Yearly Archives: 2013

Sila: An Artistic Contribution to the Problem of Climate Change

This post comes to you from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

Inuksuk on Baffin Island in the territory of Nunavut.

Inuksuk on Baffin Island in the territory of Nunavut.

Below is a transcript of my presentation at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment’s biennial conference at the University of Kansas in Lawrence last Saturday. I was part of a panel titled Environment, Culture, and Place in a Rapidly Changing North.

*  *  *

In my play Sila, set on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, a Mama polar bear teaches a lesson to her young cub. She says:

“All life is breath. From the original breath from which Creation is drawn to the world itself, sila wraps itself all around us.”

And the daughter asks:

“The sky is sila?”

Mama nods.

“The wind is sila?”

Mama nods.

“The land, the ice, the ocean?”

Mama nods.

“And sila also moves in and out of our lungs. (Mama breathes.) See? That’s sila. And with each breath, sila reminds us that we are never alone. Each and every one of us is connected to every other living creature. But sila’s gift is not ours to keep. We may use our breath while we roam the land but we must surrender it once we pass from the land. Creatures who are lonely are the ones who hold on to their breath as if it were theirs and theirs alone.”

*  *  *

Like for the polar bears in my play, the North has always been a place of the imagination. The ancient Greeks thought it was a land of eternal spring, inhabited by immortals whose perfect lives were filled with music and dance. Mapmakers from the 1500s depicted a circular continent surrounding a polar sea with a single high mountain in the center. And the Inuit communities who made the Arctic their home populated the landscape with spirits and gods whose whims influenced every aspect of their lives.

Today is no different. The impact of climate change on the North, and the increased media coverage it has generated over the last 20 years, have contributed to the emergence of a new imaginary place. Wild, inhospitable and endangered, the new North has become a symbol for the excesses of modern life. Conveniently remote and therefore easy to see as separate from the rest of the world, we have made it a poster child for climate change, complete with melting glaciers and dying polar bears. We project on it our collective guilt and through that process, set ourselves free to go about our daily business in the same way we always have.

Clearly, this picture is not complete and most importantly, it is not useful. The North cannot be conceived as an isolated place that bears no relevance to our lives anymore. We have seen in recent years how glacier melts, and changes in winds and ocean currents directly affect weather patterns in the South, causing severe droughts, floods, cold snaps and heat waves. As global warming continues to make natural resources more accessible, our economies will be increasingly dependent on the oil, gas and minerals found North of the 66th parallel. And Arctic communities, who have traditionally been ignored and left to fend for themselves, will take their rightful place at the global table and demand the consideration and respect they deserve.

As an artist who feels deeply connected to that region, my work is to expand the place that the North occupies in our collective imagination so it can become the culturally rich and multifaceted place that it really is. The more vivid and complex our image of the North, the more likely we are to feel protective of it and concerned by its future.

In Sila, Leanna, an Inuit activist, paints a picture of her Arctic. She says:

“I come from a place of barren landscapes and infinite skies. I come from a place of rugged mountains, imperial glaciers and tundra-covered permafrost. I come from a place where North is where you stand and South, everywhere else. Where there are five seasons and no trees. Where the days last twenty-four hours and the nights too. I come from a place where skyscrapers are made of ice and proudly ride winds and currents. I come from a place where the only crowds are air, sea and land creatures that gather each year by the thousands. I come from a place where you can walk onto the ocean and if you’re lucky, beyond the horizon itself. I come from a people who have kept accounts of the early days when the world was rich and urgent and new. When unknown forces lay like pebbles to be picked by those who stumbled upon them. When spirits roamed the land like polar bears and muskoxen and caribou. I come from a world where life and death walk hand in hand like giggling teenagers. I come from a land whose wisdom reminds us of our humanity.

This place I come from we call Nunavut. It means “Our Land” in Inuktitut. It’s where we, Inuit, have thrived for more than 4,000 years. It’s where we strive to realize our full potential. It’s where we nurture our knowledge of who we are. But Nunavut, our land, is only as rich as it is cold. And today, most of it is melting.”

