Yearly Archives: 2017

The Same Hillside

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

It was a seemingly unlikely pair forming the panel after the Crypic Nights premier of The Same Hillside at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow. The one who looked like a farmer (checked shirt and flat cap) was the documentary film-maker John Wallace, the other (long hair and beard a t-shirt with a ‘pirate’ skull and crossbones) was soil scientist and a co-author of International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports Professor Pete Smith.* This art science collaboration has been going on for some years now and The Same Hillside is the third piece of work to result from this ongoing partnership. It’s interesting because there are several other on-going relationships between artists and natural and social scientists in Scotland at the moment, many focused upon land use, social impact and critical environmental change.

The Same Hillside is an immersive installation with projections on three screens as well as the floor, and a sound installation in the foyer. If I tell you it is an exploration of the landscape through the lens of Ecosystems Services (this is an extension of ideas about nature as capital, something with social and economic value) you might think it belongs on the Open University YouTube channel rather than in an arts centre. You couldn’t be more wrong.

John Wallace described his interest as a documentary film-maker in finding structures or lenses external to himself to use in constructing his work. These ‘constraints’ are devices John Wallace uses to clarify his current inquiry and focus upon what interests him. It forces him to follow other lines and explore subjects he might not otherwise take up on his own. Hearing Pete Smith talking about Ecosystem Services Assessment (a method of assessing the services that aspects of an ecosystem provides to human society) and the aspects of land-use that this reveals, John Wallace saw potential for a way to explore and make strange again a landscape with which he was deeply familiar. This was a chance to see with fresh eyes.

It isn’t common knowledge, but three major Scottish rivers flow from one hillside in the South of Scotland to opposite sides of the country: the Annan into the Solway Firth, the Clyde through Glasgow into the Firth of Clyde, and the Tweed into the North Sea. With this in mind, Pete Smith and John Wallace defined a 20 mile radius ‘study area,’ that worked from the common ground at the top of these three watersheds. The questions they wanted to explore revolve around the ways that these networks of land and water delight and serve human communities.

Wallace set out to explore different aspects of these ecosystems in relation to the ‘services’ provided to human society. Ecosystems provide natural products and raw materials such as food, wood and water, when intact and healthy they regulate flooding process, turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, they support us by recycling nutrients and enabling pollination. The Cryptic Nights information sheet notes,

“The area is home to five drinking water reservoirs, over 300MW of installed wind capacity, the West Coast Main Line, 400kV power transmission lines, the M74 motorway, thousands of acres of commercial forestry, hill farms, salmon redds, blanket bogs, and rare and delicate subalpine habitats.”

Ecosystems also provide aesthetic, biodiversity and spiritual services, a set of cultural interrelationships that have proven more difficult on to which to put economic value.

As a documentary film-maker John Wallace sought out the human stories which reveal deep and complicated relationships, a lifetime of meaning. Whether that’s the train driver talking about the impact of one 40-car supermarket haul and how many trucks that takes off the road, or the modern Saw Mill that uses the waste material to generate energy. John Wallace’s style is not interrogative or even prodding. So it is interesting when climate change keeps coming up in different narratives. It’s clearly an essential part of the reality for a wide range of people living, working and managing transport in the Scottish landscape.

Whilst ‘place’ as a vital facet of identity has been a signal thread in Scottish art-making for at least a generation, it usually focuses on a recognisable place. The Same Hillside focuses on a part of the country that supports a lot of other ‘places’, the towns and cities downstream. It embeds a bioregional or watershed-based approach: Dumfries, Glasgow, Berwick and all the other settlements on the Annan, Clyde and Tweed are all dependent on the health and viability of this upland territory.

John Wallace’s interviews with people living and working in this place focus upon the production and transmission of energy; the transportation routes; the scale of commercial forestry and the range of resulting products, the value of the peatland in sequestering carbon, as well as a means of provisioning game for hunting sport. The last scenes follow a group exploring the Spring at Hartfell as a specific example of the cultural and spiritual dimension of the landscape.

