Artists and Climate Change

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Festivity in the Darkness

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Julia Levine

My inbox is flooded with petitions and calls to action. I’m calling and tweeting more than ever. These are amongst responses to the current political situation in twenty-first century America. Aside from anxiety-inducing news alerts and very tangible threats to our livelihoods at the hands of our national government, I catch glimpses of joy, ways to stay engaged, and reasons to remain hopeful.

During the first days of the Trump Administration, 350.org ran a Twitter campaign, tweeting up a storm of #ClimateFacts, just as the new President gag-ordered the EPA. I contributed a few tweets, as did my collaborators at Back To Work Collective. Within a few hours, #ClimateFacts was trending worldwide. Twitter is a rapidly moving medium, and while the flood of #ClimateFacts poured out on January 26, this particular “Twitter Storm” has past. Nevertheless, 350.org achieved a small virtual victory, in which the “master’s tool” was reclaimed by the people, and in a way, by the climate itself.

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From the 350.org “Twitter Storm” on January 26.

In the real world, something that has kept me afloat amidst horrifying news on the crumbling state of our democracy is the International Human Rights Art Festival, which I am assistant producing. This Festival, opening next week in New York City, brings together local, national, and international artists, activists, and community members around a weekend of arts events resonating human rights themes. The weekend also includes community-based events: happy hours for neighbors from across the city to commune, kvetch about the current state of affairs, and celebrate the arts; and a KidsFest, opening up the world of art activism to youth of all ages through hands-on art-making around socio-political issues.

On the climate front, the Festival features environmentally conscious events through an array of media. There will be two new theatre pieces on varying environmental themes: PLUTO (no longer a play) by eco-theatre collective Superhero Clubhouse, and UPROOT by yours truly. We’re screening Josh Fox’s climate change documentary, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, with a special introduction by the filmmakers. And throughout the weekend, artist James Leonard will give climate change divination readings in his Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies.

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The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies, Childe Hassam Park, Boston, MA, 2015. Image Credit: Melissa Blackall

James’ Tent, fashioned beautifully from colorful second-hand clothes, is a unique performance, a one-on-one encounter, and a space for questioning and reflection. I asked James to describe the underpinnings of the Tent in his own terms, especially as he has been continuing his work in this particular political climate:

The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies grew out of my own anxieties over ongoing ecological crises and my struggle to deal with impermanence. I have found that the divinatory practices I employ in my art give structure to deep contemplation, training the imagination to respond to the range of the possible futures before us. This contemplation, though at times painful, can provide calm, and amidst that calm can be found the clarity and strength to persist. In this way, I see my role as artist & activist as something of a spiritual M*A*S*H unit to the broader environmental movement.

My own work at the Festival, the first iteration of my play about the industrial food system, UPROOT, meditates on where our food comes from and how we – many of us in Western society – got to be disconnected from its source. Through anthropomorphized foods, I pose questions about the choices we make with regards to food – and what choices are made for us. The characters in UPROOT also encounter concepts of identity and agency. With these broader themes, I pursue a theatrical event that holds a time and space for every audience member to reflect on the world around them, and their place in it.

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Image for UPROOT at the International Human Rights Art Festival. Design Credit: Lucy Ressler

As I have been meditating on these ideas in my rehearsals, I was pointed to a piece in The Conversation: We need to think about redefining citizenship in the Anthropocene. Author Sam Solnick touches on the paradox of rising nationalism at the same time of rising sea levels (and rise in climate disasters). Solnick reconsiders borders and walls, proposing:

One way of negotiating the multifarious challenges of citizenship in the Anthropocene is to relinquish the fixation on ‘taking back control’ and recognise the radical challenges to our agency from forces not only beyond our borders but beyond our species. In doing so, we can create informed citizens who recognise that they participate in citizenship on a changing planet that, whatever the science-warping mouthpieces of Murdoch and the Koch Brothers proclaim, will not be fooled into altering its course by alternative facts.

The way that Solnick describes agency, and offers space to recognize these borderless forces, resonates with my characters’ relationships to the world they occupy.

These past months have pushed me – and my inbox – to maintain a balance of work, play, and resistance. The events coming to the Festival have helped me imagine a way for these elements of my life to come together. Considering the personal and political spaces that will be created by the participating artists – the spaces for art, activism, and joy – I get the sense that this weekend will be a form of resistance in and of itself. As history has taught, the dark forces of the Trump Administration will feed off of fear, complacency, even sadness. The events of the Festival are so antithetical to such energies, highlighting instead positive forces that transcend any border or wall.

Take Action
Want to block fossil-driven projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, but can’t travel to the front lines? Stay up-to-date on ways to resist from where you are by signing up for 350.org’s Pledge of Pipeline Resistance.

Want to engage in peaceful public assembly and protest around climate issues? Consider the March for Science on April 22 (Earth Day) and the People’s Climate March on April 29.

The International Human Rights Art Festival runs March 3-5, 2017 at Dixon Place in New York City.


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

Native Communities and Climate Change, Center Stage

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

by Jaisey Bates

A simple equation for survival:

  1. In this Anthropocene Age of human-wrought catastrophic climate change, Indigenous people including US Native communities are center stage in dual roles: as those disproportionately affected by the escalating environmental devastation, and as those uniquely voiced with perspectives of vital importance.
  2. If we wish to sustain this world for our children and future generations, we must with open minds gather and share information and expertise. We must commit to positive change and work together toward possible cures. Therefore, ergo, ipso facto, in sum:
  3. We need Native voices center stage. We need a good Ceremony:
Left photo of Flora M. Rexford by Darren Kayotuk. Right photo by Flora Rexford. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Left photo of Flora M. Rexford by Darren Kayotuk. Right photo by Flora Rexford. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

We need, collectively, to break up with Aristotle and elementally reframe and fast-track evolve a holistic understanding—an Indigenous understanding—of what it means to be human in a vibrant world that includes and transcends humankind.

We need Native voices—historically dehumanized, marginalized, silenced, and subject to appropriation—center stage in all discussions leading to effective efforts, as Native communities are center stage in the experience of climate change.

As artists and theatremakers, we can do this. We have a unique opportunity and imperative to bring Native voices center stage in the literal sense in order to raise awareness and foster inclusion, action, and change. Because theatre can unfold worlds and words which contribute to the way we choose to walk, in the precious few moments we are gifted, this beloved ground. Because theatre, at its heart, is a Ceremony.

An aside—actually, a request? Go outside, look at the night sky. Or picture it, if the predominant patriarchal sans pigmentation perspective and/or pollution-choked atmosphere currently screens the stars from your particular vantage point.

Take a moment. Breathe. Can you see a sky radiant with the songs and souls of gone stars? Starlight, the language of past stars’ lives, and infinite new stars as yet invisible from Earth exist across and outside of time whether or not we are here.

But manifolds and quarks and quantum fields and parallel/string theory/coincident dimensions and permutations and entanglement and math, lots and lots of math, and endlessly mutable extrapolations might supersaturate and/or give rise to existential angst and/or nihilism, which won’t help us in our current struggle against time to save our home and ourselves.

So for this one moment, for the–space–of–this–one–long–breath, simply watch the stars. Inhale. Exhale. Wonder at the existence, the essence, of the nonhuman entities before you. Open yourself to the vibrant infinite diversity of the nonhuman lives and languages around you. Be still. Listen. Everything speaks.

