Artists and Climate Change

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F*ck the System (And the Horse It Rode In On)

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The thing that’s so annoying about climate change is that it affects all of our systems—political, economic, environmental, cultural—so there’s no way to hide from it. The thing that’s so great about climate change is that it affects all of our systems—political, economic, environmental, cultural—so we’re forced to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t, for whom, and why. The stakes are as high as in any good play: If we don’t change our ways, the status quo will, quite literally, kill us.

In the theatre, our internal systems are every bit as detrimental to the earth and other human beings as the larger systems of which we are a part. We waste resources. We hoard money at the top. We discriminate. We talk a lot about doing better and sometimes we do but on the whole, if we look at statistics like these and these and these—we’ve all seen them—we are not the model of responsible stewardship and inclusiveness that we would like to be.

Is it surprising? Yes and no. We are a product of this country, this culture, this moment in time. Many of us grew up, whether on American soil or abroad, with American values forced down our throats: Freedom is gold. Growth is infinite. The hero (preferably straight, white, and male) always wins. We have internalized these values and, consciously or not, they continue to inform our behavior.

To be fair, many artists and organizations are working tirelessly to address these problems. But while these efforts are laudable, they remain marginal. Once in a while we have a conference where we acknowledge them and reassert our desire to do better, and then little changes.

It’s worth asking why, even though these issues have been identified for decades, we as a field have only moved a few percentage points in the right direction. Granted, a theatre can’t fire its entire staff and start anew overnight, but theatrical seasons are put together every year. Every year, new creative teams are hired. Every year, there are opportunities to say fuck the system and be inclusive and fair. By now, we should have moved dozens of percentage points in the right direction. But no, we hover more or less in the same place. We pat ourselves on the back for talking about these things, and ignore the fact that our actions don’t support our words.

If climate change was solely about reducing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, the problem would have been solved a long time ago. The reason it’s so difficult to address is because it requires a complete overhaul of the ideology that made it possible. As we have seen in the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, patriarchy and white supremacy, which underpin our economic system and by extension, the fossil fuel industry, are well and alive in America. And the extreme violence and sense of entitlement of “Unite the Right” marchers show that those who feel they have most to lose (whether they are justified in that feeling or not) by switching to a new order won’t let go easy.

The same is true in the theatre. It’s not difficult to produce a female playwright or cast a person of color. What’s difficult is to recognize that cultural standards are not objective, and to stop coming up with “good” reasons for discriminating. “It’s not what our audiences want” is a cop out that enables theatre leaders and audiences alike to be sexist and racist. And if that’s where we stand, can we look at what happened in Charlottesville with a clear conscience? Can we honestly say that we had no part to play in creating the culture that made the alt-right possible? It doesn’t matter what we say in our plays if how we say it indicates in no uncertain terms that the only valid perspective on our society is that of the straight white man.

“The 2015–16 Season in Gender: Who’s on Top?” from American Theatre Magazine, September 21, 2015.

As I write this, hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc in Texas and Louisiana, displacing tens of thousands of people, destroying houses and infrastructures, and bringing Houston, a modern industrialized city in one of the most powerful nations on earth, down to its knees. The climate change apocalypse we’ve been promised is here. I see the photos, watch the videos, read the articles and the posts on social media, and my heart breaks. I can only imagine the magnitude of the pain and sense of loss of those whose entire lives are now under water.

How much longer are we going to go on like this? How many more people have to suffer and die? We, as a society, need to take responsibility for both Charlottesville and Harvey. And we, in the theatre, also need to take responsibility. Artists make culture; that’s our job. Every day we put ideas on stage that either reinforce the status quo or challenge it. Every day we engage in practices that are either wasteful or sustainable. Every day we interact with each other in a way that is either oppressive or nurturing. We make choices and then we put those choices on stage for everyone to see. That’s what theatre is. Never mind the witty dialogue, clever blocking, and fancy designs. At its most basic, theatre is a sharing of beliefs and values that make a production possible, from who is involved to what resources are used to how people are treated.

A common reason for people to not take action on climate change is a sense of powerlessness—a belief that individuals can’t make a difference and that change has to come from the top. It is, of course, politically convenient for those in power to cultivate that feeling. Powerlessness keeps masses docile, money flowing in the right direction—from bottom to top—and power secure. But chaos theory tells us that a small change in a nonlinear complex system, which is what our highly-connected world has become, can result in large differences later. Think of the butterfly effect: Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?

Moreover, science also says that when just ten percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, that belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. Ten percent. That’s one in ten artists. One in ten theatres. One in ten plays. Is that so out of reach? Can we not, in a profession that prides itself on the resourcefulness and imagination of its practitioners, find one in ten people to turn the tide? Can we not acknowledge the damage our systems are inflicting on our fellow artists, our fellow citizens, and on the earth, and start to chip at them?

I do see hope. When Native Americans gathered at Standing Rock to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline, they said fuck the system. When youth filed a constitutional climate lawsuit against the US government, they said fuck the system. When cities and states announced that they would uphold the Paris Agreement after Trump pulled out, they said fuck the system. And every time we march—for women’s rights, LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, for the climate, for science—we are collectively saying fuck the system.

I see hope in the theatre, too. Caucasian actor Mandy Patinkin, who was set to replace African American actor Okieriete Onaodowan in the Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812dropped out after realizing he would be harming his colleague. There was an unexpected outpouring of support from audiences after the announcement that Paula Vogel’s Indecent—one of the rare plays on Broadway both written and directed by a woman—was going to close despite taking home two Tony Awards. And organizations like Broadway Green Alliance continue to serve and educate the field so we learn to be more sustainable and less wasteful.

And these are only a few examples. Hundreds of small theatre companies across the country, theatres too small to be counted in the statistics, are carving a place for those usually left out of our overwhelmingly monochrome and monogender theatre ecosystem, and are making efforts to use resources responsibly.

In addition to these individual efforts, institutional changes are desperately needed and funders could and should help. In July, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave New York’s museums and arts groups an ultimatum: Embrace diversity, or say goodbye to your city funding. When are funders going to hold theatres up to the same standard? On the other side of the pond, Arts Council England, working in collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle, has made environmental reporting a funding obligation for all major revenue funded programs over the last few years, with great success. Can more countries not come up with similar programs?

