Designing with pandas

Sir Peter Scott’s 1960s panda logo for the World Wildlife Foundation has already done its fair share of fundraising duties – but there’s plenty more mileage to be had from some intriguing reincarnations of the black-and-white classic, finds Anna Richardson

The question of whether designers can save the planet takes on a cuddly dimension next month, when a select group of them tackles climate change with the help of one of the most recognisable emblems in the world.

The World Wildlife Foundation’s panda stands for the organisation’s ongoing work in wildlife conservation and broader environmental issues, such as climate change and promoting sustainable lifestyles. Designed in 1961 as a logo by naturalist and painter Sir Peter Scott, who wanted a simple, black-and-white image that would be instantly recognisable and could be copied easily, the panda has had many incarnations.

The panda collection boxes, for example, were ubiquitous before being retired in 2007 when new funding laws were introduced. But they are now being reborn, spruced up for a new exhibition to raise awareness and funding. Together with Artwise Curators, WWF challenged designers and artists to create a piece of work out of the decommissioned pandas.

‘We wanted to evoke the 21st-century environment in an innovative and memorable way, so that those seeing the works will reflect on how our rapidly changing climate will impact on people, wildlife and the natural world,’ says David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK.

Pandamonium sees the likes of Jason Bruges, Tom Dixon, Jim Lambie and Sir Peter Blake turn more than 120 of them into a range of multimedia artworks, which will be exhibited at the Selfridges store in London next month and later sold at auction.

‘As diverse as the final works are, a thread that unites most of them seems to be the desire to preserve and protect,’ writes Susie Allen, founding director of Artwise Curators, in an accompanying book. ‘From Lambie’s sculpture, where the panda is fossilised in concrete, to Tracey Emin’s monoprint and an accompanying photograph showing the panda hiding as though playing a game of hide-and-seek from all the dangers that threaten.’

Other approaches include Jason Bruges Studio’s incorporation of thermal cameras and servo motors to create an unnerving artwork of 100 rotating ‘captive pandas’, which track human movement in unison, rotating towards the viewer and forcing them to question mankind’s traditional relationship with nature.

Meanwhile, Dixon’s semi-precious zinc panda is a metaphor for how endangered species are becoming more precious. UVA has created a life-sized panda in ice, allowing it to melt in its studio, with a photographic print remaining as the only record of its existence, and Gavin Turk has removed the mother panda and her baby from their plinth, leaving just a grey solitary tombstone of foreboding.

Blake’s light-hearted approach of a panda dressed up in World Wrestling Federation garb has a sense of humour, but also restates the question of what WWF stands for. Gary Hume, Laura Ford and Adam King all show the positive effects if nature were allowed to take over, and Mark Titchner makes a political statement in his placard-bearing gold work You Can’t Hate Nature. He writes, ‘The growing consciousness of our perilous environmental situation reminds us that if we ever thought that we could damage one part of the natural world, even if it is far away from us, without harming ourselves, we are very much mistaken. You can’t hate nature.’

Pandamonium will be exhibited at Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street from 4 September to 28 October, with the auction taking place on 12 October. The accompanying book is designed

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