Now pick a star, any star, reverse the perspective and watch this planet recede until it’s almost impossible to distinguish. A ginormous ’50s era blazing lightbulb-bordered motel sign arrow appears, pointing to that distant tiny fragile blue place that is your home: YOU ARE HERE. The sign flashes once, twice, again. It and Earth and we are gone.

This is the end of the story we as humans are writing on this world.

But we can change this narrative.

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the day we were born, one of my full-length plays in development, is set in the Iñupiaq Native Alaskan community of Barrow (Ukpiaġvik), the northernmost US city, within a culture and climate in crisis. This play about whales and words and wars and what it means to be human and how we can heal ourselves and this world that is our home has its origins on a windy LA October day in 2011, during a writers’ workshop hosted by Native Voices at the Autry, when Dr. Bernardo Solano gave us a homework assignment. After we read our work aloud, Native Voices Co-Founder/Producing Executive Director Jean Bruce Scott strongly encouraged me to expand the scene I’d written into a full-length play.

—“But I’m not Native Alaskan,” I said.

—“You’re Native American,” she said.

—“But Qi swears a blue streak and it’d be a big cast and—”

—“Please, write this story,” she said.

So I did, immensely grateful as an unknown writer of nontraditional stories that at least one person would read the play. But Jean did far more than just read the first draft—she included day in Native Voices’ Fall 2012 First Look Series—and, encouraged by the audience’s response, I’ve continued to develop the play through research and engagement of this vibrant and challenged Indigenous community and environment in the hope of rendering a healing ceremony of a story worthy of audiences and the trees. All the trees.

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The lessons have been immense. The quest to learn more is ongoing and each new experience, awareness, connection, correlation changes the text not just of this story but of me and my life. How I experience what it means to be human. How I navigate this journey.

Because I am a story made of words.

And we are a story together.

We can change our story. We, as artists, as theatremakers in this age of climate change, can do this. We can bring Native voices center stage.

A simple equation for Indigenous inclusion:

  1. Read Mary Kathryn Nagle’s HowlRound blog and #InsteadofRedface series.
  2. Develop and produce plays by Native playwrights. See MKN’s new play, Fairly Traceable. See Diane GlancyJoy HarjoLinda HoganDark Winter Productions, #InsteadofRedface. I and my words also humbly volunteer as climate change theatre action Tribute.
  3. Hire Native actors and directors. Reread the #InsteadofRedface series, especially Kimberly Norris Guerrero’s article.
  4. Seek Native partnerships, collaborations, consultancies. See Chantal Bilodeau’Silaand Sharmon Hilfinger’s Arctic Requiem.
  5. Consider Indigenous voices. See #StandingRock, #NoDAPL, #WaterIsLife, #‎MniWiconi, #HonorTheTreaties, #‎RezpectOurWater.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5.

For we are made of our words, you and I.

We stand this ground together. We are a story together.

Let us write together a strong and beautiful world worthy of our children’s children.

Let us heal our home and ourselves. Let us make a good Ceremony.

All depends on this.

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Photo one:
“I have lived in Kaktovik all my life, rich in culture and traditions. I love working with children and care deeply about language and culture of the Iñupiat of the North Slope.”
— Flora M. Rexford, Iñupiaq Language Teacher in Kaktovik, Alaska

Climate change is evident:

The Arctic’s receding ice is causing polar bears (nanuq) to seek food on the mainland, increasing encounters between polar bears and humans, like Ms. Rexford’s mother’s and grandmother’s experience.

Connection to the environment is elemental:

“In the new Iñupiaq to English dictionary by Edna Maclean, there are 92 terms for ice, 16 of which are based on the term siku, 76 terms listed for snow and frost.”
— Qaiyaan Harcharek, Taġium Iñuŋi forum posting, 8/15/16

Photo two:
“This world is changing, Qi. This world is fragile. We need to find new stories to help protect this world, our home, before it’s too late. This world needs us, Qi.”
— Benny

“I think about Benny every day. Benny cares so much about the world, his ever changing world. He wants to help heal the world and I admire his strength in trying to help the one world while standing in two. That takes guts. That takes balance.”
— Mosiah Salazar Bluecloud

L to R: Mosiah Salazar Bluecloud (Benny) and Dillon Griffitts (Qilalugak/Qi). Workshop staging of day directed by Ronald Deron Twohatchet during the 2016 OKCTC Native American New Play Festival. Photo: Mark Williams/Digital Feather Media. © Jaisey Bates/The Peoplehood.

Photo three:
“We need you to remember our songs, our stories / to heal this broken world, our home. We need you to dream new songs, new stories / to heal this broken world, our home. All depends on this.” — White Caribou Belly Woman

L to R: Maya Torralba (Mother), Russ Tallchief (Soldier) and Tiffany Tuggle Rogers (White Caribou Belly Woman). Workshop staging of day directed by Ronald Deron Twohatchet during the 2016 OKCTC Native American New Play Festival. Photo: Mark Williams/Digital Feather Media. © Jaisey Bates/The Peoplehood.

Photo four:
An Iñupiaq subsistence hunter studies the Chukchi Sea.
Photo by Mark Su’esu’e, Barrow, AK, 2015. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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Jaisey Bates writes, directs and performs her nontraditional work with her multicultural nomadic theater company, The Peoplehood. LA and NYC venues for her words’ development and performance have included the Agüeybaná Book Store, Art/Works, Eclectic, Lounge, Naked Angels, Native Voices at the Autry, Open Fist, Performance Loft, Samuel French Bookshop, Studio/Stage, Unknown and Victory theaters. Her words have enjoyed road trips to theaters in Arizona, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

 



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

Wayfinding in a Time of Resistance 

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Andrea Krupp

(Pictured Above) Flag of retrospection – 18 x 25 – 2017 – acrylic, upcycled synthetic fabric

On November 8, 2016, America elected a new president, and with that the world slipped out of joint. Gone sideways, I vacillate between states of dread, grief, confusion, panic, and self-medicated retreat. I know you feel me, but don’t let’s fall into despair. We are lost, but we will find our way. I believe that as long as we have air to breathe and water to drink, humanity will continue to evolve because it is “in our nature” to strive. As a break from all that striving, it’s comforting to sink into the long view, to think about deep time and humanity’s profound insignificance in the universe, to gain emotional distance from this broken world.

Yet the here-and-now urgently requires our attention! As we know too well, it is also in our nature to destroy. The second hand of the Doomsday clock just nudged closer to midnight and we really do not have time for an evolutionary detour into anti-science, post-factual, cultural chaos. I have never been an activist, but something is WOKE, as they say, and I need to respond.

Art serves as a way finder for culture. Art provides new perspectives and emotional context for thinking about our past and our future, and uncovers essential truths about our existence in the here-and-now. As a visual artist, I believe that what is deeply personal is also deeply human, and therefore “universal.” But when it comes to addressing a global crisis, can subtlety and nuance be useful? What does art activism look like? Can art that arises from an inward-turned process effect outward change? How?

