Yearly Archives: 2018

The Loneliest Species

“The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Somewhere along the line, we forgot that we are not alone on this planet.

Or, put another way: we forgot that this world is not simply ours for the taking.

The logic behind our isolation is not a new. It emerged in the Renaissance; look at Charles de Bovelles’ Book of Wisdom, in which the order of living and nonliving things on earth are illustrated in this way, from bottom to top: rocks, plants, animals and then man, who stands alone in his capacity for understanding.

Our anthropocentrism has shaped the world around us as technological advantages have surged forward. Our superpredator mindset has supported our endless appetite for resources: trees, livestock, land, all of it is ours for the taking. We’re the top of the food chain, so what’s the problem with humans only looking out for humans?

Extinct, written & directed by Kate Douglas. Photo by Stephanie Crousillat.

The cracks in this thinking are visible not only in the world around us (mass extinctions, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, acidification of the ocean) – but also in our psycho-emotional lives. We have lost our sense of legacy, time and most importantly, how to be part of a community instead of a food chain. A 2018 study by Cigna found that nearly 50 percent of Americans feel lonely – but perhaps there is something deeper at work here.

There is a term called Species Loneliness that Robin Wall Kimmerer describes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass as “a deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation, from the loss of relationship.”

For me, there is a profound truth in acknowledging our isolation as a symptom of our anthropocentric culture. It is at this moment when we are teetering on the brink of self-destruction that we need to nourish our relationship with the other living beings on this planet and reckon with our responsibilities.

Extinct, written & directed by Kate Douglas. Photo by Stephanie Crousillat.

I believe art can be a part of this shift in consciousness. My work aims to restore our mindset to the broad inclusiveness of plants as protagonists. Through such tools I hope to promote dialogue about nourishment, connectedness, and respect of humans and nonhumans alike. I believe the impact of creating a culture of people who freely whisper to trees and flowers can change our sensitivities to our impact on this planet in a visceral way.

I am currently developing several immersive theatre works in this vein, as I believe the medium has an enormous capacity for evoking visceral shifts in perspective in audiences. My environmental education and connection has taken place largely outside New York City (I study herbalism in Vermont, and I began my Master Naturalist Training this fall at Cornell University), and I am keen to bring this consciousness into my urban community in an acute way.

The first work I am developing is a children’s show called Middlemist Red. It aims to surprise children of the digital age with an analog mystery adventure in a greenhouse that emphasizes themes of interdependence, recycling, and sustainability. The second work is an uncanny dystopian dance theatre work called Extinct, set in a very strange office where productivity is synonymous with happiness and there is a strange infestation of plants growing up through people’s desks. This surreal work leaves space for audiences to investigate their relationship to nourishment, connectedness, and fulfillment as we enter the Sixth Extinction. My future goals include creating immersive experiences that surprise children with a plant-centric mystery and adventure inside of classrooms.

Key art from Middlemist Red, written & directed by Kate Douglas. Designed by Brendan Duggan.

I am particularly focused on youth as in my previous work with them, I have seen how easily and fluently they interact with plant life: telling them secrets, asking them for permission to pick them, and more. I believe the more we can nurture these tendencies from a young age, the sooner we can shift our culture from one of loneliness to one of environmental stewardship and responsibility for our non-human neighbors. We could all stand to be better neighbors.

This naturalist reverence is inside of us already. It just needs to be remembered and nourished. I hope my work can be a part of reactivating that piece of our imagination.

(Top image: Extinct, written & directed by Kate Douglas. Photo by Stephanie Crousillat.)


Kate Douglas is a theatre artist seeking to challenge audiences about the limits of their world. Recent works include her immersive piece Extinct, which was awarded a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Middlemist Red, currently in development with New Victory LabWorks. Her work has been performed at Ars Nova, Joe’s Pub, and The McKittrick Hotel, and developed at SPACE at Ryder Farm, Rhinebeck Musicals, The National Theater Institute, and the Writer’s Colony at Goodspeed. As a complement to her artistic practice, she is studying medicinal herbalism and began her Master Naturalist training this fall at Cornell University.


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

Powered by WPeMatico

What Do Food and Art Have to Do With Each Other?

It’s not often that a blind date works out so magnificently, but in this case it did: two months ago I was contacted by C-Platform, an arts organization in Xiamen, China to organize the Food Art Film Festival with them, an event I have been organizing at the Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, The Netherlands. We didn’t know each other – they found me online through some of my writings for Artists and Climate Change!

