Artists and Climate Change

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Holding This Climate in My Body

By Evalyn Parry

Five months ago, I was up high in the mountains of Banff for a weekend, along with thirty theatre colleagues, leaders of institutions from across Canada. It was a historic Summit, the first event of the National Arts Centre’s (NAC) two-year research initiative, Climate Change: Reimagining the Footprint of Canadian Theatre, organized and conceived by NAC associate artistic director Sarah Garton Stanley, with co-curator Chantal Bilodeau.

Several months later, Chantal asked if I would consider writing a reflection on the weekend. I accepted her invitation in much the same way I had accepted the invitation to go to the Summit in the first place: an immediate “yes”… with a simultaneous, overwhelming feeling of terror in my gut.

I said yes to attending the Summit because, well, obviously. Here was an opportunity to dig into the single most pressing issue of our time – an issue that has motivated my creative work and many of my personal and political choices since I was a teenager. Climate is a subject I care about on a visceral, animal level. It is something I’m never not thinking about. The weekend at Banff promised a chance to be in the company of brilliant theatre colleagues and to hear from inspiring scientists, artists, psychologists, and activists working on climate across the globe.

Warm-up at the beginning of one of the sessions.

In the same instant as I say yes, I feel my breathing speed up. The sensation of pressure building inside me, like a body of water ready to overflow the banks.

The news and the information coming in daily about the climate crisis is overwhelming, increasingly terrifying, unprecedented, paralyzing. Too much to take in.

I’m adding another trip to my already packed schedule. I have been on tour a lot, flying to places with a show about climate change and colonization, an uneasy paradox. I’ve been away from home and from Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the company I lead in Toronto, too much. But this invitation feels important. Urgent. How can I say no?

I think, I am holding this climate in my body.

I think, Banff will be a time to listen. To immerse myself in this critical conversation, to strategize with colleagues. To be inspired.

Or maybe it will be the thing that finally sends me over the edge.

Anyway, I say yes. Yes to attending the Summit, yes to writing this reflection.

Because I recognize this feeling of terror in my guts. It’s a signal. Over the course of my career, I feel it whenever I embark upon any truly meaningful new creative project. When I step into the fray with the determination to harness ideas and visions and translate them into something concrete, to create something that doesn’t yet exist. The terror is not knowing: not knowing if I have what it takes to do justice to the task at hand, or what the outcome will be, or if I’ll succeed or fail. But I do know that saying yes to the attempt is the only way ambitious and meaningful things ever get made.

We arrive at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, a conference centre and artist retreat in the Rocky Mountains. Stunning alpine vistas in every direction. Nature stops me in my tracks, many times a day.

Most of us have flown great distances to get here. This irony is not lost on anyone.

We are theatre leaders inside a small industry working in a geographically enormous country. Many of us do a lot of flying. Touring, working in other cities, attending festivals. Canadians generally have a big carbon footprint. Our geography and climate implicate us inside resource-heavy infrastructure: sprawling distances between our major urban centers; long drives or flights between stops on tour; long winters through which we must heat our homes, theatres, and public spaces.

We gather in the BP Canada Energy Room. Paradox at every turn.

It’s oil money that pays for this amazing retreat centre, and that’s no secret; we are in Alberta, home of the tar sands. It strikes me that we are in a moment equivalent to the one just before the arts sector unilaterally rejected the sponsorship of big tobacco back in the nineties.

Sonali McDermid, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at New York University gives a presentation about the science of climate change.

We are welcomed by a local Indigenous Elder, Una Wesley, from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. She offers us smudge and blessing on our time together, and we begin.

There is a lot of energy in these mountains. I’ve heard many other artists talk about having wild dreams at night when they stay at the Banff Centre. It’s a good place for us to dream together.

Co-curators Stanley and Bilodeau have programmed an incredible lineup of “inspirers.” Over two days: nine speakers, each with ninety minutes to present. It’s inspiring, devastating, overwhelming, fascinating, breathtaking, sweeping in scope and scale: an onslaught of information, with breaks only for meals and refilling our refillable water bottles.