The burden of fighting for justice shouldn’t always fall on those already disadvantaged. Most of us in the theatre enjoy some form of privilege, whether racial or economic or both. Maybe once in a while, we should be willing to take one for the team. Maybe once in a while, we should have the courage to stand up for all of us, even if it comes at a personal cost. What if, for example, some of the most sought after male playwrights among us refused to be produced by theatres that don’t show gender parity? What if white playwrights required that the cast for their plays reflect the diversity of our society? What would happen then? What if playwrights and directors contractually required that the set be recycled at the end of a production? What if theatres had to disclose the gap between their highest paid employees and their lowest paid employees? We’ve been waiting for too long; our statistics have got to change. Our systems have got to change. And if it takes some form of disobedience, then so be it. Otherwise, we might as well have voted for Trump.

Naomi Klein is right when she says that this changes everything. We cannot address climate change without addressing the systems that are feeding it, and we cannot address those systems and still make theatre as if these were the good old days. The theatre community may only represent a small percentage of the population but because it is directly involved in shaping culture, it has a big percentage of the responsibility.

It’s not difficult. Let’s stop saying that it’s difficult. Let’s stop saying that it’s complicated. Let’s stop saying that it’s expensive or risky. Being rescued from your house by a helicopter because the water is up to your roof is difficult. Making the theatre more inclusive, sustainable, and fair is not.

Fuck the system. It’s rigged. It has always been. Sadly, it took a dangerous accumulation of CO2 particles in the atmosphere for us to finally face it, but here we are. Let’s not wait until the white supremacists are in power (oh wait, they already are…) or until we’re all under water to make a change.


Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight countries of the Arctic – and the founder of the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change. She is a co-organizer of Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented in support of the United Nations COP meetings.


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

Anniversaries and Creative Resistances

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

In the year since the election of That Person Who Should Not Have Been Elected, I have experienced, like many others in the States and beyond, a whirlwind of emotions: rage, worry, defeat, confusion, exhaustion, hope. I have been to theatrical events which have both evoked these feelings and expanded my empathy for people who voted in a way I thought unthinkable. I have gone out into the streets in protest more times than I have in all my previous years combined. In this moment of anniversary, I am focused not on the destruction that has been done at the hands of my government, but on the communities I’ve been a part of, on the insistence on justice, and on my reinvigorated connection to people and the land we share.

One year ago, I worked with Theater In Asylum on the The Debates, and wrote pre-election thoughts here. On that election night, my Debates collaborators and I formed the political theatre collective Back to Work, as a support network. Together we marched on Washington, built a Feminist Flashmob, and most recently, staged a reading of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here from 1936. As part of nation-wide readings, Theater In Asylum and Back to Work collaborated on an evening of Lewis’ play with fundraising for relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

In It Can’t Happen Here, the editor of a liberal newspaper in small-town Vermont witnesses the rise of a populist, anti-labor, militaristic politician, all the way to the presidency. The editor and his family discover just how quickly fascism spreads, violence reigns, and the free press is silenced. A clear turning point is when the editor is forced to turn his position at the paper over to a member of the new administration. Lewis also looks at the education – or indoctrination – of youth as the grandson of the editor flaunts a uniform of the militaristic president’s party.


Reading of It Can’t Happen Here, directed by Paul Bedard, in collaboration with Theater In Asylum and Back to Work Collective. Photo by Paul Bedard.

While the play certainly dates itself through pre-World War II references, the parallels to our current governmental situation – 80 years later – is uncanny. I was reminded of current events, littered with “fake news” buzz and political leaders acting against the interests of the people. The propaganda spewed by the president in Lewis’ play is reminiscent of Trump’s tweets. It is happening here. But, fortunately, rising fascism is being met with a persistent public voice clamoring to tear it down (especially as we’ve seen in last week’s legislative and gubernatorial elections)! In my experience of hearing the play, with a room full of people from all backgrounds, I felt the act of our collective resistance. When divisive and destructive energies occupy seats of power, I honor spaces of compassionate, receptive, and joyful energy as persistence.

This Fall also marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. While I was not living in New York at the time, the reverberations of the superstorm have been present in my two years of being here: from the subways, to rainwater management, to community organizing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers, often people of color affected by sea level rise from Brooklyn to Upper Manhattan. That is why on October 28th, I joined five thousand fellow New Yorkers to march across the Brooklyn Bridge. We marched in commemoration of the lives affected by Sandy as well as by this year’s disastrous storms in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The Sandy5 March indicated that New Yorkers remember, and recognize the link between policy and climate change. We do live in a progressive city, but there is still room to create more sustainable and just policies for more residents.


Rally in preparation for the Sandy5 March.

As my friends and I marched, we enjoyed the abnormally-sunshiny late-October sun, the beats of musicians around us, and new and familiar chants. Turning the corners through Lower Manhattan, with more room to move and groove, the Sandy5 March brought a literal dance party into the streets. This instance of public, collective joy was so inspiring to me. I marched with people I knew, but at the same time saw thousands of unfamiliar faces, brought together by similar intentions.


Marching across the Brooklyn Bridge.

I am propelled to keep moving, and re-energized by large public demonstrations like the Sandy5 March. I am also invigorated by the transmission of knowledge through international gatherings such as COPs (Conference of the Parties). As followers of this United Nations climate summit know, the 23rd Conference is currently underway in Bonn, Germany. It was two years ago, at COP21, that the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. Since the Trump administration’s rejection of the agreement earlier this year, state, local, and business leaders have stepped up to show the rest of the world that the United States still intends on being part of global efforts toward sustainability. Adding to these efforts, I am convening with local artists and friends as part of Climate Change Theatre Action, around art and conversation and food. These happenings are resistance, in the face of an authority that attempts to tear us apart. We will see what this COP brings. Regardless of what corrupted power does or says, the people, united, will never be defeated.


Marching across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Take Action
Climate Change Theatre Action 2017 is in its final week. Find an event near you.

Join one of many campaigns for a resilient and renewable New York. Find out about the policy demands of the Sandy5 March here.

Tweet in support of the US People’s Delegation at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, and populate Twitter with demands to Trump for climate action.

Share in Climate Optimism.