Underlying John Wallace’s sensitive handling of people and landscapes are the sorts of data sets that Pete Smith works with. Where the films on the screens take our conscious attention with stories, the data projected on the floor is telling another story, of car and truck movements on the M74, of rainfall, of the monitoring of land-use.

What is apparent watching The Same Hillside is that some bad decisions have been made in this landscape in the past – planting commercial forestry on the best farmland and draining the peat for grazing are two striking examples. After hearing about healthy watersheds with forest cover it was curious to look at images in the closing minutes. The last shot features long views from the hilltop down through the valley where there is hardly a tree to be seen. Here, water is sacred and aesthetics is provided by nature. Nature necessitates a healthy highland and stream corridor with plants and trees to regulate flow and temperature allowing for best conditions for all living things. Is the spirit in place, without its animating forces?

The Same Hillside (and the earlier works Cinema Sark and Sark-Tweed) don’t fit into existing categories of documentary film or installation art. They draw on languages of place and site-specificity, but also, albeit quietly, of everyday activism. They speak to the Anthropocene, that humans are affecting everything, without ever mentioning the term. The sawmill using its own waste product to generate energy is a form of attention to process, which goes beyond everything being focused by ‘the product’.

We need more productive partnerships between people like Professor Pete Smith and John Wallace – processes that extend beyond a project into a long term dialogue, interactions between those who work with data and inform policy, and those who work with sound, image, form and narrative. These connections with the artists and film-makers draw the sciences into the everyday of a critically positioned arts practice. Working across disciplines can challenge assumptions and lead to the emergence of new forms.

With thanks to Tim Collins for his comments and suggestions.

* The partnership between Wallace and Smith started during Do Not Resuscitate a series of events organised by Mike Bonaventura, then CEO of the Critchon Carbon Centre. Do Not Resuscitate brought together artists and scientists, drawing on the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programmes. The first piece of work resulting from this collaboration was Cinema Sark (2013), presented as part of the Environmental Art Festival Scotland, and focusing on the River Sark which is the boundary between Dumfries & Galloway and Cumbria, between Scotland and England. Wallace and Smith’s partnership isn’t the only significant outcome of Do Not Resuscitate – it contributed to the shape of the Environmental Art Festival Scotland and led to a residency programme Nil by Mouth.


About EcoArtScotland:

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

Survey: biofuel vehicle for touring companies?

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

If you’re involved with an arts organisation which tours in Scotland, here’s a chance to have your say on an opportunity to make your activities more sustainable.

For many arts organisations, travel is often the major contributor to carbon emissions production – so CCS is always trying to look for new ways to address this issue.

For 7 years, Eco Drama, a Glasgow-based theatre company and Green Arts Initiative Member have been reducing the environmental impact of their touring through the use of their bio diesel van.

After receiving some queries from other arts companies about hiring the van for low-carbon touring, they’ve decided to research whether there could be a viable hire model that would enable this as a resource for the green arts community in Scotland. More detailed info in this PDF

The first step is to get a sense from Scottish arts organisations whether there is demand for the idea, and what use might look like, so Emily from Eco Drama has put together a short survey for arts organisations to fill in.

The survey has 9 questions (mainly multiple choice), should take 5-10 minutes to complete, and all responses will be extremely useful in informing the potential development of this touring resource.

You can complete the survey through this link

Emily will be using the results from the survey to inform the development of the idea, and would be really happy to chat it over if you have more information, ideas or experience to add. Her email address is emily@ecodrama.co.uk.

Finally, if you know anyone else who you think may be interested in this idea, please do forward this page to them – thank you!

