Civilization: The Way We Live Now Exhibition, 2 June – 17 Sept 2023, Saatchi Gallery
Saatchi Gallery has announced an exciting summer exhibition called “Civilization: The Way We Live Now,” which will run from 2 June to 17 September 2023. The show, curated by William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell, will feature over 350 original prints by 150 internationally renowned photographers, including Edward Burtynsky, Lynne Cohen, Gabriele Galimberti, Mandy Barker, Lauren Greenfield, and Ahmad Zamroni.
The exhibition will offer an unprecedented look at humankind’s rapidly mutating collective life across the globe. The photographs in the collection acknowledge the diverse material and spiritual cultures that make up global “civilisation” today. From our outstanding collective achievements to our ruinous collective failings, Civilization: The Way We Live Now highlights the complexity and contradictions of contemporary civilisation.
Participating photographers from all five continents contributed to the exhibition. For example, Reiner Riedler’s families cavorting at leisure parks, Raimond Wouda’s high school subculture, Wang Qingsong’s parody of insane work habits, Lauren Greenfield’s displays of ostentatious wealth, Edward Burtynsky’s study of fragile water resources, Pablo Lopez Luz’s views on a sprawling contemporary megapolis, Thomas Struth’s vision of past civilizational glories, and Xing Danwen’s electronic wastelands are just a few examples of the powerful imagery that will be on display.
Civilization: The Way We Live Now is a collaboration between the Saatchi Gallery and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography. The highly anticipated exhibition has toured in major museums across Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Italy and includes a new selection of works curated especially for this London edition at Saatchi Gallery. The exhibition also features the work of many mid-career and emerging talents.
As curator William A. Ewing explains, “Photographers are at work everywhere, photographing everything, using their eyes and their minds to seize telling moments in the rapid flux with sharp, vivid images. Photographers are our civilisation’s eyes… Ironically, it may be that many of these photographs will last longer than the monuments and artefacts that they depict. London has always been a great centre for celebrating photography from all corners of the globe, filled with collections, archives, museums, and galleries deeply committed to promoting this vital art form. We, curators, have been privileged to benefit from many loans from these sources and welcome Saatchi Gallery’s invitation to share the fruits of our research with a London audience.”
The exhibition is conceived as a journey through critical aspects of civilization via eight thematic chapters: HIVE, which features photographs dealing with the concept of the urban environment, a prerequisite of all societies; ALONE TOGETHER which looks at social relationships; FLOW, which takes its subject to the movement of peoples, good and ideas; PERSUASION, which looks at the strategies that politicians and merchandisers employ to influence our behaviour; CONTROL, which has to do with authority and power; RUPTURE, which looks at societal breakdown and conflict; ESCAPE, which shows people searching for release from the mundane; and NEXT? Which hints at the new world taking shape in the 21st Century.
The exhibition focuses on our emerging global civilisation, as it has taken shape over the early years of the 21st Century. It explicitly examines collective behaviour and achievement, which are often disguised in our time by the celebration of individuality. Civilisation neither denies individualism nor the reality of distinct cultures, rich in their own right and which may even oppose homogenising global forces. However, the focus remains on what is shared collectively by many people, either directly as participants in collective activities or indirectly as consumers or passive observers.
The fast-emerging global civilisation has used and absorbed the discoveries and inventions of many previous cultures while adding a profusion to its innovations. Our burgeoning sciences and new technologies have allowed us to extend human life, destroy countless other forms, engineer new life forms, and create huge risks, even to the possible destruction of our species. It can develop utopias and dystopias, even paradoxically, simultaneously. It is now projecting itself into deep space to find another home for our species eventually.
Photography may also be seen in the light of a collective civilisational endeavour. Together, photographers are creating a multifaceted portrait of our time. They are busy everywhere on the surface of the globe, in every country and every city, observing, recording, interpreting, questioning, and fixing for posterity the way we live now. The exhibition can therefore be seen as a show about civilization or photography, and ideally through these two lenses simultaneously.
Saatchi Gallery’s announcement of the Civilization: The Way We Live Now exhibition is a highly anticipated event in the art world. The collection of original prints by 150 internationally renowned photographers offers an unprecedented look at humankind’s rapidly mutating collective life across the globe. Visitors to the exhibition will be taken on a journey through critical aspects of civilisation via eight thematic chapters, focusing on what is shared collectively by large numbers of people.
The exhibition acknowledges the diverse material and spiritual cultures that make up global “civilisation” today, highlighting the complexity and contradictions of contemporary civilisation. From our outstanding achievements to our ruinous collective failings, the powerful imagery on display will offer a unique and challenging discourse on the subject.
Civilization: The Way We Live Now is a collaboration between Saatchi Gallery and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, and the curators have been privileged to benefit from many loans from collections, archives, museums, and galleries deeply committed to the promotion of photography. The exhibition celebrates the vital art form of photography and the multifaceted portrait it creates of our time.
Main image: Wang Qingsong, Work, Work, Work, 2012 © Wang Qingsong