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

Keyboard Conversations Across the World

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

ClimateKeys, like climate change, has spread and become a world event. This can only be seen as a reflection of how connected we all are as humans on this beautiful planet. The United Nations 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) is coming, and so is ClimateKeys. In these keyboard conversations around the world, people will be afforded the space to think about climate change, and the opportunity to talk about it with others. Such is the combination of music and speech; using music as an introduction to the topic gives us a chance to think about this all-encompassing phenomenon, and it settles us down into a state of relaxed (rather than frantic) thought in order to have a more positive dialogue.

The London launch of ClimateKeys took place on the 25th of October, and was a gala of music and speech. Ten pianists performed various pieces of classical music, interspersed with three speeches. Hannah van den Brul, who has herself written academically about music and climate change, discussed ClimateKeys’ collaborative efforts with experts to spark conversations about climate change, as well as the “glocal” aim of local keyboard conversations happening across the globe. ClimateKeys was also honored to have Nicole Lawler, mother of Zane Gbangbola, as its special guest. Nicole spoke about a campaign to expose the truth about her son’s death due to landfill poisons leaking into their home during the 2014 floods in the UK (with suggested links to climate change). Guest speaker Sir Jonathon Porritt referred to the diversity of speech topics that ClimateKeys will include, ranging from re-orienting communities and behavior modification, to inter-disciplinary solutions and climate change art – a real reflection of how climate change touches all aspects of society and human life. Porritt also drew a connection between the London launch and a ClimateKeys concert which took place simultaneously in Bosnia where Professor of Climatology and COP delegate Goran Trbic emphasized the importance of international common aims in order to build on the Paris Agreement. This not only highlighted the significance of the event and topic to that country, but also demonstrated the interconnectivity inherent to climate change; our actions will affect others, and theirs will affect us.

The fact that pianists have come forward to take part in ClimateKeys is, in itself, no small achievement. Concert pianist training goes hand in hand with a self-focused approach that favors a concert being purely about a pianist’s mastery of the instrument. However, the power of climate change to bring people together and push them out of their comfort zones and normal routines is such that here we are with over 60 concert pianists to date ready and willing to give up the spotlight and share the stage with speakers and even audience members. This is to be applauded. But this also means that the road to ClimateKeys has not always been a smooth one. On average, only one in every fifty pianists contacted responds. As a result, ClimateKeys is still missing a world-renowned concert pianist. An international piano star joining ClimateKeys would make the initiative more visible on the world stage (visibility itself being a barrier to awareness on climate change as it is arguably tricky for anyone to actually “see” the climate). If there are any climate change activist-musicians out there who know of such a pianist, then kindly connect them to Lola Perrin (

In contrast to pianists, speakers have been coming in thick and fast. It seems as though there are climate change experts across the disciplines who sense the potential of this forum for positive conversations and they embrace the invitation to give a talk without the use of projection or PowerPoint; a ClimateKeys principle in order to avoid academic presentations. In the words of George Marshall, “The single most powerful thing an individual can do about climate change is to talk about it,” and this is what ClimateKeys proposes. Some of the best thinkers in the world are on board with the concept, and are keen not only to give talks, but also to facilitate genuine conversations (not Q&As) with the audience. This strengthens the resolve of all involved and heightens the excitement of this particular artistic response to COP23 and climate change.

One of said speakers is none other than myself.  I have chosen to speak about the potential for theatre to offer an alternative site of meaning-making around climate change, as well as creating space for thought. This was inspired by my recent geography research on climate change theatre, and, I think, is a good reflection of the interdisciplinary approach that ClimateKeys has embraced.  Along with my melding of drama and geography, there will be three pianists playing classical pieces which they have chosen – pieces that resonate with them on the theme of climate change from composers Debussy, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Karen Tanaka. The concert takes place on the 11th of November in St Cuthbert’s Church in West Hampstead, London; truly mingling the worlds of geography, science, the arts and religion.

With this and over 30 other concerts in nine countries throughout November 2017, and over 100 concert musicians and guest speakers in 20 countries currently signed up, ClimateKeys is a truly “glocal” affair. The need for alternative ways of considering climate change are apparent from this response. We are all creative beings, and we all create in different ways. This is why scientific data appeals to some and art appeals to others, why numbers attract some and music attracts others. ClimateKeys is part of new artistic collaborations with science that provide alternative pathways to action on climate change, and the launch is the first step on our journey to increasing our environmental awareness and positive response to climate change.

(Top image: Hannah van den Brul delivering her talk  ‘Introduction to ClimateKeys’ at the London Launch event.)


Julia Marques is a climate change dramatist based in London.  She has just completed her research exploring theatre’s potential as an alternative site of meaning-making around climate change that allows people space to think about its re-presentation in the performance space.  She is most interested in the intersection between the arts, environmentalism and climate change science.


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

Lost Skies

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

As an artist, my goal is to elicit transformative sensory, cognitive and visceral experiences. To do so, I use cutting-edge technology as a vehicle for biomimicry (nature-inspired design). My approach is based on the study of humans’ innate tendency to seek connections with nature. According to the biophilia hypothesis that was introduced by American biologist Edward O. Wilson in 1984, humans are attracted to, and desire connections with, natural elements such as landscapes, light, and changes in light. As an artist, tapping into this desire provides me with a greater understanding of what motivates people and what type of artistic content can truly be transformative.

I have long been fascinated with people turning their eyes towards the sky for meaning and guidance. Our skyward gaze has shaped art, science, religion, agriculture, industry, and worldviews across this globe since prehistoric times. The sky is present in most of our myths; its mystery is endlessly mesmerizing.

There is only one sky, but the ways we see and interpret it are infinite.

I create art that seek to express the essence of our collective gaze. Using artificial intelligence (AI) as an artistic tool, I combine numerous points of view into individual archetypal images – AIEye. Algorithms, developed in collaboration with AI computer scientists Mihai Jalobeanu and Nebojsa Jojic, search the Internet and identify different views of the sky based on time, location, air pollution, and meteorological data. These complex mathematical systems review all of the found images, analyze their salient properties, and summarize the data. The resulting artwork captures the sky as seen through varying human perspectives.

Skies Epitomized is a series of prints that depict the essence of the sky in a specific time and place. Each individual sky is paired with a person from the region looking on to create the illusion that the viewer is seeing the sky through their eyes.