The post Survey: biofuel vehicle for touring companies? appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


About Creative Carbon Scotland:

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

The Climate March & Beyond

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

We really didn’t know what to expect. The last time I was in Washington, DC was for the Women’s March, and that exceeded any and all expectations. My grandparents, who live outside of DC, were not optimistic; no one was talking about record-breaking crowds for The People’s Climate March. A handful of my friends planned to march in New York City, and I knew of some others who had ventured down to DC for the day, but it was impossible to know how many people would emerge. One thing was for sure: it was going to be hot.

On the Metro into The District on April 29, we commented on those amongst us who were also heading in for the March. One element from the Women’s March we missed was the unifying pink hats. But we were welcomed by a woman from Seattle passing out homemade stickers touting phrases like “Science Matters” and “Demand Better Government.” When we got downtown, it was clear who was there for the March: just about everyone! Due to construction (intentionally planned for the day of this major march?), we rode a bus towards the National Mall. One of the first groups we crossed on our way to the March lineup was a group of young children and their parents, all dressed as little bees, and escorted by a Queen Bee. It was heart-melting (and while the little “bees” were already melting from the heat, the gesture was not lost). In the shade, we found the lineup, amongst the Defenders of Truth constituents, including scientists and educators. The signs were various, colorful, and witty. The March organizers focused on Climate, Jobs, and Justice, and it was clear from the start that this March was about those things, and everything in between. We set off through the streets of the U.S. capitol, in solidarity with the scientists around us, and the thousands of other concerned people of all backgrounds that poured into the streets with us.

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A “Mr. Moneybags” Puppet, manipulating seats on The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil), from the Defenders of Truth contingency, April 29, 2017.



En route to the White House, we crossed Trump International Hotel. Marchers erupted in sets of “Boo” and “Shame,” but also in celebratory music. I can’t capture this energy in writing (you can listen to this moment from the March , via Google Drive), but the big-band musicians elevated our marching, supporting our walk through the heat and accompanying our political action with some groovy tunes. At once, a march about climate justice buoyed other justice issues, like political justice. As our country’s power dynamics impact everyone who lives here (and around the globe), so do the decisions of those with that power.

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Part of the display of March signs at the Washington Monument, April 29, 2017.



In addition to the giant puppets, beautiful signs, and joyous music, there was organized creative action for individuals to participate in at the culmination of the March. Unlike at the Women’s March, people were invited to leave their signs on the lawn at the base of the Washington Monument, to be organized in a huge pattern, spelling out “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” It was a simple yet impactful way to showcase the signs, in all their variety. We also participated in The Climate Ribbon project, an initiative of the arts-activism organization Beautiful Trouble. Starting with the question “What do you love and hope to never lose to climate chaos?,” participants engage in a personal ritual, tying their answer via ribbon onto the “tree” and claiming another’s ribbon to take with them. The installation itself is striking – from afar, we were trying to gauge what kind of “wall” it was – and the element of personal participation was fun and thoughtful. It was a reflective way to take something tangible from the day.

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The Climate Ribbon project at the Climate March, April 29, 2017.



It’s about the Planet, the economy, our humanity, politics – power. Who has the power to make decisions that affect billions of individuals (humans and non-humans included). The mix of political, cultural, and environmental issues encapsulated by the crowds spoke to the multipronged-ness of climate justice. It’s about a safe, healthy environment for all, yes, but it’s also about economics and race and gender and more – because all categories cross-cut the lived experience of occupying Planet Earth: our shared climatic system. How fitting that the 2017 People’s Climate March was on a day of record-breaking heat. How fitting that this Climate March was geared toward jobs and justice. How fitting that this March was intentionally politically-charged. In this way, this Climate March continued a culture of resistance, offering modes of practicing disruption of the oppressive powers-that-be. We all have the power to incorporate resistance into our daily lives. So, let’s keep it up!

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Julia Levine and Chantal Bilodeau, at the Climate Ribbon project on April 29, 2017.



