Yearly Archives: 2017

Best Laid Plans

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Of mice and men. Mice may lay plans better than politicians in the United States these days.

For the last four years, I have been working intensely on issues of climate change. Not as a scientist, but as an artist—peering into a complex issue and trying to help redefine our future. My love for nature has long crept into my work though for the most part, I have remained an observer, a watcher, not an activist now woken up and horrified at what humans have done and are doing to our beloved planet: war, the pollution of our atmosphere and oceans, speciesism and the agriculture revolution gone awry.

If one looks carefully enough, one begins to see that all that we do now, all the preparation, all the planning, is basically for the future—or more pointedly, for those who own that future, our descendants. Our culture substantially defines itself in terms of who has money and power, but cultural influences persist over a greater arc than the span of one person’s life. We need to create a culture of sustainability that will endure. Leaders in politics, industry, commerce and trade must wake up to the fact that we are at a turning point, a juncture; we cannot base everything we do on money—we do not own the earth, it belongs to all creatures. There is no “dominion over earth for humans.” We can’t survive without the trees, the flora and fauna and all the countless other creatures that inhabit this earth. Our culture needs to align more closely with this reality.

After attending two of The Climate Reality Projects conferences, and both reading and listening to countless books on climate change, I decided to focus on solutions. The debate was over. I began to sort through all the problems I could identify: Is it our love of money/greed that prevents us from recognizing the problem and doing something about it? Is it something in our nature? Is it by accident? Is this a case, truly, of our best-laid plans going astray—and is it all a terrible accident? The industrial revolution wasn’t meant to poison our atmosphere and pollute our waters. Penicillin was meant to save lives not create a world filled with 7 billion hungry people. Nobody wants war, but we have it anyway. Why? We are a social species; we count on each other and care about what we all think and do. We are separate but connected. No person is an island and no one person can take full responsibility for our climate problem so we must take collective action through the mechanisms put in place by government and industry.

Climate change is a systemic problem. Our food sometimes comes from halfway around the world, as do our shoes, clothes, and so on. It takes so much oil and gas to transport our stuff. We wanted to go fast; now we are going fast, and can see where things are heading. We should all be concerned.

But maybe, just maybe, there is a way that our climate problem isn’t all our fault. Maybe there are bigger cosmic laws at work here. Wouldn’t that be nice? Except there is no way to know. We have to rely on facts and if 99% of climate scientists say we are the cause, then I’m going to go with what the experts say. Because who wants to take a chance with the one planet we have? I want to have my eyes open so I can see the truth, even if it hurts.

In my painting Best Laid Plans, I first painted a landscape thinking of all the solutions I’d researched: alternative transportation systems, such as SkyTrans (a point to point mass transit system), solar and wind power, earth houses, hydroponics, and so, so many other. There are so many people working on remedies to our collective malady, trying to help define a future where we can thrive. Then again, it’s important to recognize that our best laid plans, whether we are mouse or man, often stray from their original intent, for better or for ill. The future is an open book, unwritten, undefined, existing only in our imaginations. When nature throws you a curve ball, or in my case, masses of white paint, I look for the silver lining.

This straying from the path has hidden power, a potential to redefine everything. While we can’t know what the future holds, we can do our best to live in harmony with the only planet we have.

If mantle plumes under Antarctica don’t melt the ice and flood our coastal cities, and if people manage to subdue their egos long enough to realize that we are all in this together, then maybe we can start to design a restored world.

It really could be beautiful.

Below are some references to consider. They are just a few of the exciting new technologies that are being developed. There are so many more. Let’s open the door and let the future in. It’s right there, waiting for us.

SkyTran: I would love to see bike paths, gardens, and places for children to play instead of roads. Roads cost a lot. Maybe in urban areas we could phase them out?

Solar pathways and plazas: After roads for cars have disappeared and been replaced by solar pathways for biking, walking and roller skating, we’ll be able to get outside and enjoy cleaner air.

Earth Houses: I love this collection of Earth Houses on Pinterest. If you want to feel like you’re in a different world visit Solaleya; these living spaces make me want to jump up and down and yell for joy. Finally, these Monolithic Dome houses withstand the forces of nature and can be beautifully integrated into the landscape.