Skies Epitomized, Polar Climate. Photo by Joe Freeman.

Skies Epitomized, 9/11. Photo by Joe Freeman.

In Lost Skies, two large-scale lightboxes depict contrasting views of the polluted sky – one based on the perspective of a climate change skeptic, the other based on images of the sky found in polluted areas of the world.

Lost Skies, Climate Change Through The Eyes Of A Skeptic and Believer. Photo by Maja Petric.

AIEye combines numerous points of view into individual archetypal images. The algorithm searches the Internet for images of the world affected by climate change-related events. It looks at all of these images and keeps bits and pieces of them, using them as brushes to paint the essence of what everyone saw.

Throughout the exhibition of Lost Skies at 4Culture Gallery in Seattle, I used AIEye to generate new visualizations of the sky that reflected current events (e.g. Hurricane Maria, the British Columbia wildfires, the melting Arctic ice, etc.). The images are published here.

Each of these visualizations is composed of thousands of images returned by the Internet image search for a particular topic. The images have a deep zoom effect that provides viewers with the ability to explore the content within the content based on the Internet image search results.

In Skies Epitomized of War and Peace, I juxtaposed what one sees gazing at the sky in peaceful parts of the world with the sky as it is seen in areas of conflict and unrest. The first and last boxes show the essence of people’s skyward gaze in Iceland and New Zealand, which, according to the Global Peace Index, are considered the most peaceful countries in the world. The second and fourth box show a view of the sky in the most conflicted areas such as Iraq and Syria. The third box shows the gaze at the universal sky.

Skies Epitomized of War and Peace: Sky Epitome Of The Icelandic, Sky Epitome Of The Iraqi, Sky Epitome Of The Universal, Sky Epitome Of The Syrian, Sky Epitome Of The New Zealand Sky. Photo by Maja Petric.

(Top image: Lost Skies, California Wildfires. Photo by Maja Petric.)


Maja Petric is a new media artist. She uses cutting edge technologies to create art installations that evoke the sublimity of nature. On this topic, she has received a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and a Master’s from New York University. Her artwork has been exhibited internationally, including at y, Henry Art Gallery, Microsoft Research Gallery, Matadero, Medialab Prado, etc. She has been awarded a Microsoft Research Residency Award, Richard Kelly Light Art Award, Doctoral Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, and has been nominated for an Arts Innovator Award, FastCo. Innovation by Design Award, International Light Art Award, etc.


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

Imagining Water, #3: Confronting the Holy River Yamuna

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The third in a year-long series on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

Vibha Galhotra

I met Vibha Galhotra, a New Delhi-based conceptual artist, at a talk she gave recently in conjunction with Unfiltered: An Exhibition About Water, which is currently on view at the William Benton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Connecticut.** The show’s themes include: “the power of water and the changing landscape; water pollution and biology; water scarcity; climate change; the physical properties of water; and the Connecticut River.” Vibha’s piece in the exhibition, a 10+ minute film entitled Manthan, as well as much of her work in recent years, confronts the critical condition of the Yamuna River, which flows through the city of Delhi and is a source of water for more than 70% of the population.

The Yamuna River

The Yamuna River, originating in the Himalayas, is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Although relatively clean further upstream, in Delhi, India’s cultural and political capital, it contains highly toxic industrial and domestic waste, untreated sewage, animal carcasses and other dumped garbage. In her remarks, Vibha referred to the Yamuna as a “cesspool,” a “dead” entity. She bemoans the reality that despite the river’s exceptionally polluted condition, practicing Hindus continue to bathe in what they consider to be its sacred waters as a means of cleansing their sins.


In a 2014 series called Sediments, Vibha used the actual toxic black sludge from the Yamuna River as a medium for creating abstract, large scale paintings. She sees the series as a way of voicing the contradictions between the traditional spiritual holiness of the river and its reality as an unholy, dying body of water as well as the idiocy of officials who conduct religious rituals at the river rather than clean its waters.


Vibha Galhotra “painting” with Yamuna River Sludge, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.


Vibha Galhotra, Installation View of Sediments and Other Untitled…, at the Jack Shainman Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.


Similarly, her series, Flow is also inspired by the river. Using thousands of ghungroos, small metallic bells worn by classical Indian and Pakistani dancers, sewn onto fabric, Vibha created two and three dimensional pieces that resemble topographical maps “of the river passing by the city I live in.” The ghungroos form a complex mosaic in lovely shades of  gold, copper and other earth tone colors that stand in stark contrast to the ecological disaster that the artist is addressing. She explained that she is “creating an organically sewn, aesthetic surface to invite the viewer to the clean and beautiful facade to talk about the chaos behind.”


Vibha Galhotra, Installation View of Flow (2015) in ABSUR -CITY -PITY -DITY at Jack Shainman Gallery, Nickel-coated ghungroos, fabric, polyurethane coat, 129 x 93 1/4 x 112 1/2 ins. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.


Detail image of ghungroos. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.


Manthan, Vibha’s contribution to the Benton exhibition, is, as the label to the film suggests, an “homage to the river.” Alternating between aerial shots and close ups, Manthan takes the viewer on a haunting journey down the toxic Yamuna, revealing industrial structures that contribute to the pollution, garbage coated coasts, images of sludge that form abstract forms in acidic colors and waste pouring out of drainage pipes forming foam that moves through the water like icebergs. Eventually, four “fishermen” wearing black wetsuits appear poling slowly down the river. They fold a pure white length of fabric that stands in stark contrast to the black sludge as if to purify the dead water. The film concludes as the men dunk a white sheet into the water and pull it out to reveal its toxic, mucky surface.

At the conclusion of Vibha Golhatra’s talk, she summarized her goals as an artist whose work is imbued with social responsibility: “I am posing questions through these works. I am not answering them.”

(Top image: A Hindu man at prayer amidst the industrial foam of the Yamuna River. Courtesy of AP.)

**I have two mixed media paintings in the Unfiltered exhibition entitled, Rising Tides, #3 and Water Wars, #2.


Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Susan’s latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides caused by climate change, the trillions of pieces of plastic in our oceans and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. Susan is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

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

Our Shifting World

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“Art is about what has touched us in the world.” —Maurice Merleau-Ponty

I am passionate about using art to facilitate thinking about our place in the world, whether this be exploring our connection to the past, and /or to what is happening here and now. I draw from various interests – anthropology, history, oceanography, and various environmental issues. Earth’s story along with our changing climate are important and constant threads through my work. They help me connect to something beyond the self.

