Open Space Contemporary presents Adventitious Encounters, a group exhibition with 20 internationally acclaimed, emerging and established contemporary artists. Co-curated by Huma Kabakcı and Anna Skladmann, the exhibition is held on the sky-roof of the historic Whiteleys Shopping Centre, a space rarely open to the public.

Adventitious Encounters explores the interwoven processes of human production and consumption in response to nature as an object of desire; a nature of which we are an intrinsic part. Yet ‘nature’ is no longer pristine; we are now living through the Anthropocene epoch, a moment when human activity has begun contributing to failing ecosystems, rising sea-levels and climatic change. In turn, these negative effects are driving mass human migration; as a species, we are forced to re-think historical assumptions and the ways in which we register these dramatic changes, which are not only affecting the whole of humanity, but all existing planetary life.

If we examine the transition of Whiteleys from a Victorian department store to bygone shopping centre and onward to future development, we find a multiple-use space in which new possibilities and realisations can crystallise. With respect to the building’s heritage, Adventitious Encounters invites the audience to experience a multi-sensory stimulation, akin to William Whiteleys’ unrealised botanical vision. In its original design, the uppermost floor of the department store was organised around a dominant octagonal glass dome, in part inspired by the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851. This dome was envisaged to be at the centre of an elegant formal “Italian” garden, flanked by water ponds and reminiscent of classical orangeries; a distillation of nature in miniature.

The exhibition proposes to map out our dependence on nature through an extended sensory means that art and technology provide. Today, technology allows us to perceive hidden environmental process. Consequently, humanity is able to soberly survey the situation, which notably marks the gap between the role of the human being as an observing subject and as an observed object. As a result, we now have vast power at our disposal to explore this relationship and recreate nature according to our own desires. Scents, colours, textures and emotions elicited through art allow for the aesthetic reinterpretation of nature, consequently revealing our own entanglement with it. Adventitious Encounters looks into the novel production of sensual desire and the re-combination of material reality.

Adventitious Encounters will feature a collaborative installation with Conservatory Archives and a programme of performances and events, including a partnership with Block Universe. In addition, Andrew Osborne, PhD candidate at Goldsmiths and currently works at the Royal College of Art, has contributed to the catalogue essay Anthropsensory: The New Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, which forms part of the exhibition material.