Geodesic Domes: If we can design systems that leave nature alone and maximize the spaces we have for growing food, it is a win-win situation!

______________________________

Belinda Chlouber is an artist who works with mixed media, acrylic painting, fabric, machine embroidery/stitching, and printmaking. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, in addition to being held in private and public collections. She received her BFA from Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri and later continued her studies at Parsons School of Design in New York. Her work, which focuses on the acceptance of growth and transformation through change, was greatly influenced by the settings of her youth which included Oklahoma, the Navaho and Hopi reservations in Arizona, and Nebraska. She now lives and works in San Mateo, California. 

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

Theatrical Review Through a Climate Lens

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Around this time last year, I took a moment to reflect on the theatrical experiences I’d had and what I’d take with me into the new year. I’m embarking on another year-end review, to link up my encounters in the theatre with my relationship to this topsy-turvy world we’re living in. Like last year, most of these plays are not explicitly about climate, nor do I seek to offer criticism on every show I’ve seen. I’ve got my climate lenses on, and will highlight instances that have inspired me creatively and politically.

My year started off with a meeting of theatre artists engaged on climate issues, which in turn formed a network called CLIMATE LENS. From this conversation, and participant Una Chaudhuri, comes the term itself: climate lens. As our Facebook Group describes, climate lens reframes climate change as more than a topic or problem. In a way similar to how feminism situates gender in the context of patriarchy, climate lens “proposes climate as the clarifying lens through which to reveal and resist the socio-political issues of our day,” exploring “theatrical ways of partnering with the more-than-human world.” To view an experience with climate lenses is to acknowledge climate as a force that has always existed, and to intersect climate injustices with other systems of oppression in human society. This term and its explanatory language has offered me a new set of tools with which to experience performance.

This season, I got to experience Ping Chong + Company for the first time. Through multimedia, movement, and puppetry, their piece ALAXSXA | ALASKA unpacks Alaska’s political history juxtaposing memoirs from two of the show’s creators, Gary Upay’aq Beaver (Central Yup’ik) and Ryan Conarro. The show opens with Central Yup’ik drumming and dancing, and from there, scenes unfold almost seamlessly between monologues or dialogues between Gary and Ryan, humorous yet unsettling “history lessons,” and movement sequences with objects. Vibrant images of Alaska, from mountains to snowy forests, are projected throughout the show. In one narrative, a fox is being chased through the snow, brought to life onstage by a puppet and a projected snowscape. Both the fox puppet and the projected landscape became characters in the play, and I was able to see the world through the eyes of this persecuted fox. The state of Alaska also becomes a character, in scenes detailing colonialism and nuclear deals.

Through the climate lens, I recognized that the environment as depicted in the story – from the fox in the snow, to the land of Alaska as it is “bought and sold” – has agency. Despite the actions of some humans who have taken it upon themselves to “claim ownership” to certain animals or places, there is an innate sovereignty that exists in the natural world, and through this recognition, my empathy was expanded. Another vital element to the play was the encounter between Native and non-Native, as expressed through Gary and Ryan’s accounts. The individual stories of these two men lays out cultural differences, but also bridge cultures through performance and shared interest. My view through a climate lens juxtaposes the political and social injustices of colonialism with how and where Gary lives, and how life for him and other Central Yup’ik people has changed.

ALASKA-photo-by-Theo-Cote-1

Ping Chong + Company’s ALAXSXA | ALASKA. Photo by Theo Cote.

ALAXSXA | ALASKA included a talkback with the show creators. One question was asked about what the creators want audiences to take away from their production. The response from the team, particularly Ryan, resonated with me as an activist theatremaker: whatever audiences experience during the production, whatever questions and feelings arise, that is what the creators behind Ping Chong + Company want audiences to take away. It was validating for me to hear that theatre artists are not tasked with prescribing an experience or set of ideals for audiences, but instead offer moments for audiences to encounter in juxtaposition with their own worldviews.

ALASKA-photo-by-Theo-Cote-17.jpg

Ping Chong + Company’s ALAXSXA | ALASKA. Photo by Theo Cote.

