on land, capturing 20 to 30 times more carbon than land-based alternatives. This allows sea forests to do in 10 years what would take a forest on the land over 100 years. The fact that these forests dotted off the British coast were often the size of Paris was a real eye-opener.”
Sesti worked with marine biologists to identify appropriate schemes, and, in an example of joined-up thinking, Sesti quickly realised he could not just start a charitable project in its own narrow sector. Using his contacts from the art world, Platform Earth has since successfully campaigned for the UK government to change the legislation on marine protected areas, brought in celebrities from film, science and literature to support its events, and engaging across the art, science and government sectors.
Sesti is very keen for Platform Earth not to be consigned to an art-world bubble. “We’re looking to sell artworks to pay scientists and projects who are working on the front line of climate change. We want to create a cultural sales platform.”
“Platform Earth is still really in its early days,” he says. “We’re also looking to change the way that monumental art is made by moving away from toxic, non-recyclable materials. It doesn’t have to be made out of something that’s going to rot away and disappear in a few years. It can be recycled stainless steel used in particular ways to reduce the carbon footprint and still be able to last 5,000 years. It’s possible for environmental art to still be collectable.”
Biography / key dates
2008 Exhibits Vanishing Point at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City
2012 Work included in the 9th Shanghai Biennale
2012 Turbulence exhibited at the Espace Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris
2014-15 Selector for the Prudential Eye Art Awards, Singapore
2018-2022 Co-judges the Aon Community Art Award
2020 Sagittarius A - Nebula, light based interactive artwork & audio visual Solar Relay IIII installation, exhibited at the Manifesta 13 Biannual Marseille 2020
2021 Founds Platform Earth
2022 Exhibitor in Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, curated by Alison Wilding RA with the theme of ‘Climate’