Our impact on the environment, and the subsequent changing climate, is one of the most pressing issues of our time. We are constantly surrounded by news and data – shocking headlines grab attention and large corporate organizations hold sway. We now have scientific evidence and knowledge on an unprecedented scale, information which tells us how our actions are directly affecting life on this planet. At times this can seem overwhelming, leading to feeling powerless, and desensitizing us to these important issues.

For me, the challenge we face is to stay empowered and engaged in the face of so much worrying information.

I try to channel my concerns into my art practice. I predominately work with the book form, creating unique artist books which celebrate the dynamic beauty of the natural world. I hope to inspire, and remind people of what we have, and what we stand to lose if we do not pay heed. I aim to make work which invites people to “step closer” rather than away, holding the belief that if we love something we are more likely to want to protect it. I see art as the beginnings of a conversation. A conversation that can occur on many levels – between the past, the present, and the future. Conversations provide space to reflect and the potential for something new to come into existence.

Ripples Held in a Slumber of Blue.

Collaborations between scientists and artists offer a myriad of ways to engage audiences, and have enormous potential to further raise awareness of environmental concerns. All change starts with a small action – we need not be powerless. While we may be unable to travel the world to witness what is occurring firsthand, the benefit of living in an era of information means freer access to scientific research, films and books – all important sources which facilitate dialogue, and transport us to the largely inaccessible extremes of our world.

Books, with their sequence of spaces, give scope for work to take you on a journey of discovery. It does not have to involve a linear narrative – various book structures offer diversions and alternative paths, where the viewer dictates the direction and pace. Holding a book and navigating its pages is an interactive experience between artist and viewer. The experience of holding a handmade book delights more than the mind. It can be an intimate, sensory experience – of touch and texture, providing reflection on a “moment of time.” There is not necessarily a beginning or an end, for it can be a cyclical process.

I use the book format in its widest sense, sometimes using traditional bindings alongside more sculptural pieces, where the book becomes an object in its own right. From early childhood books have always held a special place in my life; I have early memories of delving into the Encyclopaedia Britannica for homework projects, and visiting libraries after school. It is no surprise that books continue to feature in my art practice. I enjoy reading and often gain inspiration from the shared knowledge of others. The wealth of accessible science books now available to the general reader makes the complex more tangible, and allows entry into areas that often spark ideas for my work.

I am a frequent visitor to museums. The Great Gathering, a series of seven ammonite-shaped books, evolved from initially visiting the Sedgwick Museum of Science, Cambridge and then Colchester Natural History Museum.

Silent Spring Revisited, the Reports Of Seasoned Observers. (Detail)

The Great Gathering 

Responding to both the building and museum collection, this series of seven artist books tells the story of the universe spanning 650 million years. Fossil collections have been key to unlocking our understanding of evolution. Echoing the spiral shape of an ammonite, each book reflects a significant moment of this journey. From dark beginnings (black holes), the Big Bang, forming oceans, ancient sediment layers, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, to the twentieth century and the age of knowledge (recycled National Geographic Magazines), the work charts the inevitability of change. The seventh volume remains unfinished and is in the process of becoming; it represents an unknown future which is still unfolding. The installation was displayed at the Colchester Natural History Museum for three months in 2016 and is now in a private collection.

Ripples Held in a Slumber of Blue

I have a particular interest in the polar regions and in what is happening with the world’s glaciers. This fragile environment is rapidly changing. Having followed the work of James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey, I produced a series of artist books about this disappearing world. A world which holds our ancient history; once dissolved it can never be replaced.

The Reports of Seasoned Observers – Silent Spring Revisited 

The year 2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I spent a number of weeks at Southend Museum viewing their egg collections. Following discussions with the curators, I was made aware of the contentious issue surrounding the display of these old collections. Attitudes have changed in the past fifty years; it is now illegal to remove any egg from a nest. Conversely these collections have a vital role in helping scientists to compare, for example, the thickness of shells from the past and now. Shells now are often thinner than they use to be.

I created a series of “fossilized” eggs, vessels carrying Carson’s own words, reminding us of the continued relevance of her research and highlighting the worrying decline of bird and insect species today. The egg, often seen as a symbol of renewal, in this instance becomes a reminder of loss.

Lost Voices

Lost Voices is a series of artist books, which explore the complex relationship between humans and whales over the past two hundred years. Taking visual inspiration from the old whaling logbooks, I incorporated passages from Melville’s Moby Dick, as well as first-hand accounts to capture the “lost voices” from this period of history. The original whaling documents are of a great value to climate scientists, who are able to use the data regarding old weather patterns and compare them to now.

(Top image: The Great Gathering, Vol.V The Age Of Transition.)

Lost Voices.


Chris Ruston has a Fine Art background, and worked as an art psychotherapist for many years. She particularly enjoys working with paper, inks and mark making. She regularly takes part in Artist Book Fairs and has been featured in several book art publications. She received the Artist Award at Turn the Page, Artist Book Fair, Norwich in 2015.

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

Wild Science: Experiments in Nature and the Vanishing Amazon

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I was in the Amazon jungle where, despite the heat and humidity, I was so excited I could barely contain myself. Insect repellent from a small bottle that had already saved me from Southeast Asian and Ugandan mosquitoes was the invisible shield that was preventing Amazonian ones from making a meal out of me. A dedicated umbrella-carrier, I had brought a bright yellow umbrella to the jungle, which amused the other artists in the expedition, but also gave them comfort when I shared my portable shade with them on the hot beaches of the Rio Negro, or when the rains poured incessantly in the Ducke Reserve.

In this ten-day residency, I would often be seen smelling things for my project. In An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest, I explore the scents of the Amazon, how these relate to people’s memories, and how the Amazon itself, like the ephemeral nature of smells, is vanishing because of destructive human practices. It was a joy to explore the Amazon through my nose.