I take notes, lots of notes; my notebook becomes a wild, sprawling collection of facts, words, new thoughts, reminders, new information, things to look up later, random ideas to remember and take back with me to my Toronto theatre community:

Canada is warming at twice the global rate.
The ICPP Report.
Indisputable evidence.
Inertia.
Tipping points.
Ocean acidification.
Understanding that our atmosphere can “hold” a lot of energy, and it can take time to feel and realize the impact of this trapped energy. The way our oceans have been absorbing heat, holding it so we haven’t really felt it… until recently.
Arctic amplification.
Carbon capture, carbon dioxide removal.
Canadian boreal forests pulped for American toilet paper.
Hydroelectric dams as a significant source of methane gas emissions.
Environmental psychology. Grief.
Environmental melancholia.
Climate justice. The right of all people to work, play, and pray in a healthy environment.
Environmental racism.
Who has the benefit of environmental protections under the law.
How most of Canada’s most toxic industries are located directly adjacent to Indigenous communities.
Extractive industries. Predator economics.
“Reconciliation” vs reparations. Right relations.
The Truth and Reconciliation recommendations.
How violence against the Earth creates violence against women.
Missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Permaculture.
Theatre made in rainforests, in ice houses.
Industrial fragility. Like white fragility.
Emergency preparedness. Rehearsal for disaster.
Embodied carbon.
Embedded carbon.
The carbon footprint of email. How sending a large document probably has a footprint similar to printing it out. My mind is bending.
Urgency vs. capitalist rush.
Neo liberalism vs collectivism.
Performance as intervention.
Recovery from failure.
Eleven years to enact massive change.
1.5 degrees.

Alison Tickell, Founder and CEO of Julie’s Bicycle, gives an overview of her organizations efforts to support the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability.

I want to tell you everything we heard, everything that was shared, everything I thought, everything I’m thinking.

But I don’t know how to do it.

Trying to write about this feels like trying to capture a hurricane in a handbag.

As our intense forty-eight hour climate summit comes to a close, we try to figure out next steps. How to carry all this energy and information forward, into our respective lives, theatre communities, artistic practices, institutions. The folks from Toronto agree we’ll get together locally, later in the summer.

It’s July when we gather at Why Not Theatre’s new office in Toronto’s West End. It’s been an exceptionally hot summer. It’s cherry season and almost everyone brings cherries to share, along with stories of what we’ve been doing since Banff.

I’m inspired by my colleagues. A new travel policy has been implemented at the Luminato Festival: no more flights for artists and companies travelling along the Quebec/Windsor corridor; the festival will pay for train travel instead. There’s a new green committee at Soulpepper, and they’ve started rooftop composting and a garden, and are transitioning their office into being paperless. There’s the creation of an upcycling and disposal rider for all set designs, which has been built into contracts at the Stratford Festival. I’ve been focused on renovating Buddies’ building, which has been a project of mine for the past few years: upgrading roofs, walls, and windows for better heat and cooling retention, installing new bathrooms with lower water usage.

But we know individual actions are not enough. It’s clear that we can all recycle our bottles and compost until we are blue in the face, but this will not solve our climate crisis. If there is one thing that the Summit made clear, it is the scale of the crisis, and the industrial scale of the response that is needed. Governments must hold corporations accountable, and corporations must take responsibility for everything they produce. We need far-reaching, radical, visionary climate policy. We need it immediately.

These last few weeks, when I have tried – over and over – to begin writing, when I’ve tried to reflect on the Summit I’ve mostly felt the need to sit down, or lie down and take a nap. It’s felt impossible and I’ve felt inadequate, unqualified, and terrified.

And to be honest, lately, personally, I’ve been struggling with sustainability in my own life, this career in theatre, the challenge of leadership.

I’m struggling with how not to treat myself, and my staff, as inexhaustible resources. Not to succumb, as an artist, to the consuming capitalist framework that constantly reinforces the idea of productivity and unmitigated growth.

Struggling with how to keep moving at the breakneck pace of the city, where everyone is always on the hustle because it’s so expensive, so increasingly difficult to afford to live here so everyone needs seven jobs to survive, all of us working inside a sector that never has enough time or material resources yet values constant production. Struggling with my own ambition: to do more, have more, tour more, raise more, be able to support artists more, produce more…

I’m holding this climate in my body.

I try to remember some basic rules of farming (not that I’ve ever been a farmer, it’s just a dream – I joke it’s my fantasy backup career if I ever give up theatre), like letting the fields have a fallow year, a year when nothing is planted and harvested so the soil rests, or when a different crop is sowed in the field so new nutrients can rejuvenate it. I remind myself that I can say yes to a different way of doing things, that perhaps the most radical and creative thing I could do is slow down, stop the rush to produce. But then how to survive? I’m scared again.

