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Positioned high on the cliffs of the ancient North Yorkshire coast, Ryan Gander's 2022 work We Are Only Human (subtitled 'incomplete sculpture for Scarborough to be finished by snow') is the poignant subject of a new film by HENI Talks.

The sculpture is shaped as a dolos – a type of tetrapod, which is a concrete block placed on shorelines to dissipate waves and prevent erosion – but awaits a covering of snow to achieve its complete form. This invites viewers to reflect on the effect of human actions in the present on our planet's future, drawing attention to the urgency of the climate crisis.

We Are Only Human was the first sculpture commissioned by Invisible Dust and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for a project called Wild Eye, an outdoor sculpture trail for the North Yorkshire coast.

The sculpture is cast in ultra-low carbon concrete that uses recycled waste materials and limestone, which is made up of ancient sea creatures, shells and skeletons. It feels like it's landed on this headland, a modernist alien in a heritage landscape.

We Are Only Human

We Are Only Human 2022

Ryan Gander (b.1976)

Scarborough Castle, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

You can't place its form or function, find a use or a reason for it, and that indeterminacy is a great catalyst for thinking. Perhaps it functions as a cautionary tale: it is a structure normally used for preventing coastal erosion but it's situated on an elevated clifftop above the sea, implying that, one day, the cliff might be reclaimed by the ocean.

Like Duchamp believed, the beholder is the joint creator of the work. Ryan Gander works in every conceivable form and material: he seems particularly interested in snow, calling it the material of our time. And if snow is the medium of our times, it's because it makes familiar things strange. It levels hierarchies and distinctions, and it may become vanishingly rare in future.

Still from HENI Talk's film on Ryan Gander's 'We Are Only Human'

Still from HENI Talk's film on Ryan Gander's 'We Are Only Human'

We Are Only Human explores this concept. The artist used a computer program to simulate snowfall on the dolos. By then subtracting this volume of snow from the original shape, he created an artwork that would only be finished when it snows. Due to the changes in weather conditions caused by global warming, this work may never be seen in its complete form.

We Are Only Human

We Are Only Human 2022

Ryan Gander (b.1976)

Scarborough Castle, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

This work will be here until 2032, a period of 10 years. Scientists tell us this period is crucial in reducing carbon emissions before global warming hits a tipping point and becomes irreversible. So it functions as a kind of marker of time and of the urgency of our situation. It's emblematic of the fact that our actions in the present affect the future.

Jeanine Griffin, curator and researcher

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