One of the highlights of this experience was listening to talks by established scientists and artists, who helped us, resident artists, see the jungle through their different perspectives. It was illuminating to hear about research projects done in the Amazon, but disheartening to learn about the ways the jungle is being harmed through commercial exploitation. The Amazon struck me as a battlefield.

Hiking in the Amazon. Photo by Catherine Sarah Young.

Climate Change and Social Issues

For the past few years, I have focused on climate change and art through my series of interdisciplinary works in The Apocalypse Project. This has been a kind of jungle for me, but instead of poisonous insects and muddy trails, I wrestle with climate change deniers and people who do not believe that art has value. Over the years, I have felt that simply looking at the environmental consequences of climate change—extreme temperatures and weather events—wasn’t the whole story. Recently, issues of inequality, the ineffectiveness of science to affect policy, the lack of science education, our post-truth era, and the many things that divide humanity have haunted me and made me look anew at the role of science and art in society.

What is the good of science and art if we cannot relate to one another as human beings? This was my personal jungle to battle with: these networks of wicked problems that give me as an artist much to work with, but also makes me as a person very concerned about the future of mankind in general.

One day, I was in the woods with Gui, our intrepid photographer. Gui was taking photos of the distillation experiment that would help me extract smells out of some of the samples I had collected. As I stared at the scientific equipment that looked so out of place in the Amazon, something clicked in my head. Seeing science brought out of the ivory tower and into the wildness was haunting. This episode was more than just a residency documentation. It led to my next series of projects, “Experiments in Nature.”

Visiting an indigenous community. Photo by Catherine Sarah Young.

Experiments in Nature, Nature in Experiments

This series of investigations takes a critical look at the role of science in society. Science often has the reputation of being hidden in an ivory tower, and here I bring it out into the forest. Elements of nature are seen to be “helping” the experiment along, with the branches and logs supporting the equipment, temperatures helping to catalyze or stop the experiment, etc.

The questions I raise when I bring a controlled experiment in an uncontrolled natural environment are: Who is doing the experiment? Is it a successful or a futile experiment – I did manage to make the experiment work, but are the results even valid? Are these “performative” experiments in the same way that science, with its failure to affect policy, seems to sometimes be a performative discipline? Science almost becomes a theatrical space where people question the legitimacy of, for instance, climate data.

Jungle Experiments – Amazon (II), 2017. Still from video (1:39).

Science and the Public

After the residency, I was asked to give olfactory workshops at the Bosque da Ciência (Science Forest). It felt wonderful to share the value of our sense of smell and the wonder of experiments, and to further explore the themes I had worked with in the Amazon—nature, public participation, collaboration, etc.

As someone with both a science and an art background, I wish for these two disciplines to work together to change public perceptions on climate change (it’s real) and how we act on it (we can all do something). In the context of the Amazon, ongoing deforestation and resource extraction reduces the jungle’s ability to sequester carbon, and worsens the effects of climate change. Most of all, I want this project to reflect on the public’s seeming disenchantment with knowledge, and to call on all of us to rekindle our sense of wonder and intellectual curiosity. It was a humbling and awe-inspiring first visit to the Amazon, and with these new experiences and relationships, I’m looking forward to the next step.

Workshop at Bosque da da Ciência. Photo by Roumen Koynov, © LABVERDE.

Thank you to LABVERDE Artist Immersion Program in the Amazon for supporting the residency. Thank you to LABVERDE, INPA National Institute for Amazonian Research and Bosque da Ciência for supporting the workshop. Thank you to photographer Gui Gomes.

(Top image: The artist at work. Photo by Gui Gomes, © LABVERDE.)


Catherine Sarah Young is an artist, designer, and writer originally from the Philippines whose work explores emerging technologies and alternative futures through interactive storytelling and sensory experiences. She creates works that investigate nature, our role in nature, and the tensions between nature and technology, exploring themes such as climate change and sustainability, science policy and citizen science, feminism and participatory art, among others. She has an international exhibition, residency, and fellowship profile and has collaborated with scientists, companies, chefs, artists, think tanks, and museums around the world. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About Artists for 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

Solar Totems and Wave Walls

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Wind-activated undulating walls and solar-activated etchings carved onto reclaimed redwood: the San Francisco-based artist Charles Sowers makes my heart sing!

Wave Wall from Charles Sowers on Vimeo.

I have always been inspired by artists working at the intersection of art and science. Sowers seems to do this seamlessly:  weaving his love of science, architecture, meteorology and technology into mesmerizing installations that stop us in our tracks, drawing us in seductively to better understand our natural surroundings. He helps us to slow down, to notice natural phenomena that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

As he explains on his Vimeo homepage: “I frequently collaborate with scientists to create works based on lab experiments. Through these collaborations, I have discovered a strong correlation between my process and that of the scientific experimentalist. We both build apparatuses –scientists to probe the limits of their collective understanding and I to probe the boundaries of beauty, delight, and wonder.”

Of course, it is his renewable energy artworks that fascinate me the most.

Sowers’ most recent renewable energy installation – Solar Totems in the Glen Park Canyon Recreation Center commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission – uses a spherical glass lens (inspired by 19th-century meteorological instruments) to “write with sunshine.”  The glass sphere focuses the sun’s rays onto three southern-facing 12-foot-tall reclaimed redwood logs. As the sun moves across the sky, heat generated by the sphere’s magnified light burns a line from left to right across the log. Each line represents a distinct day with a unique weather pattern (sunny, partly cloudy, overcast, etc.)

Charles Sowers, Sowers, solar, redwood, California, installation, renewable

Photo downloaded from

Each day, the spherical lens is moved upward slightly by a solar-powered mechanism to create a new daily line. At the end of one year, the 365 solar etchings on the redwood log become a sculptural archive of the interaction of sun and weather patterns unique to this site. When the yearly record is complete, the heliograph mechanism is transferred to a second redwood log for the second year of etchings, and so on.

According to Sowers’ blog, at the end of three years “the three transformed logs turn the plaza [in front of the Glen Park Canyon Recreation Center] into a kind of civic solar and atmospheric observatory, artistically expanding our understanding of place and connecting us to our environment through that understanding.”

This is a profound statement, especially in the context of climate change. Let me highlight it below:

“… artistically expanding our understanding of place and connecting us to our environment through that understanding.”