The paradox of terror and yes. The yes that arises when I know – a deep, intuitive, body-knowing – that something new is calling out to be made. It needs to be made, and I want to be part of making it.

The terror that arises from all the things I don’t know yet.

We’re holding this climate in our bodies.

Here we are as a society, standing on the brink of that terror and yes.

(Top image: Participants in The Summit at the Banff Centre.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on October 1, 2019.

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Evalyn Parry is an award- winning, queer feminist performance-maker and theatrical innovator whose work as a director, writer/performer, musician and collaborator is inspired by intersections of history, social justice and auto/biography. She is the artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto and the recipient of numerous awards, including the KM Hunter Award for Theatre, the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award, and the Ken McDougall Award for upcoming director; in addition, she has been acknowledged with multiple Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations for her work as director, writer, performer and composer, and most recently, a nomination for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Awards for her play Gertrude and Alice (with Anna Chatterton and Karin Randoja).

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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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Capturing Water

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

All of the artists that I have highlighted in this “Imagining Water” series over the past two years have worked in their own ways to capture the essence of water and the climate crisis’ impact on water through painting, song, writinginstallation, poetry, dance, film, public art and other creative media.

These artists hail from all over the world, from the tip of South Africa, the frozen Arctic, Asia and the Pacific islands to the shores of Florida, Washington state, California and the Alluvial plains of The Netherlands. They have explored the nature of rivers, oceans, glaciers and rising tides, the scientific basis of water currents, the religious and political aspects of water, the spiritual quality of water, its fragility and power, its scarcity, its polluted bodies and more.

In her life-long career devoted to defining life’s basic element, American/Icelandic visual and spoken word artist Roni Horn has even gone so far as to transform a former library building in Stykkisholmur, Iceland into a museum entitled, The Library of Water, which contains a series of 24 transparent columns filled with water from the major glaciers in Iceland that were formed millions of years ago and are receding at a rapid pace.

Fritz Horstman, a Connecticut-based sculptor, photographer, videographer and musician, has contributed to this creative exploration of water by systematically capturing its colors, sounds and forms. Like many of the artists who have chosen to focus on water have confessed, Horstman grew up near water; in his case, on a lake in Michigan where he became aware of water’s magnetism. It was in graduate school, though, while he was reading about systems, or interconnecting networks, and their relationship to the environment, that he began to see water as the substance that connects all of the components of environmental ecology. Since then, he has made water a central focus of his work.

The Color of Water

Five Feet Under, Horstman’s first major project on water, was completed between 2010-2011. His intention was to study how the colors and turbidity of water changed in a designated location over the course of a year. To do so, he attached an underwater camera, with its lens pointed up towards the sky, to the end of a wooden object. He then lowered the camera into the water every day at the same time and at the same place so that it could capture the color of the top five feet of water and the sky beyond.

Horstman admits that his projects are quasi-scientific explorations that provide data and a different way for people to look at his subject matter. In this case, his data revealed that in the summer, the water transmitted an orange hue; in the fall, a murky dark brown; in the winter, a clearer green; and in the spring, it transmitted the blue of the sky.

Horstman’s first attempt to capture the varying colors of water provided him with a workable methodology and led to similar studies that he has completed over the last few years. In 2016, during a residency aboard the tallship Antigua, which sailed around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, he attached his underwater camera to the end of a 100’ fishing line and at regular intervals, photographed the water as the ship moved away from the glacier. Horstman describes what he captured as “an incredible range of hues, saturations and shadows that were created by the turbidity, particulate matter and angles of the sun.” The image grid that he made (shown above) of colors taken from photos of real water samples is surprisingly similar to the range of colors books of samples found in paint stores, which are created by mixing pigment. As in many of his works, Svalbard plays with the juxtapositions of nature and culture.

Five Feet Under (installation image with details). Giclee photo prints, wooden object, 2010 – 2011.

The Sound of Water

In addition to his color explorations, since 2015 Horstman has created a series of videos in which he records the voices of people making their own perceived sounds of water. His first water video was recorded while he was at a residency in Onishi, Japan, where he asked sixteen residents to make the sounds of the Kannagawa River. As we listen to the composite of voices on the video, we see images of the river but we don’t hear the sound of the actual water. Horstman’s intention for the piece was to put “human consciousness into the center of nature.” He explains that “we connect to human voices in a different way than to the real sound of water rushing by.” This altered consciousness provides a different way of perceiving water, and perhaps, a deeper connection to water itself.