*  *  *

As Leanna suggests, the North is not just a geographic place – it is a social and cultural anchor that shapes both the identity and the lifestyle of the people who inhabit it. Yet our image of the new North rarely takes into consideration the human element. For the most part, the public conversation has remained centered on ecological disruptions and whenever humans are mentioned, the focus tends to be on externalities – like how they will travel when their traditional ice route is no longer safe or where they will relocate when the shoreline erodes. There is very little mention of the social and emotional cost of climate change. Yet that cost is real and it is disproportionally high in Northern communities.

In this second monologue from Sila, Leanna addresses the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after losing her grandson to suicide:

“The issue is not climate change. It’s not how warm or how cold, how much water or how much ice, how many particles per million, or whether it’s man-induced or not. The issue is not where the tree line will fall, where the hurricanes will hit, what animal species will make it, and what islands won’t. The issue is not complex or global or intractable. It’s not political or economic. And it’s not even about climate. No. The issue is small and personal and it has to do with the most inconsequential of things: human nature. Because who cares about one’s desire to eat their traditional food when millions of others need to keep theirs cold so it doesn’t spoil? Who cares about a culture having an identity crisis when entire countries are struggling to lift themselves out of poverty? Who cares about a nation’s love affair with nature when the world’s economic survival is at stake?… You and I both know that upset feelings don’t justify the kind of massive disruptions a grand scale action would entail. You and I both know that anxiety and fear and depression are a matter of personal choice, not of environmental stewardship. You and I both know that drug abuse and… teenage suicide… (a beat as she fights back tears) are by no means a sign of degradation of the Arctic but simply an indication of human nature run amok.

So don’t be fooled by those who may want to convince you otherwise. The issue is not and will never be climate change. The issue is that we, sensitive humans, are just terribly ill-equipped to deal with loss… So it doesn’t matter whether the U.S. lowers its emissions or recognizes a violation of human rights. We will always, by default, grieve over what we lose because we don’t celebrate what we have.”

*  *  *

Leanna’s monologue is a call to action. And imagination is the first step towards action. If we can collectively imagine a North that is complex, life-sustaining and intimately connected to every other place in the world, we will be one step closer to honoring that reality. And I believe the arts can help us get there. Good art expands our vision of the world and makes us care. Good art can help us shape the new North into a success story.

Filed under: Theatre

Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Using Memes to Improve Climate Change Communication

This post comes to you from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

1a3331c8276bf112acbb17c47252ebbbGlobal Warming Meme Map

An intriguing article just got published that puts forward a theory about why the messaging about global warming has been wrong. Hint: it may be because global warming is not an experience; it’s a meme. You can find the full report on which the article is based, called Global Warming is a Virus, compiled by Joe Brewer and Balazs Lazlo Karafiath, here.

Filed under: Climate Communication

Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Creative Scotland: Insights & Ideas: Natural Scotland

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

If you are looking to find out more about artists and the Year of Natural Scotland, check out the Insights & Ideas creative cafe event on 6 June.  Creative Scotland: Insights & Ideas: Natural Scotland.

2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland. Come along to the June Insights Cafe to hear about exciting projects and activities taking place. Our speakers will talk about how, by working with partners like The Forestry Commission, artists can help explore and celebrate natural Scotland.

Speakers:

An overview from Scottish Natural Heritage on the Year of Natural Scotland

Yolanda Aguilar, Smallpetitklein – discussing TENT:acular, an outdoor event with dancers exploring the history, fauna and flora and a scavenger hunt around Tentsmuir Nature Reserve, culminating in a spectacle performance in a series of Super Eco Dome tents.

Jan Hogarth, Wide Open – introducing the Environmental Art Festival, a new, Dumfries & Galloway wide event celebrating the regions strengths in environmental art.

Jo Moulin, John Muir Trust on the John Muir Birthplace Museum and John Muir Day.

Availability:

Tickets for the event are free of charge, but spaces are limited and must be booked in advance. The event begins at 2pm and registration will be open from 1.30pm on 6 June.