Diana Oh’s  sparkly and rockin’ {my lingerie play} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! The Final Installation is the most colorful production I’ve seen this year. As part of a series of installments of public demonstrations against rape culture, it was a community-building experience liked I’ve never experienced before. Walking into New York’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater was like entering a glittering wonderland. From that moment, the audience is an active participant in the performance. Everyone got a brown paper bag to write why they create. These bags became part of the set, as we got to choose where in the space we wanted our bag to go. Everyone had the opportunity to rock glitter eye shadow and temporary tattoos, in the spirit of self-expression and fun. At the top of the show, we read a list of nine agreements, acknowledging our consent in the experience. The performance was a concert of songs by Diana, with interludes and scenes about her experiences with dating and sex. We got to take part in her anecdotes via a few invitations: Diana offers to give a haircut to an audience member, she demonstrates consent with a volunteer from the audience, and we get to blow bubbles for the fun of it and in triumph over oppressive gender norms.

Diana’s stories are full of pain and suffering, which she shared in such a way that validated and made space for our pain and suffering as well. There was also immense joy and appreciation. {my lingerie play}, to me, was not about reacting to rape culture, but about opening up spaces by and for women, queer people, and people of color to forge a new cultural paradigm. Through the climate lens framework, I saw the progressive nature of Diana’s show: to move beyond political reactions, and into transforming our culture. I was inspired by the imagined reality within the world of {my lingerie play}. From the acknowledgement of consent, to direct audience participation, to the catch-phrase “Queer the World!” Diana’s leadership paved the way for self-empowerment. With irresponsible, out-of-touch men in seats of power, there is something vital that {my lingerie play} does: it opens up a space to cultivate and amplify voices on the political margins, those who will be most affected by forthcoming economic or climatic disasters. Carving out space for women, trans people, and gender-non-conforming folk to wholly and safely be themselves is right in line with the forging of new, empathy-expanding realities that a climate lens seeks to foster.

download

Diana Oh’s {my lingerie play}. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Another bad-ass female writer-musician I encountered was Heather Christian and her production Animal Wisdom. Set in a Mississippi living room – but also very decidedly in the present time and space – Christian shares tall-tales through music and play about growing up in Mississippi and encountering ghosts. Her music is haunting and full of soul, and her ensemble of band-mates bring the characters of her stories to life. This performance offered a new kind of sensory experience: for twenty minutes in the second half of the piece, there is complete darkness. The music rages on, but everything is in blackout. It was an adjustment. How long can I sit without the use of a sense I rely on daily? What happens when I adjust to a new sensorial reality, and reconnect with my imagination? Even though we could in no way see one another, it was comforting to know we were all still there.

This twenty minutes – merely a blip in the scheme of universal time – felt as though it went on for hours. I’ve been considering duration as a theatrical tool to connect with the force of climate. During this dark interlude, I wavered between anxiety and patience. With a rapidly changing climate, patience will be a necessary tool, as our human culture will need time and trial-and-error to adapt. When the lights did start to flicker back on, I felt relief but also some remorse that the dream, the practice in duration, was ending. Throughout Animal Wisdom, Christian expresses her spirituality – through her music, words, and presence. I traveled on her spiritual encounters with her, and in those twenty minutes of darkness, had my own chance to connect with my spirituality, and to consider my place in the universe.

129960

Heather Christian’s Animal Wisdom. Photo by Maria Baranova.

These theatre experiences have primarily involved biography-based musical performances. Through this correlation, mixed with the state of affairs in the US, I’m coming to realize: When the personal is political, and the political is terrifying, it’s healing to delve into the personal, to cultivate empathy through specific yet relatable narratives. Add music to that, and souls open up. Consciousness raises, empathy and compassion become daily practice without a second thought. These are urgent, if not dire, times. In terms of climate, specifically, those personal narratives can unlock entry points and encourage people to engage with the climate crisis in a more active way. With spaces to share grief, honor histories, and validate experiences, I’m ready to look to that shift in the cultural paradigm, wherein those imagined realities that we create onstage are able to more directly play out in our communities.

Take Action
Spread hope and awareness with DearTomorrow, a digital and archive project where people share letters, photos and videos to their children, family or future self about their promise to take action on climate change. Submit your message.

______________________________

Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In AsylumHonest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is a co-organizer with Climate Change Theatre Action. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The Food Plays, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.

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