Luckily, this was a match made in heaven and I am so grateful; through our many amazing meals and conversations about food, art, and nature, I learned a lot about Chinese culture and customs. It became once again abundantly clear that nature and culture are intricately connected. Nature influences our culture – for example, in how we use it as inspiration or as material (wood, plants for pigments, stone, etc.). But culture influences nature possibly even more. The way we relate to nature determines how we value it and how we treat it. In our modern culture of consumption, we haven’t been treating it very well, leading to all kinds of problems from climate change to pollution of air, water, and soil. We have created a multitude of chemicals to clean with, build with, even to eat and make art with – just think of photographic emulsions and paints. The problems we have created strongly affect the quality of what we eat, as well as our health and well-being.

With the Food Art Film Festival in Xiamen, we, of course, wanted to celebrate good food because we do love good food. But it is precisely because we love good food so much that we want to ask questions about how to keep it great for the future, both for ourselves and future generations. The films  included in the festival ask some of these questions. For example, Chloé Rutzerveld‘s work explores the conceptual idea of eating meat grown on our own bodies. Meat production, especially beef, is one of the biggest sources of carbon emission on the planet, because of the methane released by cows. Whole tropical rainforests – the lungs of the world – are being burned down so we can grow soy to feed the animals that we eat. If we continue like this there will be no forest left, forcing us to ask questions about our meat intake. How about growing meat in labs? Rutzerveld asks: “How far are we willing to go to eat meat?” In her project In vitro Me, she suggests to grow meat on our own bodies, using our own cells. Would we still eat meat if we had to grow and harvest it from our own bodies?

In vitro Me, downloaded from

Another key issue artists are engaging with, especially in light of post-colonial discourse, is the cultural history and heritage of the fruits, herbs, vegetables and spices that we eat. This question is central to the work of artists Jonmar van Vlijmen and Ronald Boer, aka De Onkruidenier (an untranslatable Dutch pun). Their artistic practice revolves around the role wild plants play in our life; they bring back the story of unwanted and forgotten plants, highlighting their medicinal, cultural, and historical value, or their value as foods.

SWEET-SWEAT by De Onkruidenier in collaboration with Rosanne van Wijk.

Through artistic fieldwork, experiments, and learning from forgotten knowledge, De Onkruidenier re-interprets our relationship with plants and nature. One of the artists’ latest research topics is the relationship between sugar and salt. As part of their residency, they asked how we can evolve a salt-inclusive life. With rising sea levels, farmlands and cities are increasingly threatened by salt pollution and flooding. In their performative workshop “SWEET-SWEAT,” they collaboratively re-think the urban metabolism by connecting body, food, and landscape into an intuitive map based on our basic cravings for water, sugar, and salt. This performance is rooted in their discovery that the sugar beet – one of the most cultivated crops in the Netherlands – is able to grow in very salty soil. They were interested in the halo-tolerance of the sugar beet and traced its ancestry back to the beach beet, a sturdy beet that grows in coastal areas.

Seeds of different beets. The blue one is generally used by farmers (it contains pesticides).

The work of solar designer Marjan van Aubel is also presented as part of the Food Art Film Festival. In collaboration with scientists and architects, she developed a greenhouse that harvests its own energy using solar technology integrated into the glass. This means that every surface of the construction is productive. The energy gained from the solar cells is used to power and maintain the greenhouse’s indoor climate, and a hydroponic system that pumps around nutrient-infused water comprising a mix of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. This reduces water usage by up to 90 percent compared to traditional soil farming.

Power Plant by Marjan van Aubel.

Furthermore, new technologies in the form of pink and blue LED lights are used, promoting leaf growth and increased vitamin C levels. The light enhances and controls plant growth, allowing for a fourfold yield increase. Using these self-powering greenhouses on top of office or restaurant buildings, for example, could massively reduce global food miles.

Detail of Power Plant.

Last but certainly not least, there is the hilarious work of artist Ben Hagari. His film Fresh introduces a hypothetical situation wherein a man, covered entirely in vegetables (yet still recognizable as human), resides in a greenhouse – the quintessential hybrid of nature and culture. He interacts with insects, machines, and other humans in encounters that border on the absurd: vegetables are turned into instruments or harvested from his body by a chef, revealing an occasional nipple.