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About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog 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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Fueled by Fury: Finding the Language to Fix Us

This Post Comes From HowlRound:

This week on HowlRound, we continue our exploration of Theatre in the Age of Climate Change with more urgency than ever. With the looming eradication of climate science data from US government websites and the appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump has indicated in no uncertain terms that the health of the planet and its inhabitants are of no concern to him. As theatre artists, how do we respond? Playwright Tira Palmquist and dramaturg Heather Helinsky offer their respective point-of-view on the writing and production of Two Degrees, a world premiere at the Denver Center, season 2016-2017, and how the elections impacted the development of the play.—Chantal Bilodeau

 Tira Palmquist: The notion that I would write a play in which someone discovers the solution to climate change was never the point of Two Degrees (though I believe that climate change is a fixable, solvable problem). After all, there is no silver bullet, no singular, magical solution for this issue.

More to the point, how to fix climate change wasn’t really the question. To fix climate change, we have to move people from inaction to action, from doubt to conviction. Finding the language and the arguments to do this is clearly important, but in order to do that we have to ask the more important question: How do we fix us?

Chasing Kitimat: Going Backwards to Move Forward

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on April 21, 2016.

When I was commissioned to write an environmental play, the subject I chose to write about ended up in the midst of an international controversy. I was researching an article for the Vancouver Observer (VO), a newspaper admired for practicing deep, investigative journalism. Anthropologist Wade Davis’ warning that Northern Canada was about to be hit with a “tsunami” of industrial development concerned me. I planned to investigate the impact of this development on individual cities in the North, starting with Kitimat, a remote municipality near Alaska and 1,111 miles/ 1410 km driving distance from Vancouver. As Davis says, “One of our challenges in Canada is that we love the north, but we never go there.”

The oil company Enbridge had selected Kitimat to be the terminus of a proposed pipeline project transporting bitumen from the Alberta tar sands, one of the largest remaining oil deposits on earth, to super tankers in Kitimat’s port, to be refined in Asia. Arguably, Kitimat needed the project. Originally founded in the 1950s to service one of the largest smelters in North America, Kitimat boasted residents from all over the world in its New York planned, mid-century modern “Utopia.” By 2007, due to modernization and closing of its pulp mill, Kitimat was the fastest declining town in Canada. I had travelled there as a Theatre Consultant in the 1990s, coaching directors throughout British Columbia, and was stunned to discover that Kitimat was 50 percent Portuguese. Amazingly, these Portuguese residents are from the Azores, remote mid-Atlantic islands, where my grandparents were born.

VO’s Managing Editor Jenny Uechi asked how I would get the residents of Kitimat to speak to me. I confidently said, “I’m Portuguese.” But writing the article was proving difficult. As a playwright, I was getting mired in backstory and in seeing all sides. To make matters worse, Kitimat was under a “tsunami’’ of paperwork. The Canadian National Government, then headed by Prime Minster Stephen Harper, had undertaken a controversial environmental assessment process. Harper’s National Energy Board heard hours of testimony. Walter Thorne, a member of the Kitimat Valley Naturalists, movingly said: “We appeal to the world, we are a gem under siege.”

When the pipeline project was approved by Harper’s National Government, city council did something extraordinary. They asked Kitimat to put it to a vote, becoming one of the only municipalities in Canada or the US to vote on whether or not they wanted Big Oil. The controversy became international. Journalists all over Canada, and as far away as Britain, began covering the story.

Elaine Avila and Janet Hayatshahi in Kitimat. Photo by Playwright Robin Rowland.



I interviewed Sylvia de Sousa, a citizen fighting to keep the wording of their upcoming city council plebiscite clear for seniors and English as Second Language residents. I asked her where she found the conviction to stand up in civic politics. She said it came from her grandkids, future generations. She quoted her mother, of German heritage, who used to say, “the only land we inherit is our grave.”

When Art Horowitz and James Taylor, of Pomona College in Claremont, California called to offer me a commission to write an environmental play, I suddenly realized I was researching my new play. My first question, inspired by my Maori, Inuit and Coast Salish playwriting colleagues, became: “What is my relationship to ancestors, land, and story?” For those of us who are immigrants how do we answer?