In a 2015 video – a second project while Horstman was aboard the tallship Antigua – he recorded the voices of 22 passengers making the sounds of ice. Being in the Arctic and hearing the calving and melting of glaciers provided them with a cacophony of new sounds to imitate. Once again, the images of the moving sea ice in the finished video, not accompanied by the actual sounds of moving ice, are merged with the snapping, crackling, groaning and whishing sounds of human voices. Watching and listening to the video is an eerie, otherworldly experience and provides us with another dimension to our understanding of ice.

The Form of Water

Horstman’s series of sculptures that he calls “Formworks,” allude to other water issues related to climate change. He began the series at a time when he was working in construction and engaged in building a concrete structure. He was inspired by the process of pouring liquid concrete into wooden molds and within a few months of working the job, had decided to create a river form using the same wooden framework, but without filling the structure with either concrete or water.

As Horstman said to me, “the idea of casting a river is intentionally absurd. The Army Corps of Engineers spends a lot of time trying to control water but is thwarted” by the very nature of water to move where it wants to go, and by the growing volumes of water caused by rising tides and increasingly stronger storms. With this series, Horstman has built beautiful forms in the configuration of rivers, meant to contain water in order to show that it can’t be contained. By juxtaposing the rigid beauty of the forms with the liquid and flowing concept of water, he is providing a way for us to question how to contain water in an uncertain future.

Formwork for the East River. Plywood, pine, hardware, paint, 3 x 18 x 12’, 2017.

Fritz Horstman is a prolific artist whose drawings, photographs, sculptures and videos have been exhibited widely in the US, Europe and Asia. His work has a strong conceptual quality rooted in the environment. Informed by the writings of anthropologists like Tim Ingold as well as artists such as Jen Bervin, Alan Sonfist and Olafur Eliasson, Horstman’s projects on water provide an insight into the colors, sounds and physical nature of this most critical of Earth’s elements.

(Top image: Svalbard (detail). Grid of underwater photographs taken at regular intervals at the Fjortende Julibreen glacier in the Arctic Circle aboard the Antigua, 2016.)

Fritz Horstman was also featured in a podcast hosted by Peterson Toscano as part of our Art House series.

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate change a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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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. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides, our new plastic seas and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She 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 in our cities and towns.

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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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Evoking the Spirit of Nature

By Adrian Baker

I’m a visual artist who has been supporting herself for over 35 years by exhibiting paintings, receiving commissions, teaching art workshops, and creating murals and public art installations. Originally from the province of Quebec in Canada, I received my post-secondary art degree in Toronto, Ontario, and after working a few years in that city as a graphic artist, I moved to rural Ontario to start an independent art practice. While still making art and teaching workshops, I’m currently enrolled in a low-residency Master of Fine Arts program through Emily Carr University in British Columbia, where I will graduate in the summer of 2020.

Having made the decision years ago to live and work in a non-urban environment, my work gradually evolved to reflect my natural surroundings. In more recent years, the river that flows past my home has become the focus of my artistic practice.

Besides monitoring the vanishing flora and fauna along this watershed and noting the encroaching invasive species, I’ve been watching the condition of the water. I’ve seen areas cleared of trees for housing and golf courses, and shorelines altered by human interference, resulting in destructive runoff and sediment making their way into the water system. In recent years, I’ve also noted widely varying water levels.

Final Migration. 40” x 30”. Oil, acrylic & gold leaf on canvas.

My research methodology includes days spent canoeing along riverbanks and shorelines, walking the forests, and observing the wildlife. I set up camp to sketch, make notes, and photograph on site, as well as work in my studio, which is situated alongside the river. In addition to my on-site and studio practice, I’ve been researching the pre-contact history of the watershed, the biodiversity, the effects of early settler activity, and current human pressures on the waterway.

While much of my studio work over the years has consisted of oil and acrylic painting with mixed media, I also work in a wide variety of media when creating public art installations, including wood, metal, fabric, and cement. More recently, I’ve been building environmental art pieces “on site” along the watershed, using found natural materials. These ephemeral pieces, constructed in wilderness settings, exist distinct from the more “commodified” aspects of my art practice, yet are influential elements in the conception of my more public works.

Building on these experimental installations and on my research, sketches, and photographs, I recently created a body of work which addresses the core themes of environmental fragility and our primal connection – or dis-connection – to the natural world, which is our life-support system. I titled this work “Watershed,” a term which also means a critical turning point or period in time marking a change in opinion or course of action. The spring thaw of 2019 resulted in unprecedented widespread flooding along the rivers in the Ottawa valley where I live, the second time in just two years that the river reached “historical levels.” Viewing the local watershed as a metaphor for the entire biosphere, the artworks reflect our reaching a “critical turning point” in our inter-dependent relationship with the environment and reinforces the urgent need to initiate more ecologically sound practices.