For further information, please contact insights@creativescotland.com, or visit http://june13insights.eventbrite.com/. The deadline is Thursday 06 June 2013 at 12:00.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

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Searching For The Sweet Spot

This post comes to you from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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By guest contributor Jeremy Pickard

The subversive songstress Nellie McKay says, “You want people to care.  I like the idea that music can get into people’s minds, hearts and souls.  Then, maybe slowly, a lyric will cause them to start rethinking their lives and choices.”

In the five years since I began working at the intersection of theater and environmentalism, my struggle to find ways to ignite public discourse while maintaining the integrity of my medium has led me to understand the importance of mixing cerebral information with an emotional experience.  Simply informing a plugged-in audience does not necessarily make the kind of cultural shifts our world is desperate for; but art can meet this challenge head on, providing visceral outlets to interpret research and ignite change.  I call this outlet the “sweet spot”, a place where empathy and intellect co-mingle in such a way to seem synonymous to an audience.  Successful “sweet-spotters” like Nellie McKay are proof that finding it is both fruitful and possible, but it’s certainly a hard spot to hit; after five years it still feels like I’m wrestling a finicky squid.  But through collaboration, I’ve begun to find answers, inching ever closer to that elusive sweet spot.

MARS- Haven

Collaborating with other artists

I recently premiered a show called MARS (a play about mining), the sixth in a series of ecology-inspired Planet Plays I am in the process of creating with my company, Superhero Clubhouse.  I call it a play, but MARS was really a multi-disciplinary performance event blending dance, live music and graphic art to tell an allegorical story inspired by the history of Appalachian coal mining.  The intention of all the Planet Plays is to create new mythologies in order to offer fresh perspectives on important ecological conundrums; in the case of MARS, we were interested in energy extraction and the seemingly inevitable destruction of land and culture that accompanies human progress.

Though I often incorporate music and movement into my productions, MARS was the first time I’ve had a choreographer and composer working beside me from the beginning, not to mention an illustrator and a graphic novelist.  The many mediums, both sensual and intellectual, made for a very effective fusion of feeling and thinking.  The music was a unique blend of sci-fi and Appalachian folk, evoking a mood that was both familiar and strange; the dancing was personal and emotional, allowing us to communicate internal conflicts without words; the images assisted the storytelling in literal and abstract ways, providing an anchor for time and place; the text existed as both poetry and exposition.  In the end, people seemed moved by the visual and aural world, and provoked by the ecological questions that were raised in the narrative.

BGT'12-Plankton

Collaborating with kids

Each spring, I work with a group of fifth-graders at Bushwick’s PS123 on a project called Big Green Theater Festival*.  It’s an eco-playwriting program my company created in partnership with The Bushwick Starr Theater, and it’s awesome.  Part 1: students write eco-plays inspired by presentations given by guest scientists and other “eco-experts”.  Part 2: my company of adult artists mounts a professional, green production of the students’ plays and performs it for the school and the public during Earth Week.

Fifth-graders are incredible eco-artists.  They weave the parts of ecology that they connect with into stories that are at once funny, sad, weird and thrilling. In one of this year’s plays, a newlywed breaks up with her husband because of his obsession with shark fin soup (a traditional and controversial wedding dish in Chinese culture); the husband, in turn, dives into the ocean and joins a dance-off against an army of sharks in order to win the right to kill a shark and make his own soup.  With near effortlessness on the part of our young playwrights, the sweet spot was found: the audience cares about the characters, laughs at the situation and thinks about shark fin soup.

Fieldtrip Cabaret6

Collaborating with scientists

Each fall, my company is commissioned by PositiveFeedback and Columbia University’s Earth Institute to create a site-specific performance in collaboration with climate scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). Because we perform the final product on the LDEO campus (where some of the world’s most important climate research is done) for an audience of families, educators and scientists, this project is a prime opportunity to seek the sweet spot in an arena where the stakes are high and outreach from artists is sought after.

To many people outside the scientific community, the work of climate scientists seems mysterious and exclusive, like Willy Wonka locked away in his factory (except instead of chocolate, the experts inside are experimenting with particles, rocks, trees, ice, invisible gases and other things that don’t taste good). Humans relate best when they feel included and empathetic.  To someone only encountering results and not the process or people behind those results, earth science can seem removed and impersonal. Persistent scientist stereotypes (namely emotionless old men in lab coats proclaiming the apocalypse) only work to widen the chasm between human story and science.