As I was writing, Enbridge began mounting a huge pro-pipeline publicity campaign in Kitimat, all of the cities of the North and the largest local metropolis, Vancouver. Serious rifts were happening in Kitimat. Family dinners were descending into bitter fights. Long-term friends were no longer speaking.

My play is about two sisters: Marta, who works for years to bring a pipeline project to Kitimat, and Julia, who organizes against it due to the serious risks involved. When Janet Hayatshahi came on board to direct, we both raised the money to go to Kitimat for a research trip. Janet is committed, collaborative, and formerly one of the core members of San Diego’s innovative Sledgehammer ensemble. Of Iranian descent, she knows how a culture can quickly change because of oil. After writing several drafts of the play, I was ready to hone in on what I didn’t know.

Katia Mafra Spencer as Marta and Sarah Lopez as Julia in Kitimat, directed by Janet Hayatshahi. Photo by Carrie Rosema, courtesy of Pomona College.



But I was still nervous about interviewing people who were going through so much.

I anxiously dialed the number of the Kitimat Museum and Archives. The teenage intern answering the phone cut me off saying, “Oh, I’m a play writer!” Then, “You need to interview my mom.” I asked, “Who is your mom?” She said, “The Head of Economic Development for Kitimat.” Her mom, Rose Klukas, ended up telling us professional and personal stories of growing up in a boom and bust economy.

After multiple attempts to contact the Kitimat Valley Naturalists, I got an email from a gentleman named Peter Ponter. I fumblingly tried to explain what Janet and I wanted to do. Peter promised to take us hiking in the gem of wilderness surrounding Kitimat. He arranged for us to meet Patricia Lange, one of the key organizers of the anti-pipeline movement. Her stories ended up being core to the play, especially after her side won the vote, and “Kitimat” became a rallying cry in protests and Climate Change Marches throughout the province. After helping us, Peter Ponter suddenly sounded apprehensive. “I’m in the theatre,” he said. “Would you and Janet have dinner with us?” We agreed. Theatre also opened the doors of the Portuguese Hall. The “Portuguese Kids,” a comedy troupe from Massachusetts, were performing. I volunteered to cook and serve food, making it possible for me to hear stories and songs from Kitimat’s first residents, who fled fascist Portugal.

I wanted to meet renowned novelist Eden Robinson, from the nearby Haisla village of Kitamaat. In her CBC radio interview, Robinson described Haisla storytelling protocols and her incredible novel set in the area, Monkey Beach. Eden mentioned she misses other writers. Because of being a playwright, I reached out and we had an incredible visit of several hours. One of her cousins, Nancy Nyce, let me quote her directly in the play.

Kitimat became one of the first Portuguese plays ever performed in California or British Columbia. Finding these lost voices began to awaken something new—confidence, connection, and a spirit of questioning. Kathleen Flaherty, dramaturg at Vancouver’s Playwrights Theatre Centre, programmed a workshop involving Portuguese theatre professionals, who movingly said they had never played Portuguese characters before. When the play was performed in Lisbon, this little story about the impact of Big Oil connected us across oceans and generations.

At the premiere of Janet’s marvelous production at Pomona College, my Portuguese family crowded around Yasmin Adams, the actress playing Clara, the grandmother, as if she were one of our relatives come back to life. Yasmin did a beautiful job of singing a Portuguese fado song called “O Gente da Minha Terra.” My image was of the past singing to the future.

What does this mean in terms of our individual responsibility to impact climate change? When I wrote about presentations of the play in Lisbon, Bellingham and Vancouver, a Kitimat resident shared one of my Facebook posts, writing, “It proves everyone’s stories matter, no matter how small or out of the way.”

(Top image: Yasmin Adams as Clara, Juan Zamudio as Jose in Kitimat, directed by Janet Hayatshahi. Photo by Carrie Rosema, courtesy of Pomona College.)