Autumn. 36” x 48”. Acrylic & mixed media on canvas.

The works in this series consists of fifteen mixed-media paintings on wood and on canvas, varying in size from approximately 24” x 40”, to 60” x 84”. Starting with foundation layers in acrylic, the works were built up variously with plaster, fabric and/or oil paint. Some were embedded with found natural materials such as ground mineral and shell, while others are embellished with gold leaf. The paintings, which portray the perceived value of nature, as well as imagined futures, were featured from September to November 2019 in a solo exhibition at the municipally funded Ottawa Art Gallery, Annexe Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario.

Studies have demonstrated that people who care about the environment make more eco-friendly choices, so my goal is to continue to create art that informs, motivates, and promotes a connectedness with nature. I am continually exploring forms that might particularly speak to the urban-based audience who may have little interaction with the natural world. Evolutionary psychology tells us that the 50,000-generation timespan when we humans were intimately connected to the natural world is a stronger force in our psyche that the 500 generations of civilization that followed. I try to reach people on this primal level, to prompt recognition of their connection to nature, using visual art as a means to mobilize them in the defense of the environment.

Pakànàk / Wússoquat / Noyer Noir / Black Walnut / Juglans Nigra. 5ft x 14ft. Walnut ink, wood, braided thread, black walnuts.

That said, I don’t aim for shock and novelty merely for the sake of garnering public attention. I prefer to create work that is aesthetically appealing to viewers, prompting them to stop and consider possible interpretations of the images. I believe there is value in the skills and embodied knowledge developed over many years of art making, and there is value in sharing this with the public.

Ultimately, my intention is not to highlight the devastating impacts of environmental degradation, or to convey a defeatist attitude, but rather to encourage reflection and dialogue by imparting a message of hopefulness, connectedness to nature, and optimism for the future. My work is meant to be an uplifting – and sometimes humorous – visual reminder of the wonders of nature, and of our own inexorable connection to the natural world.

(Top image: Watershed. Triptych. 60” x 84”. Mixed media on board.)

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Adrian Baker’s work has been featured in solo exhibitions as well as in multiple juried shows both nationally and internationally. She has received government commissions to create public art installations, served as artist-in-residence for the Bermuda Masterworks Museum, and has received recognition for her portraits. Throughout her career she has been conducting adult art classes and workshops, and delivering lectures to art organizations. Adrian’s work is in public and private collections in Canada, the US, and abroad. Her art has been reviewed in numerous publications and has been featured on the covers of several international magazines.

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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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Acting for Climate Goes Into the Water

By Peterson Toscano

Helping the public engage in climate change requires skillful communication and a lot of creativity. One troupe of performers in Northern Europe decided to break out of the box altogether. In the summer of 2019, they presented a performance piece in Norway and Denmark. Instead of bringing the audience into a theatre, Acting for Climate took their show to eight different harbors. For a stage, they used a very large wooden boat. Into the Water is a theatrical circus performance aimed at raising ecological awareness. In addition to the performance, they organized festivals at each of the harbors.

Acting for Climate members Abigael Rydtun Winsvold and Nathan Biggs-Penton recreate the performance for our listening audience. Hear about the circus artists and their amazing feats as they climb the eight-story high mast, do acrobatics, and take the audience on a wild and moving ride. After each performance, the troupe connected with the audience for further discussion.

Abigael found the response to be better than she imagined:

People came up to us and said that they were really really touched. Even sixty-year-old men, which I don’t normally see crying. I barely have seen anyone I don’t know crying in this age group. They came up to us and said, “Wow! I’m really touched. I’m just going to take a walk and cry for myself right now.” That was really touching for us to hear people were touched by the performance, not only excited, but also shaken a bit somehow.

Coming up next month, Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a new book that fuses faith and personal narrative with climate action.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo courtesy of Acting for Climate.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

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As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

Helping the public engage in climate change requires skillful communication and a lot of creativity. One troupe of performers in Northern Europe decided to break out of the box altogether. In the summer of 2019, they presented a performance piece in Norway and Denmark. Instead of bringing the audience into a theatre, Acting for Climate took their show to eight different harbors. For a stage, they used a very large wooden boat. Into the Water is a theatrical circus performance aimed at raising ecological awareness. In addition to the performance, they organized festivals at each of the harbors.