This is what climate change artists do best: using metaphor to build awareness, a sense of connection and familiarity to overcome anxiety, fear and resistance. This, in my opinion, is the missing ingredient in the global climate change conversation. To help shift this conversation, we must find seductive ways — like Sowers — to draw our audiences’ attention beyond a collective sense of fear, apathy and hopelessness, to focus instead on the magical, wondrous world that sustains and inspires us. It must be protected, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.

Windswept is another renewable energy artwork by Sowers that I love: a wind-driven kinetic façade commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission for permanent installation at the Randal Museum. I admit to having watched this meditative video more than a dozen times:

Windswept consists of 612 freely rotating wind direction indicators mounted parallel to the wall creating an architectural scale instrument for observing the complex interaction between wind and the building. Wind gusts, rippling and swirling through the sculpture, visually reveal the complex and ever-changing ways that wind interacts directly with the built environment.

In his artist statement, Sowers explains “I seek to … reward extended observation. Sometimes this involves developing an apparatus to recreate and highlight some natural phenomenon observed in the world – the swirl of fog blowing over a hill, the formation of ice on a puddle, or flow of water and foam on the beach as a wave drains away. These things can fascinate yet often go unnoticed until pointed out. Other times I try to create instrumentation that allows us insight into normally invisible or unnoticed phenomena (emphasis added). The behavior of these interactions can be affectively or visually delightful and balance on the fascinating boundary between predictability and un-predictability.”

I am looking forward to photographing both Windswept and Solar Totems next month during a trip to California to speak about my renewable energy photography at Women in Cleantech and Sustainability’s annual TED-style event hosted by Google. I hope to update this post with new images of Sowers’ beautiful installations upon my return. Stay tuned!

(Top image: Windswept by Charles Sowers, 2011.)

Follow Joan on Twitter: @CleanNergyPhoto

About Artists for 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

The Big Invisible

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“One of the greatest legacies of the 20th century is not just population explosion or better living standards, but vastly raised carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. A new flag attempts to give this invisible gas, this international risk, an image, a way to represent itself. I like to think of it as a flag for a new kind of world order.” —John Gerrard, Artist

A hidden treasure, like many great treasures, is to be found on an unassuming, charming, and quiet square in Vienna’s 6th district. Peeking through the large windows on Loquaiplatz might reveal a beautiful minimalist studio where a flat screen shows a frog floating through space or a digital simulation of a flag of never-ending smoke – a haunting image that was presented earlier this year as a public art project in London, but developed here in the production space of media artist John Gerrard. While (still) hidden in Vienna, Gerrard’s work found international acclaim, securing the artist’s position as pioneer of new computer technologies and bringing urgent issues about nature, consumer culture, and power systems to art audiences. The flag of perpetual smoke depicts a dystopian and barren landscape – a simulation of the real site of the world’s first major oil find in Spindletop, Texas in 1901. Gerrard reimagines it as an unrelenting menace. It was presented in early 2017 as a multi-disciplinary public art intervention – online (YouTube), on TV (Channel Four) and at the heart of the European art establishment (Somerset House, London).

Gerrard is part of an international group of artists using their creativity to address the need for new structures in society. It has become clear that climate change is, at least in large part, a cultural problem – a direct consequence of our lifestyle and consumer behavior. But if we want to influence human behavior, we have to go beyond communicating the science of climate change, and this is exactly where the work of artists like Gerrard comes into play. Creative approaches to climate change speak to people on an engaging, emotional, human, and accessible level. Art and culture can be effective tools with which to advance new ideas, explore alternatives, and influence social norms.

To understand the framework of artists, curators, architects, designers, policymakers, and other arts professionals in Austria who engage with these issues, we established the Kunst Haus Wien’s inaugural Curator-in-Residence program. In early 2017, we conducted close to 50 interviews with key protagonists in Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg, and ran a weekly reading group with co-hosts and members of the public. Our research confirmed that the City of Vienna is acutely aware of, and making efforts to, engage with the international discourse on climate change. The Viennese art world, however, is only slowly waking up to the problem’s relevance and immediacy. Though we learned about many individual and institutional initiatives, we found there was limited knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary collaboration, and organizational partnership on the subject.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is known to spark innovation, but a big obstacle to art/science collaborations is language. The professional language of both the artist and the scientist has become so specialized that it requires an open mind and much patience on both sides to understand each other. One of our interviewees, Markus Schmidt, co-founder and director of Biofaction, a research and science communication company based in Vienna, put it this way:

“Artists and scientists speak in different languages. I work with artists because I’m interested in new perspectives that go beyond scientific insight. Science is a great tool to better understand the world, but the scientific method can also be limiting. Artists bring in different arguments, additional layers of meaning and help us to explore complimentary futures.”


Biofaction. Prototype Nature exhibition in Essen.

Another point that struck us was how people – even in the cultural and academic sectors – find it hard to relate to something that is not visible or immediately obvious in their own lives. As long as flooding and scarcity of resources (energy, food, water) are not part of the daily struggle, climate change remains an “alternative reality.” While this attitude is not unique to Austria, it is accentuated by the country’s protected and regulated position: it is land-locked, benefits from a stable social welfare system and access to alternative sources of energy, and still enjoys localized agricultural practices. The challenge of how to relate to latent natural forces led to our concept for The Big Invisible, an exhibition and public program we are presenting at the Kunst Haus Wien, October 19, 2017 – January 14, 2018.

The Big Invisible addresses five invisible forces that interact with us in subtle but powerful ways, and influence our potential for life and longevity on the planet. Though this may sound like a superhero story, the reality is less fantastical and cli-fi-esque: the exhibition confronts real-life issues such as viruses, air pollution, heat, nuclear radiation and an imaginary oil spill. The main question that is posed is: How do we relate to nature’s drastic changes if we cannot see, feel or hear the causes and directly experience the effects? The selected artworks offer a renewed understanding of the wonders of the natural world by using publicly accessible data and tools so that we may see, hear, touch and smell our environment in ways that go beyond what initially meets the eye. This sense of heightened awareness is crucial in times of environmental degradation, with artists playing an important role in making the issues visible.

Markus Hoffmann_Bikini Atoll Containment 02_2015_Artist

Markus Hoffmann. Bikini Atoll Containment 2015.