______________________________

Elaine Ávila is a Canadian/US writer of Azorean Portuguese descent, who has a passion for telling untold stories about women, workers, and the Portuguese.  Her plays frequently incorporate music, politics, and humor. Her plays have been produced in Panama City, Sintra, Pico,Costa Rica, London, New York, Los Angeles, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and include Jane Austen, Action Figure, (Winner, Best New Play, Festival de los Cocos, Panama City), Lieutenant Nun (Winner, Best New Play, Victoria Critics Circle) Burn Gloom (Awarded Canada Council Millennium Grant) Kitimat, (Mellon Environmental Arts Commssion), Quality: the Shoe Play (Winner, New Works for Young Women, Tulsa University), Café a Brasileira (2014, Disquiet Dzanc Books International Literary Program’s first Short Play Award). She is distinguished as a descendentes notáveis (Notable Descendent) for her theatre work by the Government of the Azores, Portugal.


About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog 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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Climate Lens: Birth of a Post-Nation!

The article Climate Lens: Birth of a Post-Nation! appeared first on HowlRound

At HowlRound, we continue our exploration of Theatre in the Age of Climate Change with more urgency than ever. With the looming eradication of climate science data from US government websites and the appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump has indicated in no uncertain terms that the health of the planet and its inhabitants are of no concern to him. As theatre artists, how do we respond? NYU professor Una Chaudhuri writes about a group of theatre makers and educators who have committed to looking at the world through a climate lens in the hope of acquiring new wisdom.—Chantal Bilodeau

Under ordinary circumstances, we’d probably have resisted the temptation to announce ourselves with such a grandiose sub-title—or at least followed it with a self-deprecating question mark. But these are hardly ordinary times, and we’re “going big”—and exclamatory!—to counter the odious enormity that’s suddenly at the nation’s helm.

Trump Nation, however, only intensifies our post-national impulse; its real source, dating from well before the last election, is the fact that the most pressing political issue of our times crosses all national boundaries. The accelerating symptoms of ecological devastation and climate chaos are global, planetary—post-national.

 

CLIMATE LENS sprouted on January 5, 2017, when a group of theatremakers and educators gathered in New York for a retreat on the topic “Theatre and Climate Change.” The seeds of CLIMATE LENS were the various projects these people had been involved in, over the past several years, that engaged with environmental issues in general and climate in particular. These included Chantal Bilodeau, Una Chaudhuri, Elizabeth DoudLanxing Fu, Derek Goldman, Julia Levine, Roberta Levitow, Jessica Litwak, Erwin Maas, Jame McCray, Erin B. Mee, Emily Mendelsohn, Katie Pearl, Jeremy Pickard, and August Schulenburg.

We began by acknowledging that our previous attempts to get the larger theatre community engaged in this topic had been difficult. People tended to “shut down” when they heard that a theatre piece dealt with climate change. They tended to assume they knew what that would entail, and that it would be depressing, even when it came in the form of a sugarcoated pill, or a deft and elegant presentation of scientific information, or a lyrical ode to the vanishing green world. Climate change, we feared, was turning into a dreary theatrical theme, prejudged and too easily “slotted.”

To loosen this sense of intellectual impaction, we’d framed the following questions to guide our discussion:

How can theatre truly register the most important thing about climate change: the fact that (as Naomi’s Klein’s book puts it) “this changes everything”? How can we evolve a “climate dramaturgy” which goes beyond addressing the symptoms of climate chaos and instead begins to forge the new imaginations we will need in order to confront the long-term, unpredictable effects of those symptoms on our lives?

The ubiquity and scale of the effects of climate change are shifting the terms and tone of the discussion around it. While once there was argument about its existence, followed by argument about its causes, followed by arguments about what might be done in response to it, the discussions now focus squarely on how to get people and governments world-wide to act in time to avert the very worst of the predicted effects. A recent instructive contribution came in the form of a New Republic article by Bill McKibben, a leading voice in the climate movement. McKibben characterized climate change as a series of hostile attacks, amounting to a “world war.” “Carbon and methane are seizing physical territory,” he wrote, “sowing havoc and panic, racking up casualties, and even destabilizing governments.”