Acting for Climate members Abigael Rydtun Winsvold and Nathan Biggs-Penton recreate the performance for our listening audience. Hear about the circus artists and their amazing feats as they climb the eight-story high mast, do acrobatics, and take the audience on a wild and moving ride. After each performance, the troupe connected with the audience for further discussion.

Abigael found the response to be better than she imagined:

People came up to us and said that they were really really touched. Even sixty-year-old men, which I don’t normally see crying. I barely have seen anyone I don’t know crying in this age group. They came up to us and said, “Wow! I’m really touched. I’m just going to take a walk and cry for myself right now.” That was really touching for us to hear people were touched by the performance, not only excited, but also shaken a bit somehow.

Coming up next month, Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a new book that fuses faith and personal narrative with climate action.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo courtesy of Acting for Climate.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

______________________________

As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

———-

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Powered by WPeMatico

Helping the public engage in climate change requires skillful communication and a lot of creativity. One troupe of performers in Northern Europe decided to break out of the box altogether. In the summer of 2019, they presented a performance piece in Norway and Denmark. Instead of bringing the audience into a theatre, Acting for Climate took their show to eight different harbors. For a stage, they used a very large wooden boat. Into the Water is a theatrical circus performance aimed at raising ecological awareness. In addition to the performance, they organized festivals at each of the harbors.

Acting for Climate members Abigael Rydtun Winsvold and Nathan Biggs-Penton recreate the performance for our listening audience. Hear about the circus artists and their amazing feats as they climb the eight-story high mast, do acrobatics, and take the audience on a wild and moving ride. After each performance, the troupe connected with the audience for further discussion.

Abigael found the response to be better than she imagined:

People came up to us and said that they were really really touched. Even sixty-year-old men, which I don’t normally see crying. I barely have seen anyone I don’t know crying in this age group. They came up to us and said, “Wow! I’m really touched. I’m just going to take a walk and cry for myself right now.” That was really touching for us to hear people were touched by the performance, not only excited, but also shaken a bit somehow.

Coming up next month, Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a new book that fuses faith and personal narrative with climate action.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo courtesy of Acting for Climate.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

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As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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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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Energy Transition Coloring Book

By Joan Sullivan

Over the five years that I’ve blogged for Artists and Climate Change, I have never pitched a product. Until today. It feels a bit sacrilegious to do so, especially in the context of next week’s ritualized over-consumption frenzy, but hear me out. This is important.

With this post, I’m temporarily stepping outside my comfort zone – where I shine a light on global artists, designers, and architects experimenting with renewable energy as an emerging art form – to boldly suggest that our readers consider purchasing (several copies of) the Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book as #climate-themed holiday gifts this year.

This award-winning coloring book (an updated version is currently being printed in Germany and will be ready for distribution in early December) is a visually stunning communication tool that I believe can help shift the needle on our mostly dystopic climate narrative. It is designed to engage all generations: young, old, and anyone in-between.

What I like most about this coloring book is its appeal to broad sections of the population, including those not yet convinced of the need to shift to sustainable energy sources, those for whom the jargon-heavy scientific climate reports are difficult to decipher, and even those already working on climate change and the energy transition.

Created by two Berlin-based organizations – Ellery Studio in collaboration with the Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility (IKEM) – the Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book hits the sweet spot for me on so many levels.

First, not only is it scientifically accurate and visually stunning, this book manages like no other to take a complex, geeky subject like the energy transition (which I have tried to write about here, here, and here from an artistic perspective) and makes it highly accessible to the general public.

As Bernd Riedel, head of Ellery Studio’s visual strategy lab explained to FastCompany, “The energy transition will only succeed if people are aware of and enthusiastic about the possibilities of a decentralized, renewable energy supply.”

Secondly, this coloring book draws you in, no matter your point-of-view on the climate crisis. Once you pick up a pencil or crayon to start coloring, it is impossible not to feel engaged, to feel empowered, to feel part of a larger whole. That alone is reason enough to purchase this book.

As Anika Nicolaas Ponder, Head of Sustainability & Innovation at IKEM, wrote on Medium:

Fostering public engagement in climate change activism will require a new approach to communication. Reporting shouldn’t just highlight the risks and challenges involved as global temperatures rise, but also the opportunities that can emerge from smart responses to climate change. This means that we need to communicate our message in a new format – and with a new narrative.