A play, on the other hand, is a human story; it exists to be inclusive, to be seen by as many people as possible. Like science, a play searches for truth, but its fictional nature allows it to be expressive and personal in ways science cannot.  A play has the ability to open the gates and bring the scientists out into the streets.  So for last year’s LDEO performance, we tried just that.  Working with seven female climate scientists and incorporating original songs, movement, poetry and storytelling, we made a piece called Field Trip: A Climate Cabaret.  Rather than working allegorically, we focused on revealing the essence behind the lives and work of these seven extraordinary women, portraying them as curious, creative and flawed individuals who ask questions, go on adventures and make discoveries.

Time will tell how effective Field Trip is as either a play or an outreach tool– we’re currently seeking opportunities to expand and remount it– but I consider our day of performances at LDEO last fall a “sweet spot” success.  Some of this success I attribute to the cabaret medium in which we were working; as Nellie McKay says, “Music makes the cerebral accessible, the subconscious hummable”.  But of equal impact were the words and ideas of the scientists themselves. Through the context of theater, we gained an understanding of their work, which was fascinating, but we also got to hear their perspectives on why they do what they do and how they see the world, which was inspiring. We learned to care about science, as if for the first time.

*The Big Green Theater production was April 27 & 28 at The Bushwick Starr.  Visit thebushwickstarr.org for more details.

Filed under: Dance, Featured Artist, Multidisciplinary, Music, Theatre

Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Carrying the Fire 2013

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

6201c9215101d5900cd50d839a74b1e8Dark Mountain “feels like the beginning of the story of the world. Not a world shaped by politicians

or by global corporations, but by storytellers and singers who make us feel at home on the earth.”

Charlotte Du Cann, The Independent

14th-16th June at Wiston Lodge near Biggar,

South Lanarkshire

An intimate festival of ideas, poetry, music, and performance.

Exploring the connections between the arts, ecology and cultural resilience.

With talks/performances from:

  • Jay Griffiths, author of ‘Wild’ and ‘Kith’
  • Sara Maitland, author of ‘Gossip from the Forest’
  • Chris Fremantle, ecoartscotland
  • Neil Harvey, GalGael Trust ‘Metaforestry’
  • Mairi Campbell & Em Strang

For further information go to: carryingthefire.co.uk

In association with The Dark Mountain Project and Wiston Lodge

Please download the flyer Carrying The Fire 2013 pdf and circulate

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

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Osomocene

This post comes to you from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

By guest contributors Seth Baum and Inés Garcia

Greetings. We are Seth Baum and Inés Garcia. We are a scientist and an artist. And we both care about climate change. Seth cares about climate change because of the threat it poses to humanity, to other happy living things, and to their future in the universe. Inés cares about climate change because it affects every person and living being on the planet and we, as a civilization, are far too intelligent to continue contributing to the destruction of the endless resources on this planet.

We made Osomocene Productions because we believe that humanity can make a world that has a healthy environment and is still enjoyable for us humans. Indeed, we coined the word Osomocene to mean the Age of Awesome – awesome for humans and awesome for the environment. We intend the Osomocene as the successor to the current era, the Anthropocene, which is defined by human disruption of the environment. With Osomocene Productions, we want to envision this age of awesome and communicate the vision to other people so that together we can make the vision a reality.

Osomocene Productions articulates its vision for a better world through short-form online videos. Short form videos are fun and easy to watch, and they offer us the chance to talk about a variety of subjects. By putting them online, anyone can watch them, and who knows, they may even ‘go viral’ and get seen by many. (Click here to share our videos!) But most importantly, short-form videos let us create everyday scenarios that depict positive ways to help with climate change that everyone can take part in.

Our collaboration brings together Seth’s research and Ines’s artistry. Seth’s research covers two important areas. First is the science of climate change, and in particular the science of what people can do to help with climate change. Second is the science of communication, and the psychology of how communication can translate into action. Ines’s artistic sense for aesthetic quality helps us identify key themes from the research and convert them, through dramatic interpretation, into compelling story and character. Ines also manages the logistics of how to produce a film, coordinating with actors, directors, editors, and crew.