Balancing our respect for McKibben against our revulsion towards militaristic rhetoric, we explored this perspective, comparing it with alternative models, like peace-making, diplomacy, education, care-giving, etc. Underlying many of these metaphors we sensed an invitation to move beyond an exclusively defensive posture, to realize that while global climate change is indeed an unfolding catastrophe, climate itself is simply an abiding feature of planetary reality, one that our species has—in recent centuries—tended to ignore (at least in our political and ethical formulations).

What would it mean for art to get interested in the climate—both as it is in itself and as it shapes human lives and societies? What might be gained by the arts in thinking about human lives beyond the familiar analytical frames of biography, psychology, sociology, politics, history—to understand them also as shaped by biology, physics, geology? In other words, what would be the value of drawing into cultural and artistic production the frameworks that have long been sequestered as “science”? Many artists, including theatremakers in our group, have already been working closely with climate scientists, translating their information into expressive imagery and narrative. How might that practice grow more expansive and also more dialectical, moving beyond staging scientific facts to exploring how individual and social lives are related to the planetary forces that modernity has so systematically “backgrounded”?

The founding members of CLIMATE LENS.

The most energizing turn of this conversation came as we located our project in a lineage of progressive discourses that approached issues not only by focusing on their ill effects but by identifying key terms to use as new analytical frameworks. Just as feminism used gender as a lens not only to combat sexism but also to uncover its foundations in patriarchy, we propose to use climate as a lens not only to confront climate change but to uncover its foundations in anthropocentrism.

As often happens, the mention of anthropocentrism quickly plunged us into a familiar and frustrating conversation about the impossibility—for us humans—of escaping a human outlook. One solution—and one we hope CLIMATE LENS will help bring forward—is to distinguish carefully between anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism. Anthropomorphism—the projection of human ideas on non-human subjects—is indeed hard to avoid; nor is it always desirable to avoid it. A great deal of contemporary animal welfare and animal rights thinking, for example, relies on encouraging us to empathize with the suffering of non-human animals. The need to deploy a “strategic anthropomorphism”—that is to say, an anthropomorphism practiced mindfully, with awareness of the pitfalls and limits of cross-species identification—has long been sensed and practiced by eco-philosophers, as has its counterpart (not opposite): zoomorphism, the projection of animal characteristics on humans. These modes of imagination and figuration seem to exist at deep levels of human nature, and can be used in diametrically opposed ways: as ways of erasing or discounting nature, or ways of nurturing deep affiliation with nature. The guiding principle for those who want to avoid the former and achieve the latter is: make sure your practice of anthropomorphism is free from implications of anthropocentrism—the world view that puts humans and their interests at the center of all reality, and participates in the kind of hierarchical-binary thinking that also sustains sexism and racism. In short, practice anthropomorphism (and zoomorphism, and even biomorphism) in the service of an ecological, biocentric world view, one that includes human but vigorously opposes the fantasy of human exceptionalism.

CLIMATE LENS is committed to multiplying the playful, delightful, surprising ways that humans can “play the non-human,” and vice-versa. As an example of the latter: we’re planning a project inspired by that eco-classic “Thinking Like a Mountain,” by Aldo Leopold. In “Tweeting like a Mountain,” we hope to help some non-human partners (including a glacier, a species of mushroom, a speak back to Twitter-Tyrants) while also keep their many human friends informed of life around the planet.

Naming our project CLIMATE LENS, we initiate a conversation and collaboration to use the distinctive elements of the arts of theatre and performance—in particular, their use of actual spaces, times, and bodies as their primary medium—to put human stories in a more-than-human frame. By paying attention to the entanglements, contests, and partnerships that humans habitually (though often unwittingly) undertake with other species, and with natural forces, we want theatre to help counteract the prevailing human exceptionalism that has contributed so much to the current crisis.