Thirdly, this coloring book focuses on the positive, on solutions, on the way forward. All music to my ears. According to Ms Ponder:

These are the tales that need telling, and these are the narratives we need to hear. We will be more effective messengers if we reframe the way we talk about climate change and the energy transition. We can do this by focusing on opportunity and empowerment and drawing more people into the conversation through accessible communication formats.

I can’t think of a better playful gift with the potential to open the conversation between friends and family who may not always have seen eye-to-eye on the climate or the energy transition. For more information about the Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book, follow “My Energy Transition” on Instagram.

I’ll end here with my favorite illustration in the book. It would have to be the clever “Meet The Renewables” (which somehow reminds me of The Incredibles). This “family portrait” includes five of the most popular members of the renewable energy family: onshore and offshore wind, hydropower, biomass and solar. They are displayed on a modern electronic tablet which contrasts starkly with four cracked and cob-webbed frames in the background of the fossil fuel family (which reminds me of the original Addams Family!) Kudos to all who worked on this brilliant project!

(All images copyright and courtesy of Ellery Study, Berlin.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to keep our eyes on the prize – a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. Joan is currently working on a documentary film and book project about Canada’s energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on Twitter, Visura and Ello.

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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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Poet Catherine Pierce Describes the Creative Process in Crafting Anthropocene Pastoral

By Peterson Toscano

What does it take to create a poetic masterpiece that is also able to express the complex emotions we feel around climate change? Poet Catherine Pierce describes her process crafting her moving poem, Anthropocene Pastoral.

This Art House segment is heavily influenced by the podcast Song Exploder, where musicians unpack a song and talk about almost every aspect of it, as well as their creative process. In this podcast, Pierce does something similar with Anthropocene Pastoral, which first appeared in the American Poetry Review.

Inspired by the California Super Bloom of 2017, Pierce captures the strangeness of living in a world that is rapidly and dangerously changing, but at the same time can be unseasonably pleasant and beautiful.

She opens the poem with the line, “In the beginning, the ending was beautiful.”

In our conversation, she reveals the many choices she made to create the haunting mood of the poem, and its lush landscape filled with a riot of images, animals, and life. She explains some of the techniques and devices she uses to construct the poem. Then she reads the poem for us.

You can read more of Catherine Pierce’s climate change-themed poems online including High Dangerous and Planet. Pierce’s last book of poetry, The Tornado is the World is about an EF-4 tornado/extreme weather event. The filmmaker Isaac Ravishankara produced a beautiful short film out of one of the poems in the collection The Mother Warns the Tornado.

Catherine Pierce is co-director of the Writing Program at Mississippi State University, and the author of the award winning collection of poetry Famous Last Words. She is working on a new book of poetry, Danger Days, which continues her exploration of climate change.

Coming up next month, a group of circus artists hop on a ship to engage the public in a performance that defies gravity and provides wisdom and guidance in a time of climate change.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Podbean, Northern Spirit Radio, Google Play, PlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Photo by Megan Bean/Mississippi State University.)

This article is part of The Art House series.

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As host of CitizensClimate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and CitizensClimate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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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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My Hudson River Primer

By Ellen Kozak

It is likely that the Hudson River, which runs the length of the state of New York, will be at the doorstep of my studio within the next couple of decades. This is my twentieth-year painting along the river’s edge in the town of New Baltimore. Direct observation is the core of my painting practice. I work on site with a field easel. My process, and the circumstance of having a subject in constant motion, influenced my return to work in video. In 2008, I received a commission for a single-channel video from the Katonah Museum of Art.

Bodies of water and their physical properties, atmospheric conditions, and natural phenomena are mesmerizing sources of inspiration. I work with these elements in a responsive and experimental way, pairing ephemeral luminosity with tidal motifs, and natural phenomena with man-made disturbance. As I paint, use my camera, swim, kayak, and live with the presence of the Hudson throughout the seasons, the river starts to feel like a close companion.

Painter’s Log

The river is a living organism. While it is resilient, its fragility is once again being challenged. As many know, the Hudson suffered extreme abuse over many decades, notably from the multinational company General Electric’s dumping of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Like any injured organism, it requires care and respect for the systems that support its life and health.

In my own work, I strive to depict the river’s supple and subtle shifts in color, luminosity, and transparency. Its surface may appear smooth or disturbed. Entering the sphere of my interest are aspects of optical phenomena such as after-image, conjured by intensely bright light reflected from the river’s surface.