Flag against Arctic Ocean Oil Drilling

Flag against Arctic Ocean Oil Drilling – 18 x 25 – 2017 – acrylic, upcycled synthetic fabric

With these questions in mind, I have been doing online research using keywords like “artists,” “scientists,” “interdisciplinary,” “respond,” and “climate change.” The Artists and Climate Change blog came up right away. I read many stories here and elsewhere of artists who are examining their role in shaping culture, finding a seat at the table, and working with direction and purpose. Culture moves forward incrementally as each one of us builds on the work of others. I am grateful for the artists and thinkers who have come before me, whose labors and love instruct and inspire. To keep the ball rolling, I’d like to point to a book and an article that have been influential in helping me articulate my own response to this crisis.

In 2015, Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin edited a collection of essays in a book called Art in the Anthropocene Encounters among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies.  (Free online PDF, though it’s 400 pages long, or check your local library.) It highlights artists and projects around the globe that respond to and communicate about many aspects of the Anthropocene, including climate change.  From interdisciplinary collaborations with scientists and researchers, to philosophic and poetic musings, this book presents many points of view and many “ways in” to critical discussions around this global environmental emergency.

This blog is a vital resource for learning. I have spent hours exploring links on the frontpage blogroll. On one such foray, as I learned about the Canary Project, I found this article: The Pensive Photograph as Agent: What can non-illustrative images do to Galvanize Public Support for Climate Change Action? by Edward Morris and Suzannah Sayler.

The authors, both Loeb Fellows, are creators, leaders, and teachers of art and activism. The Canary Project was recognized in 2016 with the Art/Act Award. In this article, they discuss their photograph-based project “A History of the Future.” They provide a philosophical framework that explores the intertwining of seeing, knowing, and believing. The article goes deep into the nature of art, and the role of the image as a bridge between scientific data, public understanding, and political will.

Flag for Arctic Sea Ice

Flag for Arctic Sea Ice – 25 x 18 – 2017 – acrylic, up cycled synthetic fabric

“A History of the Future” ostensibly documents climate change through photography and research. Morris and Sayler examine their own response to “looking at” climate change. They present a nuanced reading of how their project unfolded and what they learned from the process. They describe the indifferent, blank stare of nature and the psychology of a populace frozen in a state of inaction vis-a-vis climate change.  Thoughts about collective trauma lead to a discussion of activism in art and beautiful, insightful musings on “the pensive image,” to name a few highlights.

Addressing the challenge of conveying the reality of climate change through visual means, particularly through photography, they say “…climate change cannot be seen in order to be believed.  At the end of the day it must simply be believed, because climate change is a proposition and not a fact (no matter how empirically grounded that proposition might be).”  Their writing opened up new ways of thinking about how to communicate about climate change both directly and indirectly.

Greenlandic Flag

Greenlandic Flag – 18 x 25 – 2017 – acrylic, upcycled synthetic fabric

My takeaway is that, to paraphrase the authors, while art may not be better than direct action to effect change, it contributes to the cultural foundation of public sentiment for direct action to take hold. They continue “Art is good at this because it opens rather than closes thought.”  Or as they say elsewhere in the article, “Art makes space for belief, and belief makes space for change.”

The world needs art and artists. This might be a time for self-reflection and learning.  Good.  We’ll gather our strength, knowledge, passion, and the will to create… and resist.

About the images: These four flags are based on the beautiful red and white Greenlandic flag. Even though it is quite ingeniously abstracted, Greenland’s flag “pictures” nature: the massive ice sheet, the sea ice, the low sun. But what happens to this social imaginary of Greenland when the ice sheet is gone?  Or when lack of sea ice disrupts age-old cycles and opens up new vulnerabilities? Visual art, through the act of picturing, seeds the social imaginary with new ways of seeing and understanding nature. This in turn shapes how we relate to nature, and so on, in a chain of cultural transmission.

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Through visual art and the written word, Andrea Krupp engages with recognizing and attending to the exterior world, i.e., earth, nature; the interior landscape of self; and their twining. She believes in the power of visual language to provide new perspectives and deeper context for thinking about our past and our future, and to uncover essential truths about the here-and-now. Both personal and universal, her work explores the critical juncture between humanity and the earth.

Andrea lives and works in Philadelphia. She studied at the University of the Arts, graduated with honors and a BFA in Printmaking in 1984. She is furthermore a historian, rare book conservator, diarist, and word-hoarder.


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

Renewable Energy Can Be Beautiful™

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

For me, it was love at first sight: “Renewable energy can be beautiful.”

Back in 2013, when I first saw this trademarked tagline on the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) website, I remember shouting out an involuntary “YES!” to my computer screen. I then copied these five words to a piece of paper and taped it to the filing cabinet next to my desk, where it continues to inspire me to this day.

Founded in 2009 by co-directors Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, LAGI is a bold multi-faceted, multidisciplinary global collaborative platform to accelerate the transition to post-carbon economies by challenging creatives – artists, architects, landscape architects, engineers and scientists – to design site-specific public art installations that generate carbon-neutral utility-scale clean electricity.

It is called “solutions based art”: part renewable power generators, part large-scale public art installations.

LAGI, 2010, Lunar, Cubit, Abu Dhabi, Masdar, solar, energy, renewable, desert, arid, UAE

Lunar Cubit was the winning submission from the first LAGI competition in 2010, designed for Site #3 in Abu Dhabi near Masdar City. A simple, elegant design: nine pyramids made of solar panels.           

LAGI employs a variety of strategies to advance popular acceptance of clean energy infrastructure: commissions and requests for proposals (RFP), biennial competitions, educational material development, and facilitating participatory design processes within communities.

Of these, LAGI is best known for its free and open biennial competitions that have attracted, since 2010, nearly 1,000 proposals from over 60 countries. The power of the competition model, according to Mr. Ferry, “is that it allows people to be playful, innovative and creative, without the bounds of a specific client.”

“The competition model encourages people to work collaboratively across many disciplines in order to imagine, which is of tremendous value in itself,” Mr. Ferry added.

LAGI, 2012, Freshkills, Fresh, Kills, NYC, New York, solar, renewable, energy, kinetic

A submission to the 2012 competition, Fresh Kills Coaster combines solar (purple panels) and kinetic energy (from human footsteps on the running track, created from repurposed running shoes).                

No monotonous rows of solar PV panels or fields of spinning horizontal axis wind turbines here (ahem… which is exactly what I have spent the last decade photographing!) LAGI takes us in an entirely new direction that elevates clean energy infrastructure to the level of civic art and creative expression.

LAGI submissions are universally elegant, visionary, dazzling and yes, playful. In a word, awesome! Clicking through the design boards from each competition, I feel a rush of emotion: hope, optimism, confidence that the Holy Grail is finally within reach: a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. LAGI shows us the way.

LAGI, Santa Monica, 2016, Wake Up, renewable, energy, CA, water, wave, duck

A whimsical submission to LAGI’s 2016 competition, Wake Up proposes to repurpose retired swan boats (keeping them out of the landfill) into wave generating converters to help power California’s iconic Santa Monica Pier.    