So far, we have produced one video (titled Vegetarian Cookbook) and have a second video scheduled for filming in April. Many more ideas are in the works. These videos have given us the chance to explore and refine our artistic and collaborative styles. Working together has been a tremendous growth process for both of us. We’re constantly trying out new ideas in our ongoing effort to promote a better world.

Filed under: Featured Artist, Multimedia, Video

Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Trailer for Oil City – site-specific theatre by Platform

A spy thriller for the post-occupy era. 10th – 21st June 2013 | 9am | 1pm | 5pm Buy Tickets at http://platformlondon.org/p-eventnew/…

This new piece of site-specific immersive theatre by Platform takes you deep into the underbelly of London’s oil economy.

Around you the financial sector shimmers in high-rise office blocks. Behind closed doors deals are done and oil projects financed with few questions asked. Meanwhile vast swathes of Alberta, Canada, teeter on the brink of ecological disaster, as the struggle to stop tar sands mining of lands protected under the First Nations’ Treaty goes on.

By eavesdropping on business people and seeking out secret documents hidden in dead-drops, you will help piece together a puzzle that interweaves government files with financial deals. But whose truth counts? And what laws apply when lives are on the line but big profits are to be made?

Alongside the performance, a mobile website is available to explore the real story in both London and Calgary, athttp://www.oilcity.org.uk

Oil City is supported by Artists’ Project Earth.

Photos: Amy Scaife
Video: Richard Houguez
Script: Mel Evans
Director: Sam Rowe

An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky

This post comes to you from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

Filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky on location in Svalbard, Norway

Filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky on location in Svalbard, Norway

In 2011, I participated in The Arctic Circle program, an expeditionary residency that brings together artists of all disciplines to collectively explore a region of the Arctic. For ten days, about 20 of us shared the cramped quarters of a sailboat and looked for ways to translate our Arctic experience into artistic works as we sailed up and down the coast of Svalbard, located halfway between Norway and the North Pole. One of my shipmates on that trip was documentary filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky. Saeed used the residency to shoot his documentary film There Will Be Some Who Will Not Fear Even That Void…. The film won the Tromso Palm for Best Film from the North from the Tromso International Film Festival and just screened at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver. I caught up with Saeed and asked him to tell me a little bit more about the project and what it means to him.

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You define your company, Tourist With A Typewriter, as a “documentary production company dedicated to creative human rights and social justice documentaries.” How do you see There Will Be Some fitting into this definition?

All the films me and my collaborators have made as Tourist With A Typewriter somehow address human rights, though not always directly. We make films that are far more impressionistic and humanistic than they are journalistic so the human rights aspects is intrinsic to the story. We were originally calling …Even That Void a human rights film without the humans, a little facetiously, but the point was that it was addressing human rights although the topic itself wasn’t about human rights. I see climate change, the competing interests in the exploration of the Arctic and our fundamental relationship to the environment as a human rights issue, inextricably linked to the same politics that are responsible for human rights abuses. Exploitation, greed, militarisation and an unashamedly egotistical and voracious appetite to conquer are behind both wars against societies, against individuals and against the natural world. I believe the same lack of empathy that allows people to kill must also allow them to destroy the natural world without remorse.

Narratively, too, …Even That Void asks questions about the conquest of territory. As climate change accelerates, marginal and vulnerable communities are pushed even further to the margins and suddenly become collateral damage in our “development.” This doesn’t much affect the decision makers in the US, Europe and China, those who define the agenda of development, until it comes home and affects their own people. But indigenous communities around the world, especially in fragile Arctic areas, are finding that the rush to control their resources today looks an awful lot like the rush to control their land 60 or so years ago. For them there’s no difference between human rights and environmental rights. The unstoppable urge to consume and conquer at any cost remains the same.

If we’re analysing the Arctic resource race today, the language and iconography is exactly the same as the Victorian style colonialism of 100 years ago. Stephen Harpers famous “use it or lose it” speech in 2007 and the Russians planting  their flag on the Arctic sea bed a month later. The Arctic nations (and some non-Arctic ones) are desperate to stake their claims because there is a lot of money to be made in what is probably the world’s last great undiscovered oil fields. This means both human rights and environmental concerns will likely go out the window unless someone’s there to stop it.