We often speak of the problematic separation between human (culture) and nature when we analyze what’s at the root of environmental degradation. American philosopher Carolyn Merchant has written extensively on this separation, including in her well-known book The Death of Nature, in which she points to the Scientific Revolution as the moment when nature became increasingly viewed as a machine that could be experimented with and understood through reason. This understanding gave rise to unlimited experiments on animals and the objectification all non-human life. Also, the vegetable-man in Ben Hagari’s Fresh is subjected to different kinds of mysterious monitoring, leaving the viewer with unanswered questions about both human health and the ‘health’ of the food we eat. Regardless of the answers to these questions, if this is what is looks like when we stop separating human and nature, it will leave a big smile on your face.

The Food Art Film Festival in Xiamen runs until December 2, 2018. You can download the brochure for the festival here.

(Top image: Still from Fresh by Ben Hagari, 2014.)


Curator Yasmine Ostendorf (MA) has worked extensively on international cultural mobility programs and on the topic of art and environment for expert organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle (UK), Bamboo Curtain Studio (TW) Cape Farewell (UK) and Trans Artists (NL). She founded the Green Art Lab Alliance, a network of 35 cultural organizations in Europe and Asia that addresses our social and environmental responsibility, and is the author of the series of guides “Creative Responses to Sustainability.” She is the Head of Nature Research at the Van Eyck Academy (NL), a lab that enables artists to consider nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues and the initiator of the Van Eyck Food Lab.


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

Powered by WPeMatico

Creative Carbon Scotland’s Cultural Adaptations shortlisted for NICE Award

Culture has a key role in how society adapts to the unavoidable impacts of climate change so we’re thrilled that Cultural Adaptations is one of eight projects shortlisted for the NICE Award 2019!

A NICE award

The NICE award aims to promote innovations from the cultural and creative industries, especially those that spill over into the wider economy and society. Under the leadership of the european centre for creative economy (ecce) the Award for Innovations in Culture and Creativity in Europe (NICE) was initiated in 2013 at the UNESCO World Heritage Zeche Zollverein in Essen in collaboration with 15 cities, universities and institutions from 10 nations. It is financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalization and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Innovative partnership

Cultural Adaptations brings together innovative cultural and adaptation organisations to explore culture’s role in society’s adaptation to climate change, and the adaptation issues that cultural organisations face. This co-operation project which has been in development since 2017, runs to March 2021, and is funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme.

We are leading the project with Sniffer and the Climate Ready Clyde Project as adaptation partners in Scotland, TILLT working with the City of Gothenburg in Sweden, Greentrack Gent and City of Gent in Belgium and Axis will be working with Codema, in Ireland.

NICE nominees

Cultural Adaptations was shortlisted out of 55 applications that were submitted for the NICE Award 2019 which is focused on the theme of “Internationalisation for a Better World”. Varied projects from Spain, Finland, Netherlands, Lithuania and Sweden were shortlisted alongside three from the UK. Shortlisted projects include “3D Printing Sustainable Buildings” a research project which demonstrates the potentials of additive manufacturing technology and robotics in the production of sustainable low-cost buildings that can be built with 100% natural materials. International artists, musicians, technologists and theorists join forces to understand how blockchains might enable a critical, sustainable and empowered culture in “DAOWO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation With Others)” another shortlisted project.

Next steps

Cultural Adaptations will be presented to the judges in Dortmund in February 2019. To keep informed about the Cultural Adaptations project, register your interest on the project page.

Cultural Adaptations

Cultural Adaptations (EUCAN) is co-funded with the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.

The post Cultural Adaptations shortlisted for NICE Award! appeared first on 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

Powered by WPeMatico

From Heaviness to Hope

With the US midterm election still a week away, wariness and cautious optimism hung in the air at our second Salon on October 29th. Before diving into our Fellows’ projects, everyone shared what had been on their minds since the last gathering. From the upcoming election to the emotional and physical impacts of environmental injustices to asking how humans and trees handle the stress of climate change, a common theme emerged: Under the weight of so much uncertainty and trauma, where do we find relief?