Here are links to each of the four LAGI competitions to date:

  • 2010: Abu Dhabi and Dubai, UAE
  • 2012: New York’s Fresh Kills Park, US
  • 2014: Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2016: Santa Monica, California, US

I am particularly fond of the 2014 winning submission. Argentina-based designer Santiago Muros Cortés’ Solar Hourglass reminds us that “energy is just as precious and fleeting as time, and thus we should take care of it, appreciate it, not waste it.” This luminous hourglass – which doubles as a concentrated solar power station – sends “an optimistic message to those who visit it: that we still have time to make things right environmentally, that we are not beyond the point of no return… and most importantly, we don’t need to be.”

LAGI, 2014, Copenhagen, solar, concentrated, thermal, hourglass, renewable, energy

The 1st place winner of the 2014 LAGI competition, Solar Hourglass, elegantly showcases concentrated solar power technology, designed to produce electricity for 1,000 homes in the Danish capital, Copenhagen. 

The 2018 competition, to be announced soon, will coincide with LAGI’s 10-year anniversary. Reflecting on their first decade, Ms. Monoian credits a large part of LAGI’s success to early support from Abu Dhabi’s Masdar which was “absolutely critical at the beginning, and continues to be so today.”

Looking forward to the next 10 years, Ms. Monoian says the biennial competitions “will continue as long as cities around the world keep approaching us,” but acknowledges, “It’s time to start implementing.”

Which means that within a few years – around the same time that countries like Norway will have completely banned petrol powered cars and Sweden will have completely eliminated fossil fuel usage within its borders – clean power stations as tourist attractions will have become a reality. Here’s a great example as imagined by Munos Cortés:

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This is heady stuff! We are living witnesses to the third energy revolution. It’s happening now, all around us. The tsunami has crested; it is irreversible. Creatives around the world should seize this moment to shift the global conversation from despair to optimism, from apathy to action. As Mr. Ferry emphasized, “Make your art social. Hit the streets. Find opportunities to collaborate. Bring it to solutions.”

Through its website and multiple publications, LAGI provides a veritable goldmine of inspiration for urban planners/architects/engineers around the world to rethink our built environments in the context of climate change. More importantly, LAGI encourages us all to embrace utility-scale net-positive energy infrastructure as an integral and vibrant part of our commercial and residential centers.

When asked what is the single most important thing artists can do to address climate change, Ms. Monoian and Mr. Ferry answered simultaneously, in unison: Collaboration. “We are not equipped to work alone.” To create a livable, just world in this age of the Anthropocene, we must embrace the cross-disciplinary creative collaborative process that focuses on solutions. LAGI shows us the way.

Addendum: To the best of my knowledge, there is no other site on the Internet where one can find, all in one place, nearly 1,000 stunningly beautiful and replicable infrastructural solutions to climate change. Collectively, they help us visualize the beauty and promise of our post-carbon future. To quote futurist Alex Steffen, “We can’t build what we can’t imagine.”

Follow Joan Sullivan on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto


 

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

Indonesia: Country of the Future

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

20th of January 2017. A friend from Indonesia calls me. Not for anything in specific, just a bit of friend-to-friend chitchat. I can’t help to start a rant about something that starts with a T and ends with rump. Arief interrupts me: ‘Don’t worry sis’, he says. ‘The world has new countries.’ Arief, I have to explain, runs Jatiwangi Art Factory, a non-profit space in the region of Jatiwangi, and manages to mobilise thousands of people in the wider (rural) area to organize all types of cultural events; from performances to discussions and from exhibitions to radio broadcasts. This community is active, engaged and inclusive. They share responsibilities and resources. Still it takes me a few seconds before the penny drops: Arief is telling me the future is not America, it’s not even China, it’s Indonesia. And the reason is that Indonesia is the country of creativity and the country of the commons.

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Not for Sale, picture by Jacob Gatot Surarjo

You must have come across this word recently; commons. Whether it was in an art, environmental, social, or policy context, the term ‘commons’ seems a good candidate to replace 2016’s ‘Post-truth’ and is certainly a more reassuring and constructive buzzword. If you’re not familiar with it yet, my personal, non-academic way of explaining the concept of the commons is as a form of sharing of resources by a community without private or governmental intervention. This could concern inherited commons (for instance rivers, forests, air), immaterial commons (for instance intellectual, cultural) or material commons (for instance machinery). It concerns communal resources that are (or rather could be) managed collectively without identified ownership but with shared responsibility. Though the concept of the commons often remains in the topic of social processes, more and more artists, city planners, environmentalists, philosophers, designers and architects around the world are recognising ‘commoning’ as an interesting way of working and as alternative to our broken capitalist and neoliberal systems – keeping commodification, commercialisation and privatisation at arm’s length. Indonesian urbanist Marco Kusumawijaya explains: ‘communities can play an important role in moving towards a different paradigm that is not dominated by capitalism and neoliberal governments. Rather, communities[1] can be the stewards of land and resources as well as being an essential place where relationships, alternatives, substitutes and critiques are constantly in the making.’

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Elia Nurvista. Performance. Hunger Inc. Courtesy of Jogja Biennale

Indonesia has a long history of what we might now call ‘commoning’ but what is locally known as gotong royong[2] or bersama sama.[3] Traditionally both social and environmental stewardship have been at the heart of Indonesian kampung[4] life and in Indonesia artists have a key role in keeping this spirit alive. Artist Gustaff Harriman Iskandar explains that artists traditionally have a special status and social function in Indonesian society. ‘The artist often has an important position in the community (sometimes as spiritual leader, or politician) and is expected to make a contribution to society. They are not seen in the individual domain but rather seen in a social context.’

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Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina. ‘Trash Ball’.

Beside their sometimes ‘special status’ artists in Indonesia often work in collectives. Art collectives across Indonesia, and particularly in Yogyakarta, are practising this way of working in which they share knowledge, skills, responsibility and resources. Because the government often lacks in providing resources for artists, the artists started to organise themselves. ‘The sheer size of the country [1] makes that things only work on a small scale’, artist Andreas Siagian from Yogyakarta based art/science collective Lifepatch explains. In a country that is so big and diverse, things function better in smaller systems and structures that allow for flexibility, fluidity and self-organising. Lifepatch enjoys the process of collaborating and call this approach DIWO: ‘Not just do it yourself (DIY) but to do it with others (DIWO).

Across Indonesia art collectives are leading the charge in creating alternative ways of dealing with our resources, alternative currencies, exchanging skills, repairing, that have created a strong DIY culture and arts infrastructure, are innovating, experimenting and having fun. The collective is a good alternative to what artist Ade Darmawan from Ruangrupa calls ‘the big structures’. ‘Big structures have more difficulties to be relevant. They are always slow. You need to have real conversation with society and they miss a radar or mapping system. That’s lost. It’s hard for an institution to be localised. My experience with Ruangrupa is not bringing the community to an institution but the other way around.’

At Arsitek Komunitas, a community architecture initiative in Yogyakarta, each project starts with advice from the community. ‘The community doesn’t want to be an object in the collaboration’, says Amalia Nur Indah Sari  from Arsitek Komunitas. ‘Our principle is: believe the people, they are the solution. You need to trust the community and the community needs to trust you.’

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Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina. ‘Public Furniture’. Jakarta, 2010.