A climate lens can work through something as simple as paying attention to the physical life of dramatic characters (in addition to their social and psychological lives), pushing against one of the origins of ecological alienation: rationalism, with its twin derogations of the human body and the non-human world. From this perspective, such recent plays as Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds and Adam Bock’s A Life, neither of which appear to be “climate change plays,” can be thought of as “climate lens” plays, helping to nudge us towards an awareness of those levels of life we share with other animals and even (in the latter case) with the earth itself. These plays contribute to an “affirmative biopolitics” that may prove vital and inspiring in the age of climate change, a way to resist the “biopower” that French philosopher Michel Foucault identified as a defining feature of the modern state.

 

A climate lens can also uncover ecological perspectives in classic plays, vastly expanding the repertory for climate-concerned performance. Imagine a Tempest that foregrounds the fact that Prospero is, like contemporary humanity, a weather-maker as much as he is (as previous lenses have proposed) a patriarchal and colonizing tyrant, or A Wild Duck anchored in Old Ekdal’s cry—“The woods take revenge!” These dots seem easy enough to connect. More challenging—and perhaps more interesting—would be productions that brought biocentric perspectives to bear on plays that seemed utterly disconnected from ecological matters, classic plays that seem to be exclusively about human institutions like justice (Merchant of Venice), sociological concepts like gender (Shrew), or political history.

CLIMATE LENS, then, is interested in developing a creative and expansive perspective on the unfolding environmental realities that go under the name of “climate change.” While not avoiding the more frightening aspects of these, we are committed to making theatre that asks broadly about the current state of the earth, and the human place in it, and frames that vast subject in ways that are politically empowering, socially regenerative, and artistically joyful.

CCS awarded funding for new environmental performance

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

CCS is one of 14 Edinburgh-based groups to receive support through the City of Edinburgh Council’s new culture fund, running for the first time this year to support of the development of up-and-coming performing work in the Capital City.

The £5000 grant from the fund will support Edinburgh-based actor, clown and theatre-maker Alice Mary Cooper to develop a new performance work Blue Cow in association with Imaginate and Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, as part of CCS’s culture/SHIFT programme.

CCS and Alice have collaborated on a number of projects in the past including our 2015 Arts & Sustainability Residency and ArtCOP Scotland, and more recently exploring community engagement in climate adaptation through the arts in Aberdeen.

Blue Cow will address the question what it means to be ‘contaminated’, evolving from Alice’s passion for environmental issues and desire to make work which helps to shift our wider societal culture towards a more sustainable one.

The new work will contribute to one of CCS’s culture/SHIFT themes – ‘making the invisible visible’ – which seeks to understand how the arts and culture can foster new awareness and understanding of our relationship to the environment and climate change.

Through the Culture Project Fund award, CCS will commission Alice to develop the sonic and video possibilities of Blue Cow, working with award winning Edinburgh based director Caitlin Skinner, Sound and Video Designer Rob Jones and musician and composer Thomas Butler.

CCS will also engage local sustainability practitioners and environmental organisations in the project with the aim of building new understandings of how the arts can contribute to a more sustainable city.

Other award recipients include the Village Pub Theatre, Strange Town and Red Note Ensemble. A full list of 2017/18 Culture Project Fund recipients is available on the City of Edinburgh Council website.

The Culture Project Fund supports the priorities of the city’s new Culture Plan, adopted by the Council last year. The plan was developed through the Desire Lines consultation process with input from creative industries, funding bodies, festivals, performers, artists, producers and venues.

It highlighted a need for greater support of emerging artists and ‘a shared city-wide agenda’ for culture in the Capital, which the Project Fund will help address.

Keep an eye out on CCS news for more information on Blue Cow over the coming months!

 



The post CCS awarded funding for new environmental performance work in Edinburgh appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.



About Creative Carbon Scotland:

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland