Earth Spells: Witches of the Anthropocene

11 February – 7 May, 2023

We are living through the dual ecological and climate crises caused by our own behaviour. This period of geological time is being described as the Anthropocene, which is identified by the presence of radioactive materials, pollutants, invasive species, fertilisers and plastics in the earth’s strata. Climate scientists recently agreed that this new epoch began in the 1950s.

Through the work of eight contemporary artists, Earth Spells explored emotional, spiritual and otherworldly connections to nature and our entanglement with it. The cauldron in RAMM’s collection was once owned by the self-identified ‘White Witch of Dartmoor’, Elizabeth Webb. It was the central focus for this exhibition and helped us reflect on how we can support a symbiotic relationship with plants. Webb would have used the pot for creating herbal, healing remedies.

During their research to create new work for the exhibition, the artists, Hart, Peake and Stein, made visits to RAMM’s stores where they held the cauldron and ‘felt its aura’. Describing herself as a half-witch or artist/witch, Lucy Stein’s vibrant paintings conjure up a sense of wildness, challenging us to stop ‘controlling’ or ‘civilising’ the natural world. Hart’s ceramic sculptural forms draw comparisons between the witch’s spell and the words of climate activists to incite change.

Installation view, Earth Spells at RAMM, Lucy Stein, various works
Installation view, Earths Spells: Witches of the Anthropocene, Lucy Stein, various works

Click here to view the cauldron in RAMM’s collection: cauldron (cauldron) (

Many of the artistic practices in Earth Spells are shaped and informed by a reconnection with nature and a respect for traditional ecological knowledge usually held by indigenous communities. Both Ndiritu and Peake explore alternative belief systems by working with and inhabiting shamanic practices.

Installation view, Earths Spells: Witches of the Anthropocene, Grace Nidiritu, Protest Carpet - Motherhood and labour (fore), 2022, Birth of a New Museum (back), 2023
Installation view, Earths Spells: Witches of the Anthropocene, Grace Nidiritu, Protest Carpet – Motherhood (fore), 2022, and Labour Birth of a New Museum (back), 2023

In all the artworks there is a recognition of the strangeness, or what many writers on culture refer to as the ‘uncanny’, in the face of the unfolding climate drama. Amitav Ghosh proposes ‘that non-human forces have the ability to intervene directly in human thought’. Here, the non-human or hybrid appear in the unsettling subjects of work by Mercedes Mühleisen, Caroline Achaintre and Kris Lemsalu.

The subjects in Kiki Smith’s large-scale tapestry inhabit a mythical or supernatural world within the present, flattening any hierarchy of animals. The artwork in Earth Spells reminded us that we are also part of nature.

Artists featured in this exhibition: Caroline Achaintre, Emma Hart, Kris Lemsalu, Mercedes Mühleisen, Grace Ndiritu, Florence Peake, Kiki Smith, Lucy Stein