In addition to Indonesia’s creativity, solidarity and resourcefulness, there is a vast amount of (localised) knowledge of the natural world, whether it’s the indigenous communities in Riau, farmers on the rice fields of Bali practising subak[2] , or the Tukang[3] in Jakarta, the amount of knowledge and creativity this country holds is unseen of. All together it forms a strong set-up for a sustainable society. There is so much to learn from this society that has been through wars and genocide, which is at the forefront of climate change, centre of environmental degradation and one of the biggest carbon emitters in the world.This is our chance to widen our thought horizons: there are alternatives on offer.

[1] Indonesia is not only the world’s fourth most populous country in the world with its 257,563,815 inhabitants: http://data.worldbank.org/country/indonesia, based on data from 2015

[2] A sustainable form of water management developed in the 9th century that is based on sharing.

[3] Repairmen

[1] Kusumawijaya explains community as ‘a group of people where its members live together in a territory, and share some commons in concrete way, with bounds and consequences immediately felt when something goes wrong.’

[2] Refers to a collaborative approach and a way of working for a higher communal goal

[3]  A Malay word that translates as togetherness.

[4]  Village or community

This research was commissioned by the Asia-Europe Foundation and the full research publication will be freely available on Culture 360 from April 2017.


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

Changing States of the World

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

By Guest Blogger François Quévillon

I have an interdisciplinary practice that combines installation, video, photography, sound, and digital technologies. My work explores world phenomena and perception through processes sensitive to their fluctuations and the interference of contextual elements. I examine the operational dimensions of images, sounds, and other media through the elaboration of systems with unstable parameters – compressed or endlessly evolving spatiotemporal structures. A mix of scientific observation and contemplation, my pieces create ambiguous experiences through which the ungraspable manifests itself. I investigate how technology affects or redefines human cognition, culture, and the environment, as well as our relationships to space, time, and one another.

My work generally uses interfaces that collect information from the environment. The variable conditions of the environment, human interference, and the activity of the components of the work can influence its evolution. Below are a few pieces that directly or indirectly engage with climate change.

Defrost (2001) 

Defrost is a video installation that explores the different states of matter by orchestrating its

transformation. At the center of the three screens is a slowly growing mass of ice around which several phenomena caused by thermal contrasts evolve in a manner that can suggest a geological timescale. Building momentum through environmental turbulence, the work evokes nature’s cycles as well as the disturbances associated with global warming.

Defrost led to other installations which integrate generative, transductive, and interactive processes, such as États et intervalles (States and intervals) in 2002 and Magnitudes in 2004. These works use computer vision to create experiences where the presence and movements of visitors affect images of icy landscapes, create the sound environment and, in the case of Magnitudes, modify its material configuration with haptic feedback. In these situations, human activity can be interpreted as a disruption to natural ecosystems while reminding us that their behavior is beyond human control.

Dérive (2010)

Dérive invites people to explore 3D models of geographical locations that transform according to live environmental data collected on the Internet. The public interacts with a digitized space whose appearance and recognizability is determined by information about ongoing meteorological and astronomical phenomena. In addition to being visualized, the data transmitted by remote environmental sensors is sonified. By connecting physical and digital spaces, Dérive questions the phenomenology of mixed realities and probes into the changing nature of our perception and representation of the world.

Because Dérive is in a state of perpetual change, reflecting weather conditions, daylight variations, and moon phases, it often leads to unexpected situations. The most surprising of those was during an exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History at the end of October 2012 when New York got hit by Hurricane Sandy. I wasn’t in the museum at that time but I could imagine how this severe weather phenomena was translated into a chaotic audiovisual scene. In the days that followed, I heard from people who shared touching testimonials about their experience of the piece, some of them being from New York or having relatives there during the storm. Experimenting with this open-ended work since 2010 raised my awareness of geoclimatic contexts, celestial movements, and how weather systems evolve and travel.

Waiting for Bárðarbunga (2015)

Started during a residency in Iceland in response to alerts about Bárðarbunga’s upcoming eruption and inspired by instruments used in volcanology, this generative video installation examines the monitoring and transformation of volcanic areas. While traveling around Vatnajökull, the glacier under which the Bárðarbunga stratovolcano is located, I shot videos of rivers under surveillance, drifting icebergs, foggy landscapes, hissing steam vents, boiling mud, and geothermal power plants. The piece consists of a database of hundreds of videos loops which are presented according to a probabilistic system influenced by data coming from the sensors of the computer that runs the installation. The work has an unpredictable unfolding and its conclusion remains unknown as the system’s monitoring and the course of events it presents influence each other.

Volcanic eruptions have had an important effect on the Earth’s climate throughout history, shaping the evolution of life and the planet itself. They are simultaneously creative and destructive events. The eruption of Laki in 1783 and Tambora in 1815 caused social, economic, and political turmoil worldwide. The environmental impact of Laki’s eruption is believed to have contributed to the French Revolution, and 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer. Volcanic eruptions remind us of the fragility of human societies facing climatic disturbances. In this piece, Bárðarbunga can be interpreted as a metaphor for the uncertainty inherent to the current global ecological, energy, and economic crisis. We apprehend and monitor a wide range of potentially catastrophic events that are or seem to be out of control, some of which have the power to trigger profound political change and transform society.

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François Quévillon is an artist from Montréal, Canada. He holds a Master’s Degree in Visual and Media Arts from UQAM and has been involved with several artist-run centres and research groups. His work, which is frequently developed during artist residencies, has been presented in exhibitions and at events dedicated to contemporary art, cinema, and digital creation. Among them: Sundance’s New Frontier exhibition (Park City), Spaces Under Scrutiny (New York), International Symposium on Electronic Art (Dubaï and Albuquerque), Festival Internacional de Linguagem Eletrônica (São Paulo), IndieBo (Bogotá), LOOP Barcelona, Plug-In at Contemporary Istanbul, Show Off Paris, Festival de la Imagen (Manizales), Mois Multi (Québec), Espace [IM] Média (Sherbrooke), FIMAV (Victoriaville), RIDM, Elektra, and International Digital Art Biennal (Montréal).


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

Turning Sewage into Soaps: The Sewer Soaperie by The Apocalypse Project

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

By Guest Blogger Catherine Sarah Young

The Sewer Soaperie 1

When you experience something that ticks you off, I’d recommend doing a project on it.

I was stuck in ankle-deep waters on one fateful day in Manila. It had rained for only a few minutes, but already traffic was at a standstill. The sewers were blocked – yet again! – and when the arteries are clogged, you can see the signs of an urban heart attack. All streets and alleyways within sight were impassable. Everywhere I saw people standing on higher ground, staring at the increasing water line in dismay.

The only ones cheering were the drivers of pedicabs, informal transport consisting of a bike and a small hooded cab for a passenger. They knew they could charge triple the normal fare because people were desperate. (To be fair, you’d have to be really cruel not to tip them well; it is quite heroic to pedal through weather like this.)

The many reasons for this blockage include how used cooking oil is improperly discarded in the sewers. It coagulates together with other objects that won’t break down right away, such as wet wipes and sanitary items. These blobs of fat have been nicknamed “fatbergs” in some cities.

It is these little apocalypses that make me do art about climate change. The Philippines, in the path of many typhoons especially with global warming, will only get more unlivable if behaviors go unchecked. And so, wet, grumpy, and miserable in the cold, I vowed to turn that experience into another piece.