Artists probe and contextualize the status of current and potential environmental situations in different parts of the world, bringing new questions and knowledge into the conversation and opening up the imagination by engaging with the realm of the invisible. From the effects of radiation on coconuts on the Bikini Atoll to the Pepino Mosaic Virus on European tomatoes, the exhibition provides new insights into the invisible world around us, bridging art and citizen science.

(Top image: John Gerrard, Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017. Installation view, Somerset House, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths. Image courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Simon Preston Gallery, New York.)

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

Launching into Climate Action

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Climate Change Theatre Action 2017 is officially LAUNCHED! As of last Sunday, October 1st, communities and individuals around the world have started hosting events and conversations on climate, using this year’s curated collection of 50 short plays. The energy from these events is contagious – even though we can’t be at all 250 events, each one is sending a pulse into the world to persist in the face of corruption and apathy. That is inspiring.

On Sunday, we – Chantal Bilodeau and I – presented The New York Launch at The Artist Co-op, to kick-off this year’s global action and to celebrate local artists working on climate. The evening was full of quirky performances, and mingling between new faces and old friends. It was fascinating to see people of varying ages, from all over the city, come together, to support climate, performance, and community – and to raise funds for hurricane relief efforts in Houston. It definitely set the tone for what will be an energizing seven weeks!

As part of the Launch, I directed a few CCTA plays, and invited local artists to share some of their work on climate. We had a variety of performance genres, from artists of various backgrounds. It was serendipitous to see and hear how, through the performances, there was something for each and every audience member to connect to.


Brackendale by Elaine Ávila, with Megan Oots & Atiya Taylor. Credit: Yadin Photography.

The evening started off with comedy from Willie Zabar, who brought his character Heimi Wilhelm, the famous German musician and thinker. Using prompts from the audience, Heimi explained his positions on topics of nature using words and music. It was a fun, light, interactive way to start the evening, and directly engage everyone in the room. Upstream Artists’ Collective also engaged audiences directly, breaking down our broken socio-political systems, by inviting an audience member to literally break a chair. After a collective brainstorm on how to best break the wooden chair, a gray-haired woman in the front row jumped up to make it happen: she smashed that IKEA chair until it was in building-block form. It was goofy and experimental, with immediate implications: the audience member sitting in the wooden chair lost her seat, the chair was rendered un-sit-able, the audience rallied behind the woman pulling apart the chair.


Upstream Artists’ Collective. Credit: Yadin Photography.

I’ve felt this kind of energy before, the energy of individuals rallying together, overtly or subconsciously, for a singular purpose. It was similar to the energy I’ve felt during marches and while watching some of my favorite shows. This energy continued throughout the night, as The Anthropologists and Lynn Neuman of Artichoke Dance Company performed. The Anthropologists presented an excerpt from their upcoming This Sinking Island, which features text, movement, and music performed by a small ensemble. With their blue fabrics and plastics, the ensemble transported us to a place surrounded by water. Lynn also transported us, juxtaposing rustling plastic bags and recorded instrumentals by Mike Sayre. Her piece Precipice evoked at once the experience of plastics, and of organisms and places implicated in the consumption of plastics. So, even though our evening took place in one room, the performances transported us, collectively, to alternate times and places.


Lynn Neuman in Precipice. Credit: Yadin Photography.

Threaded through the entire evening were the CCTA plays: Brackendale by Elaine Ávila, Rube Goldberg Device for the Generation of Hope by Jordan Hall, Single Use by Marcia Johnson, Kleenex by David Paquet, and Magical Vagina by Catherine Léger. What I found in delving into these short plays is depth. It is amazing how many layers can be packed into a five-minute play or monologue. My collaborators and I delighted in the playwrights’ varying perspectives on human-induced climate change. In duologues like Brackendale, Rube Goldberg…, and Magical Vagina, we found examples of dichotomous ways of dealing with climate realities: unshakeable hope, or dire pessimism. These two approaches manifest through the varying circumstances of each play, leaving room for audiences to place themselves on the spectrum: with enough pessimism to feel the urgency, and enough hope to do something about it.

Through Rube Goldberg… in particular, audiences were required to do something. Nearing the end of the Launch, two performers, Atiya Taylor and Megan Oots, set up a Rube Goldberg Device with the audience, passing out instructions on slips of paper. Each instruction was contingent on something happening before, prompted by a different instruction given to another audience member. Ultimately, the whole sequence should lead to a dance party. Atiya, Megan, and I had rehearsed the play, and I could see and feel how the Rube Goldberg Device could work, but the circumstances of the evening led the Device down an unexpected path. Some audiences were so eager to follow their instruction that they couldn’t wait until the required prompt. Many audience members were confused, but by the time the dancing started, they were good sports and joined in. From this experiment, I learned how to set up circumstances as clearly and simply as possible to then allow for the audience to build the Device, to contribute to chaos. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to see the audience shamelessly participate in breaking the traditions of what a play is or should be.


Rube Goldberg Device for the Generation of Hope by Jordan Hall. Credit: Yadin Photography.

The evening culminated in a Skype call to Toronto, who was starting their Launch event as ours was winding down. We introduced the New York and Toronto playwrights present at each event, and virtually passed on the baton. It was brief, but effectively broke the New York bubble, and placed our Launch more tangibly within the context of something way larger. Before we parted, Ryan Little Eagle Pierce, who performed “Eagle Warrior,” a piece of poetry set to movement describing one American’s transition into his Lenape roots, brought a vital context to our event, acknowledging the traditional caretakers of the land that Manhattan is now on, the Lenape people. Ryan helped us to connect our care for our environment to our care for one another, effectively tapping into everyone’s compassion for the new and old friends we all shared the evening with.


“Eagle Warrior,” written and performed by Ryan Little Eagle Pierce. Credit: Yadin Photography.

Take Action
It’s not too late to join CCTA. Check out our Call for Collaborators and host a gathering in your own community, NOW through November 18!
New York City: It’s the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. March to remember, rise, and resist at the Climate March on October 28.

More CCTA!
I was recently on the Let’s Talk About the Weather podcast, with Ashley Mazanec of EcoArts Foundation. Listen here, for more about CCTA!  Visit for all the upcoming events this season, and to learn how to host your own.

(Top image: The Anthropologists. Credit: Yadin Photography.)


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