This idea of heaviness and hope also runs through the work of our Fellows. Shy Richardson and Karina Yager, who are investigating the displacement of Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria, structure their process around weekly writing prompts focused on key themes or words. This week, they reflected on the idea of “category.” For hurricanes, the category system is used as part of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale which measures sustained wind speeds and assigns ratings. Categories 1 and 2, with top speeds of 95 mph and 110 mph respectively, are said to cause mild to extensive damage. For category 3, wind speeds top out at 129 mph and for category 4 winds can reach 156 mph creating devastating damage. Any wind speed above that is called a category 5 and creates damage considered catastrophic.

These are useful scientific distinctions, but what do they actually mean to people on the ground? When a news anchor calls something a superstorm, a tropical cyclone, or a category 3 hurricane, does that impact our understanding or influence our reactions? The team sought to examine “category” not just in scientific terms, but also through a human perspective. They are looking at wind speed and material damage in concert with resilience, emotion and survival. As they begin their interviews with those affected by Hurricane Maria, the team hopes to learn not only what was lost, but also what was preserved and sustained, and how survivors are finding ways to redefine their lives.

Associate Fellows Aya Lane and Imani Dennison are also engaging with individual experiences as they create their multimedia performance piece, Drexciya, to examine water as a source of both oppression and healing. Aya played an audio recording of an interview Imani conducted with Clarence Roby who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Growing up in New Orleans, he says hurricanes were a part of life. He describes hurricane parties held on cancelled school days in which kids were outside “dancing in chaos.”

Katrina was different. Though a hurricane hit, he says “it was a man-made error that submerged us.” Structurally-flawed levees crumbled, flooding predominantly Black neighborhoods. About 80% of New Orleans was underwater and The Center for Social Inclusion reported that 44% of those residents in areas damaged by the broken levees were Black. In addition to the abysmal federal relief response, Aya referred to the troubling media coverage, where Black people were categorized as criminals and looters while white people were characterized as desperately hoping to provide food for their families. It’s wrong to refer to Hurricane Katrina as simply a natural disaster – it wasn’t just wind and water at play, but also economic inequality, racial segregation and structural racism. Roby recalls meeting up years later with a childhood friend, one he wasn’t even sure survived the hurricane, at Howard University. In his story of destruction, injustice, inequity and displacement, we were left with the beauty of this reconnection on a HBCU campus.

During the Salon, Superhero Clubhouse Co-Director Lani Fu talked about theatremaking as a group enterprise with high risk (due to the vulnerability in performing and creating material for others) taking place in a safe space. She went on to explain that in such a space, great transformation and healing can take place because participants are allowed to change: their minds, their presumptions, their habitual ways of knowing. In a world of heaviness, theatre is a place where we strive to build bridges to new understandings. Our Fellows’ projects are building important connections and engaging in conversations between science, environmental justice, personal and public histories, and creativity. And that’s a cause for hope.

(Top image: Several areas of New Orleans flooded due to the levee break during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA.)

This is the second of seven blogs in a series called “Building Bridges,” about the intersection of environmental justice and performance. These blogs will be responding to a monthly Salon taking place at The Lark in New York where our Fellows, Associate Fellows, and others in the Superhero Clubhouse community are exploring this intersection in their own ways.


Megan McClain is the resident dramaturg for SHC’s series of Planet Plays, Flying Ace, and other projects and co-leads The Salon. As R&D Program Director at the Civilians, she’s guided the work of over 70 writers, composers, and directors creating original works of investigative theatre. She is also the Accessibility Manager at The Lark. Additional dramaturgical/literary work for Goodman Theatre, Disney Theatrical, Hartford Stage, PlayPenn, Playwrights Realm and more. M.F.A Dramaturgy: UMass Amherst.


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

Powered by WPeMatico

Climate Change Theatre Action 2019 is Just around the Corner!


Climate Change Theatre Action 2019 is just around the corner. Once again, we’re bringing 50 new climate change plays by 50 international playwrights into the world. We’re lighting the way and imagining together how to create the just and sustainable future we all deserve.

To get the project underway, we need to raise $15,000 by December 13th – our most ambitious campaign yet! – so we can commission our playwrights. We would love for you to become part of this amazing community of changemakers. Can you chip in $10, $25, $50 or more? Every contribution level gets you some cool perks that we have lovingly put together for you as an expression of our gratitude.

This is an all-or-nothing deal: either we reach or goal, or we get no money at all. Please contribute generously and help us spread the word by sharing this campaign with your networks. Are you with us?