A few weeks later, I was in Medellin on a residency for The Apocalypse Project. This Colombian city is quite the success story, having overcome a troubled history to win the 2016 Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize and 2013 Most Innovative City by Urban Land Institute, thanks to a renaissance in urban planning. Thankfully, in spite of many rainy nights during my month-long stay, Medellin did not get flooded the way Manila does and the sewage system seems to be well-maintained.

Research in Medellin

Manila and Medellin share similarities in both history and culture. And so I was interested to see how two cities can be so similar and different. My residency hosts, Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios, were able to get me more information about the city sewers, and one day I found myself staring down an open manhole. One engineer from EPM, the company that manages the city sewers, actually gave me access, and even gave me some samples for my research. I had never been so thrilled to receive a jar of sewage in my life.

I also got to visit the polluted Medellin River, which seems to be used as an alternative sewer by nearby residents. It was mostly water, but I was able to get some lipid samples.

Research on Sewage

After my residency, I went back to Manila to apply what I had learned in Medellin. It was difficult to get permission to open up the sewers in Manila, and indeed I had many a security guard shoo me away as I tried to pry some manholes open. Undeterred, I found some sewage in many open pipes in this city that gives one a lot of apocalyptic inspirations.

In the studio, I combined the sewage I collected from Manila and Medellin. I filtered and boiled the sewage to kill as many bacteria and pathogens as possible, but I still wore safety clothing, not unlike the pieces shown in Climate Change Couture published on this blog. Soap is the salt of a fatty acid, so most soap recipes would call for any oil with an appropriate amount of lye or caustic soda. There was a lot of trial and error in searching for the right amount of lye, especially since I did not know the exact composition of these samples. Some experiments didn’t produce soap at all, while others saponified and, to my horror, started growing out of the molds. Some had layers of fat in them, looking a bit geological.

Finally, I had enough soap bars and small samples to exhibit. I exhibited these in 1335Mabini, a space for contemporary art in Manila, and at the Climate-Resilient International Development Exchange in Bangkok in USAID Asia. A hazard warning cautioned people against touching the samples. A few did anyway, gingerly, and someone told me they smelled like cookies. I would never touch these without gloves as I know their previous state too well.

The Sewer Soaperie 2

As an artist, it was interesting to see how people interacted with a project whose subject matter isn’t really discussed. People would gather, without me having to say anything, to examine the freaky objects displayed on a plinth and then engage in conversation about the cooking oil they use, traffic, and the myriad of other systemic problems of cities.

Improper waste disposal is one of the tiny behaviors whose consequences eventually interfere with everyone’s lives, and yet we usually blame other people for it. The value of art is that it gives us a platform to reflect on ourselves and our relationship with nature and our cities. To negotiate our place in the Anthropocene, we need to change our habits and make our systems work better.

Research for this project was made possible by a residency at Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios, with support from Arts Collaboratory and the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.

Thanks to Mr. Hemel Serna of EPM and his team for giving me administrative support in researching Medellin’s sewer systems. 

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Catherine Sarah Young is an artist, designer, researcher, and writer whose work explores emerging technologies and alternative futures through interactive storytelling and sensory experiences. Her experimental and interdisciplinary practice evokes conversation about our collective futures and individual choices. As an artist and designer, she has collaborated with scientists, companies, chefs, artists, think tanks, and museums around the world. As a writer, she creates worlds through science fiction and design futures, exploring themes related to the environment, feminism, and future technologies. She is the founder of The Apocalypse Project, a creative platform that explores climate change and environmental futures.


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

Why I’m Breaking Up with Aristotle

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“Why I’m Breaking Up with Aristotle” by Chantal Bilodeau was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, in April 2016.

It’s me, of course, not him. After all, Aristotle and his posse of ancient Greeks gave us many of the elements that have become the foundation of Western Civilization. They gave us human rights, democracy, and the Olympics. They gave us philosophy, significant advances in mathematics, and medicine. And they gave us dramatic structure, the golden principle behind all of Western dramatic literature.

That’s a lot to admire, I know. But I’m still breaking up with him.

The thing is, our relationship has run its course. Given the new challenges brought on by a rapidly changing world and our inability to communicate effectively around them, and given the fact that I feel he doesn’t really see me as a woman, it’s best we go our separate ways. I have no doubt he’ll continue to be influential in my life—we had many good years together and I will forever value the lessons I learned from him—but in the end he’s too controlling and I need to break free.

To be completely honest, I’ve been feeling a growing discomfort for quite some time. It wasn’t exactly boredom and we were not fighting either but we didn’t seem to fit anymore. Round hole, square peg, type of thing. And then not too long ago, I came across Josephine Green’s presentation “The Power of Abundance.” Boom. Suddenly it all became clear.

The idea is this: Though Aristotle and his pals gave us all the good things mentioned above, they also subtly imparted their worldview and its attending values to us. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That worldview has allowed human civilization to thrive for over twenty-five hundred years. But in the context of a world that is now massively different from ancient Greece—more populated and exponentially more connected—that worldview has become a liability rather than an asset.

On the most basic level, ancient Greeks were ruled by a bunch of unpredictable gods whose whims directly affected every aspect of human affairs. Largely ignorant of the natural forces shaping life on earth, people assigned power and knowledge to these supernatural beings and lived under their capricious rule. Then, as empirical knowledge developed through the study of science, some of the powers previously assigned to gods became better understood and a single Almighty God replaced the jolly bunch. The Almighty God prevailed until the industrial revolution when our increased resources and self-reliance moved us away from the divine and into the arms of mega-corporations.

Pyramid of Capitalist System

Pyramid of Capitalist System (1911 cartoon)

Though these represent big shifts in how we conceive the world and our place in it, the underlying assumption—that power is at the top and everybody below is subservient—has remained unchanged. In fact, it is so deeply embedded in our culture that most of the time we don’t notice it.

The simplest way to illustrate this concept is with a pyramid. Power and wealth live at the top, in the hands of a minority, while the majority exists at the bottom to support the top. This is how religions are organized, how monarchies thrived, and how today’s capitalist system functions. But as Green points out in her presentation, the pyramid model is not an absolute truth. It’s a worldview. Or put another way, it’s a function of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It should come as no surprise then that the structure we use to build our societies, and the structure we use to shape our stories, are one and the same. Aristotle’s theory of dramatic writing, later modified by German playwright and novelist Gustav Freytag, is a pyramid. Rising action on one side, climax at the top, and falling action on the other side.

Freytag's Pyramid

Freytag’s Pyramid

This form of storytelling flourished at a time where man needed to conquer in order to survive. Life was hard; nature, a hostile force to be reckoned with; and other nations a constant threat. Subjugating nature was a matter of life or death, while subjugating the masses was a way to secure power and resources, and build a sense of security. As this worldview and the stories used to keep it alive were passed down generations, they were (and still are) used to justify a slew of abusive behaviors such as feudalism, colonialism, slavery, genocide, violence against women and children, economic injustices, the plundering of natural resources, etc. In addition, Aristotle excluded a very important point-of-view from his theory. The festival of Dionysus, where ancient Greek theatre began, was for men only. Aristotle’s “core data” was in fact stories written by men, for men, and about men.

