Early warning Signs by Ellie Harrison

Early Warning Signs: Ellie Harrison

By Lydia Heath

Throughout 2017 we had the privilege of being a host venue for one of Ellie Harrison’s Early Warning Signs.

Every day, come rain or shine, the rotating sign stood proudly outside the gallery window on Brighton’s busy London Road, advertising climate change to the hundreds of commuters, shoppers and tourists walking past – seamlessly blending in with the countless signs and billboards competing for their attention.

Early warning Signs by Ellie Harrison


Early Warning Signs is an ongoing project by British artist Ellie Harrison. Initiated at Two Degrees festival in 2011, the project aims to allow the four rotating ‘climate change’ signs she produced for the festival to continue to promote their cause long into the future. Each autumn, four new host venues are invited to ‘adopt a sign‘, agreeing to keep it on public display for the following year.

Ellie Harrison is an artist and activist based in Glasgow. Her work takes a variety of forms: from installations and performance / events, to lectureslive broadcasts & political campaigns. Using an array of strategies, Harrison investigates, exposes and challenges the absurd consequences of our capitalist system: from over-consumptioninequality and alienation, to privatisation and climate change – and explores the impact free-market forces are having on our society, and our individual day-to-day lives.

As well as making playful, politically-engaged work for galleries and public spaces, Harrison is also the founder and coordinator of the national Bring Back British Rail campaign – which strives to popularise the idea of re-nationalising our public transport system – and is the agent for The Artists’ Bond – a life-long speculative funding scheme for artists, now with 160 members across the UK. Since 2013, Harrison has been Lecturer in Contemporary Art Practices at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, she is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and is engaged in an active critique of higher education.



2017 was another busy year for ONCA with a host of curated exhibitions, events and talks taking place alongside our normal rental bookings. Highlights include: a retrospective exhibition celebrating just some of the amazing environmental artists we’ve worked with since 2012 and the launch of our new branding. An interactive community sculpture project led by artist Solange Leon exploring animal and human migration. Transforming our courtyard into a micro theatre during Brighton Fringe, and giving out our first Green Curtain award to Jamal Harewood for his brilliant performance The Privileged exploring identity and race. Working with Brighton University Architecture students to imagine a new art space for the city. Commissioning the first live data air pollution installation by Wesley Goatley and Tobias Revell for Brighton Digital Festival. Partnering with HOUSE Biennial to exhibit workshop outcomes from Becky Warnocks community project with Brighton Table Tennis Club and finally our flagship annual exhibition for Remembrance Day for Lost Speciesfocussing this year on the role of ritual in honouring lost and disappearing pollinators.

It’s been great to have Ellie Harrison’s sign outside the gallery: it’s served as the catalyst for many interesting conversations about art’s role in raising awareness of environmental issues. Being situated in a busy city with the UK’s only Green MP, ONCA is well positioned to explore sustainable alternatives to capitalism. So having what looked like – at first glance – a sign for a business with the words CLIMATE CHANGE spinning round in the sea breeze felt very timely and important – particularly as there was such a sharp increase in storms and high winds last year. The location of our gallery was the perfect setting for such a visual pun: nestled in between business with a plethora of signs vying for people’s attention and money, it acted as a disruption to the ‘business as usual’ mode of the high street.

In its early years ONCA focused very heavily on fundraising for conservation projects and most of the work it exhibited had very clear links to frontline conservation partners. As time has gone on our programming has diversified, reflecting what we’ve learnt about how environmental issues are often interlinked with issues of social justice and political structures. Exhibiting Ellie Harrison’s sign – which has clear political motivations, but is packaged in a way that is not at first obvious to the viewer – felt therefore entirely appropriate for this curatorial shift. We feel it is important to hold a space for multiple perspectives and viewpoints, where the clumsiness and uncertainty of working towards a better future can exist without the pressure of providing all the answers. Ellie’s sign has appealed to a wide range of people and allowed us to engage with those who wouldn’t normally visit a gallery or consider themselves to be interested in contemporary art. Being outside of the white cube exhibition space and amongst the passers-by on the street has helped to break down social barriers with our audiences and strengthen existing relationships.

Being an Early Warning Signs host venue was a very positive experience. We are grateful for the opportunity, look forward to seeing how the project develops, and hope to work with Ellie again in the not too distant future.