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Why the Arctic? What inspired you to want to work in that part of the world?

The Arctic has a special place in the history of British exploration, so as someone who grew up in Britain (but is also a refugee as a result of British colonialism) it was interesting to me to analyse this. Britain went through several phases of Arctic discovery, first as a result of scare resources (whaling), then new economic markets (fur trading) then pure nationalism (the race to the north pole) and  now military-industrial imperatives. That era of exploration very much defined what we think of as the “hero”, and as someone who considers himself an explorer, I wanted to know why and how I was influenced by that propaganda, to the extent that I still have a Victorian sense of the heroic adventurer even though I understand how obscene that image is to me today.

The Arctic is also a place of exploration that allows people to imagine a great blank canvas where they can project their own fantasies. It allows people to imagine what’s up there at the “top of the world”, but of course these fantasies are almost all wrong. They usually assume there’s no one there, and that it’s somehow a benign and pure landscape when, in fact, it’s trying to kill you at all times. It was a place where people made their reputations or came back either dead or humiliated. Because of all this, it has so many questions of strength, nationalism, ego and pride tied up in it, and that makes it fascinating for someone like me who is always trying to deconstruct these urges and understand what compels someone to act like this. Even in my more straight investigative human rights work, I always try to understand “why would someone do this?” We can’t usually find the answer but asking it already marks your approach as different to the purely factual approach.

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How did The Arctic Circle residency change or expand your conception of the North?

I had almost no conception of the North other than the historical / political before I went to Norway. I found it very hard to think of the landscape there without resorting to cliches, so I mostly preferred to keep my mind blank until I was actually there. And, surprisingly, when I was there I found I wasn’t having profound experiences when I looked at wide landscapes. I was moved far more by small details. A frozen feather on a beach, this was one of the strongest images I saw there. The skeleton of a trapper hut, this remnant of human interference. The way the light was so even, and the air so clean, that normal cues of perspective didn’t make sense any more. Things that were unexpected I found much more interesting than just looking at landscapes. I felt like the landscapes only made sense to me when I interacted with them, walked through them, climbed them, ran through them in the case of Ny-Alesund when I felt compelled to run a 5km circuit. Then I could fully understand the cold.

wheelhouse_print

What do you think is the single most important thing artists can do to address the problem of climate change?

I think the mainstream approach to protecting the environment is dangerously stale at the moment. There seems to be one (largely social) narrative based on providing us with the information we need to make changes in our lives. But why aren’t people altering their behaviour? It isn’t because they don’t have access to the information. It’s because the information doesn’t mean anything to them on a humanistic level. It’s also because our changes are largely under the thumb of giant corporations and governments that have different priorities. This is where artists can play a role. Artist should be the radical voices that are not beholden to corporate agendas and that are not afraid to challenge political momentum. Artists also have the ability – perhaps even the responsibility – to transform a scientific issue into a personal one. How can we comprehend that to destroy the environment is to destroy ourselves? That simple formula is too large for us to get our heads around. The artist can give us a narrative, a personal story or image that explains this in a different way. An artist should allow us to empathise with the challenge of protecting our environment without reverting to the familiar and without overwhelming us with the catastrophic. The artist makes the inconceivable conceivable. This may not lead to direct action, and it may not provide us with the information we need, but I would say it does something more important: it changes our conception of the problem.

Artists have a massive influence on the struggle to defend human rights (back to the human rights question) because they uniquely have the ability to make us understand the inhumanity of abuses. We now largely consider slavery to be abhorrent because our morality shifted when society came to truly understand the horrors of slavery. To be able to properly protect the environment, we need to conceive of a morality in which it’s considered abhorrent to abuse the natural world with impunity.

window_work_flat

What gives you  hope?

Hmmm…tough question. Not much, to be honest. Except knowing that there are people like Ze Claudio who are willing to die to protect what they love. It’s ironic that his death would somehow give me hope, but there is some comfort in knowing there are still radicals out there who are not afraid.

Filed under: Featured Artist, Film

Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Got to Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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