How can a dramatic theory developed in these conditions represent the world we live in today and the world we are striving to create? We’re living through an unprecedented transition in human history where we’re slowly shifting from a hierarchical worldview to a heterarchical worldview. New technologies and social digital media have created a complex world and in the process, flattened the pyramid into what Green calls a pancake, with relationships organized laterally instead of vertically. Given this new paradigm, is it ethical to embrace a dramatic form that was designed to justify inequality and violence? Can we, writers, say something new, something of value, if we don’t break free from that mold? If we don’t find a way to write ourselves out of the pyramid?

My friend Koffi Kwahulé knows this problem intimately. An African playwright born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire, Koffi spoke his tribal language at home and was taught French—a legacy of French colonization—in school. He was also taught playwriting according to the classical French tradition. But like most of his contemporaries, he realized that the experience of colonialism can’t be expressed using the language and forms of the colonizer. Koffi had to find a way to appropriate the French language and make it sing a different song. He had to develop a dramatic form that would express his own unique experience. Over the next thirty years he developed a unique aesthetic, akin to jazz music where, in the words of NYU Professor Judith Miller, “Kwahulé intends his theatre—with its stylistic nods to jazz, through its riffs, refrains, and repetitions, through references to composers and musical numbers—to capture both something of the pain of contemporary existential despair and the exuberant energy of improvisation.” Borrowing from a form developed by African American slaves struggling to maintain their cultural identity, Koffi reconceives jazz music to express the pain of French colonialism and by extension, the pain of oppression.

Sustainable

The idea is not new. Many playwrights—including Beckett, Churchill, Pinter, and Kushner, just to name a few—have played with form. But they did so in isolation and it could be argued that their concern was mainly aesthetic. In contrast, what we need today is a conscious use of dramatic structure in service of societal change. The hierarchical pyramidal worldview is based on values that promote competition, control, and a sense of scarcity—there isn’t enough to go around. And since we have to fight for everything, there will always be winners and losers. The heterarchical worldview, on the other hand, promotes innovation, collaboration, and creativity. It works with the assumption of abundance—there is enough. We just need to learn to look for it and distribute it more equitably.

Moreover writing plays where scenes have a neat cause and effect relationship in the Internet age where ideas emerge through associations, and where biomimicry is replacing old mechanical principles, seems archaic. And with quantum physics telling us that two realities can exist at the same time and that an observed behavior is forever changed by the act of observation, shouldn’t we explore all the possible realms of existence and consciousness rather than stick to a thin sliver of observable reality? Humans are not the center of the universe anymore. Time is no longer linear. Our species could go extinct. These are profound ideas that should inform how we structure our stories.

I’ve seen some exciting plays recently that grapple with these concepts. And these plays have both nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with climate change. None of them addresses the topic directly. But embedded in their structure is an attempt to break down the many pyramids that rob us of power and agency, and to view humanity as part of a vast web of life. O, Earth by Casey Llewellyn, Smokefall by Noah Haidle, and CollaborationTown’s Family Play (1979 to Present) all possess a new sensibility that positions us within a larger and more compassionate frame. These playwrights are seizing the moment, they’re sensing what’s floating in the ether and responding to it. They’re creating the sustainable culture of tomorrow.

So this is it. For better or for worse, I’m breaking up with Aristotle. I don’t harbor any bad feelings towards him; I did love him. For a long time, our relationship was fun, passionate, and intellectually stimulating. But then things changed.

Maybe I grew up and he didn’t. Or maybe it was always meant to end this way, with us going down our separate paths. It’s the end of an era, that’s for sure. But it’s also the dawn of a new age. Though it’s not easy to leave the comfort of the known and knowable, I’m excited at the possibilities that lay ahead, at the chance to craft stories that are in line with my values and my vision of what the world is and can be. I’m excited to do my part and to bring all of me in that effort. I think I’ve earned the right to.

So long, Aristotle. It was swell.

 


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

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Another World Is Possible: Displays from the Women’s March

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Members of the Back to Work Collective at the Women’s March on Washington. Lady Liberty puppet by Christopher Soprano.

“We are unstoppable, another world is possible.” One of my favorite rally cries from the Women’s March on Washington is carrying me through the first week of this bonkers administration. This phrase, and the experience of being surrounded by thousands of people showing up for similar goals, signified to me the possibility for a sustainable future. The creativity on display, through signs, costumes, and performance, contributed to the impact of the weekend. These displays offered intersectional perspectives – the Women’s March was in no way solely about women, but about the equitable and just world that we want to live in, despite what the people in power have in mind.

Walking out of the D.C. Metro on Friday, January 20 was like entering a ghost town. No cars, very few people, eerie silence. There was the familiarity of red, white, and blue, of a Starbucks on every corner. Familiar, but not comforting. These symbols of nationalism and consumerism are not going to save us. Cue tear gas bombs going off, and riot police storming the intersection. Thus the tone of my Inauguration Day experience was set.

Arriving outside Union Station – where anti-Trump protesters were gathering – initiated a welcome tone. Here, my group and I found other organizations with banners, posters, and energy to resist the main event of the day. Among my favorite displays at this gathering included a large puppet with the phrases: “Look within,” “We are only as healthy as our mother,” “Protect our mother,” “Protect each other,” “End Racism,” from Bread and Puppet Theatre.

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Puppets at an anti-Trump rally from Bread and Puppet Theatre in Washington, D.C.

To me, these are calls to action. Starting with self. Starting with the source of life: Mother Earth. These phrases depicted on a female body signified, to me, the importance of individual agency. I may not be able to directly stop the destructive legislation of the current administration, but I can recognize in myself my capacity for empathy, change, and action. This recognition is a start. The question of what I will do with my self-reflection continued in me throughout the weekend, and as I encountered fellow marchers of diverse backgrounds.

My group also ran into Ethan Abbott, a farmer who brought his animal friends: a llama, two alpaca, and a bird. The revolution will be interspecies, I thought. What started out as an attention-grabber began to resonate more deeply with me. Of course we need our animal friends in the march with us! They are occupants of this planet, too. Farmer Abbott’s marching animals drew on that empathy that I was considering earlier; my empathy starts with myself, includes my fellow humans, and extends to other species.

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Farmer Ethan Abbott and his interspecies marchers.

The next day, Saturday, we stepped off the train into a different city. The D.C. Metro was packed. The streets were even more crowded. The group that I traveled with, the Back to Work Collective, is comprised of politically activated theatre artists. We brought a series of speeches from feminists throughout history to perform at the March, with a Lady Liberty puppet to connect these women as beacons of hope. We encountered press wanting to get context, marchers wanting to get their picture with Lady Liberty herself, and fellow artists speaking in solidarity about our work in varying communities around the country.

Once the March dispersed, Back to Work Collective performed our feminist speeches in front of Trump Hotel and the White House. As theatre artists, we wanted to contribute a performance to the March that strangers could reflect on, and draw upon the strength of women who helped lay the foundation of today’s justice movements. We wanted our fellow marchers to find personal connections with why they were present. The Lady Liberty puppet drew audiences in, and the performance of the speeches kept people gathered. My favorite line in our performance comes from Ursula Le Guin, in her 1986 speech at Bryn Mawr College: “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” This image of women as volcanoes spoke to how I felt about the surge of women and gender-non-conforming folk and animals and men and allies into the streets for Marches around the world. These Marches changed the maps, if only for a day. The power that Ursula evokes in her speech – and the resonance of the Marches – is the power of people coming together, speaking out in the face of oppression in any form.

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Amanda Ghosh of Back to Work Collective performing for a gathering near the White House.

The Women’s March brought together a multitude of personal displays of concern and hope, through physical signs and echoing chants. The intersectional voices I heard during the March reignited in me the necessity of intersectional action in addressing issues of justice – social, economic, and environmental. If we are going to combat the unjust decrees to come, those of us that are able must think and act more intersectionality. As public demonstrations like the Women’s March become more important in our current democracy, how can we, as artists, make intersectionality part of our public practice? With beauty, performativity, and intentional spectacle artists have an opportunity to address social, economic, and environmental considerations, through the way in which we use time, bodies, and space. As the sun set on a monumental day, protest signs replaced humans on the streets, forming an alternative display in the space between our nation’s monuments. The variety of art that I witnessed in these signs and throughout the weekend is an example of how we can collectively fight for varying issues. The resulting eclecticism resonates as I recite: “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”

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Signs from the Women’s March on Washington left on fences surrounding the White House.


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

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Performance, Video & Ritual in the Era of Climate Change

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

by Guest Blogger Monet Clark

Given the monumental devastation brought on by global climate change, as an artist I feel the urgency to be vigilant, a warrior and, despite our dystopian present and the probability of a worse dystopian future, courageous enough to hope. Last year I found myself in a state of veritable despair. I wondered,”How can I make an impact on something so much larger than me?” I was in the midst of making my performance/video piece BUNNY GIRL, shooting from the gut, with no script nor understanding of where the piece was going. Towards the end, however, cathartically the piece revealed itself and gave me my answer. I found a new focus in my work, drawing from a side of myself that I used to hide from the art world, the suppression of which has played into the patriarchal structure contributing to this global mess we’re in…

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BUNNY GIRL (video still) performance/video piece, 2016

BUNNY GIRL is driven by the crises state of our biosphere. In it, I play a Playboy Bunny/animal of the same name traversing sweeping landscapes layered with found footage of the current mass species extinctions, as well as recent toxic catastrophes. With wry humor, the piece ties environmental destruction to the vulnerability and suppression of the feminine. In the surprise ending, the title character blossoms and realizes, as have I, that our hope for the future lies within the rising of the feminine.

bunny-girl-poster

Through the making of BUNNY GIRL, I discovered that I had internalized misogyny. I saw parallels between the destruction of our environment, and the marginalization of the feminine and the indigenous perspective. It is a great irony that toxic masculinity patronizes the perspectives needed to save our world. Also ironic is the historical term ‘white man’s burden’ when now what we have is ‘brown man’s burden’! Indigenous people are trying to tell us, as they have all along, that when we destroy our environment we destroys ourselves. Why is it so hard for westerners to understand holistic theory, that parts influence the whole and the whole influences the parts? Even our thoughts and beliefs contribute to the whole, so our fears and negativities have negative impacts. Therefore, internal work is important. I’m a big fan of the present moment. It is from the present that we are building the future. We all have options in the present for positively shifting humanity. Part of that can be by just shifting ourselves. As we clean up our own internal environment, our actions become more effective to remedy the crises of the external one, and our evolution influences those around us and it reverberates from there. My latest pieces incorporate all of these ideas. They work to expose internalized misogyny, and use a combination of technology and ritual to transmute individuals’ negativity.

I grew up in a marginalized subculture. I was immersed in California’s utopian back-to-nature movements of the 1970s. As a small child, I learned from the studies of my mother and her friends, developing skills to cultivate food without toxic pesticides, visiting indigenous peoples whose perspectives influenced us on issues ranging from traditional spiritual forms of healing, to the delicate balance of ecosystems. There were the ongoing studies of healing plants, holistic eastern medical traditions, and how to prepare food nutritiously vs buying processed foods. Meditation techniques revealed the mind/body connection, eastern spirituality exposed the energetic component of our physical bodies. We rallied for no nukes and clean air and water, coming to an understanding that we all share one biosphere.

There was a clairvoyant church that we attended when I was very young, headed by a robust psychic, an older woman with big eyes and a round face. I only remember her as being named Gloria. She predicted many events that have since come to pass, which my mother wrote in notebooks while Gloria spoke: a benevolent Russian leader with a birthmark on his head would lessen cold war tensions with the U.S. ushering in a new era of peace and freedom (Gorbachev); the tearing down of the Berlin wall; wars in the Middle East. There was one prediction that has stuck with me, as a kind of looming backdrop to my life since I was 6. Gloria said that water would become a precious commodity, and she saw visions of people killing for it to survive. In the 1970s, before bottled water was on stores shelves, we took water for granted and her words seemed odd. Now, 40 years later, Gloria’s words make perfect sense.

BUNNY GIRL (video still) performance/video movie 2016

BUNNY GIRL (video still) performance/video movie 2016

As an adult, I expanded on the knowledge-base my upbringing gave me in Bay Area academia and in feminist art-making. I also spent 25 years rigorously training in eastern spiritual practices and in the healing arts, including with my own indigenous relatives, working to recover from a life-threatening neuro-immune illness I developed after a toxic exposure. I began to work with clients, as a clairvoyant, energetic healer, and nutritional coach.

After I made BUNNY GIRL, I used my clairvoyant and energetic healing skills in a live performance called The Intuitive Feminist at Krowswork Gallery in Oakland, acting in defiance of the patriarchal influence which makes these skills taboo in an art world setting. In the performance, I directed each audience member to focus on an issue. Using bibliomancy, I randomly opened pages from classic feminist texts and intuitively expounded on them, with a focus on the individual’s internalized sexism. I administered a vibrational flower essence remedy I had specially prepared for masculine/feminine balance. These are tools that women were once burned at the stake for.

The Intuitive Feminist performance, Krowswork Gallery, Oakland, CA 2016 (photo Jared Johnson)

The Intuitive Feminist performance, Krowswork Gallery, Oakland, CA 2016 (photo Jared Johnson)

I’m currently working on two performance/video ritual pieces. One is an 11-screen collaboration with video art pioneer John Sanborn, called NOW, where we humorously address fatalism. Two opposite female characters, one sarcastic, one optimistic, provide instructions for transmutation using a ring of monitors that envelopes the audience in sacred space. Utilizing technology as a conduit to unlock physiological power in participants, we seek to invoke altered states where beliefs transform into reality. NOW will be unveiled in February 2018 at San Francisco Camerawork. In my other project, I humorously play three female archetypes which are commonly shunned in feminist discourse and critical theory. These point to the patriarchal influence, racism and misogyny within these discourses. They will be projected larger than life. Like NOW, this piece involves a nexus between ritual and technology.

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Monet Clark is a performance/video artist and photographer from California, with a BFA from SFAI. Her works are raw, refined, wickedly humorous, political, feminist and semi-autobiographical. She depicts women in media and subculture, exploring dichotomy, ritual and transmutation. Exhibitions include WP8, Germany; The Kitchen, NYC; SFMOMA; solo at Krowswork Gallery, Oakland; Rapid Pulse, Chicago; and more. She recently completed a residency at Krowswork where she finished BUNNY GIRL, which has since shown in film festivals internationally.


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.

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