Certain Slant
 

As a painter also working with video, my practice brings together concepts and crafts from both media. Dialogue between these forms raises new ideas and possibilities. My approach is empirically responsive and quotidian in exploring conditions, natural or manmade. One imperative in my dual practice is close study through which sensations can be intoxicating and intense. Abstract in appearance, my work conveys the movement and luminosity of rivers without offering views or realistic representation. Yet, while painting, I feel sure that I am reporting a precise account of the landscape.

I am attracted to bodies of water for their perceptual properties as well. Their mirror-like surfaces are an interesting way to indirectly observe the world through reflection. This can create collisions and magnify attributes by imposing distance, both perceptual and psychological. Mediated observation can suggest metaphor and render what is known equivocal.

Field Notes
 

I use the surface of the river as a giant watery lens that absorbs reflections, colors, and patterns. It collects activity from the sky above – the movements of clouds, fog, foliage, planes in flight – and on the Hudson, tankers transporting crude oil and barges carrying “restricted use soil” from Newtown Creek as fill beside tributaries of the Hudson. This is a violation that reintroduces contaminant into the environment. Last year, one loaded barge containing this restricted use soil sank and no notice of violation was issued by the DEC. The re-industrialization of the river is evident and problematic.

My interest in water and attendant attributes, such as the repetitive motion of waves, is longstanding. In graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I experimented with one of Nam June Paik’s wacky video synthesizers. From oscillators, the contraption generated images based on electronic waveforms. Analog technology, more physical than digital, revealed the inner workings of monitors, tubes, and electron guns spewing streams of electrons. Now, working beside shorelines, the watery surface of the river provides a different kind of synthesizer – organic and embedded in the landscape.

Oil paint shares an aqueous attribute with my subject, but each has different viscosities. In recent years, I have been approaching paint as a mimetic medium; I use its physicality to perform in ways similar to my subject.

Twilight Transcript
 

Spending so much time along the shoreline lets me experience the Hudson as a commercial waterway and see the consequences of superstorms such as the flooding of whole neighborhoods, the ripping away of staircases, and large appliances including cars being carried downriver. The clear evidence and certainty of sea level rise is inescapable.

Some sightings of note include entrapped ships waiting for a rising tide to lift them from where they have run aground; barges transporting enormous turquoise struts – bridge parts for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge (now renamed the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge) that crosses the river from Grand View-on-Hudson to Tarrytown; the annual assembly of a pumping station, across from my studio, to carry dredging spoils from a large swath of the riverbed to the top of Houghtaling Island, where they reenter the ecosystem; and the ongoing illegal rezoning of wetlands.

Many people are surprised to learn that most of the Hudson is actually a tidal estuary extending from the mouth of New York Harbor to the Federal Dam in Troy, approximately 153 miles north. The tidal zone in New Baltimore is surprisingly deep, about twelve feet. While painting, if I don’t want to get caught by the tide, I have to constantly back up from the shoreline.

All of these years working directly beside the Hudson inspired me to find a way to become an advocate for it. My awareness and concern, while not expressed directly in my artistic work, offered me a path to seek involvement. In joining the membership of the environmental organization Riverkeeper, I signed on to their mission “to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries and safeguard the drinking water of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents.” More recently, as a board member, my practice of working on site has been a useful and practical kind of monitoring and surveillance in and around our river.

Vertical Roll
 

One look at the environmental issues, the campaigns, and cases that Riverkeeper is tackling daily gives me hope. This short film about the Gowanus Canal reveals just one of Riverkeeper’s ongoing efforts and its hard work.

Recently, I have noticed an inverse relationship between my paintings and video. In the former, I collapse hours of observation onto the still surface of a painting, while in the latter, I use still imagery to refer to time and imply constant motion. Subverting expected characteristics of each medium creates unexpected paradoxical disjunctions.

(Top image: riverthatflowsbothways, 2016, four-channel video installation, Ellen Kozak & Scott D. Miller)

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Ellen Kozak is a painter and video artist whose work brings together concepts and crafts from both media. She lives and works in New Baltimore, NY and in New York City. A Professor at Pratt Institute for twenty-three years, she received degrees from MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies and the Massachusetts College of Art. Her work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Fogg Museum among others. Seventeen solo exhibitions of her work have been mounted in the US, Japan and France, and her work has been included in numerous group exhibitions

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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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Wild Authors: Renato Redentor Constantino

By Mary Woodbury

In this feature, I look at, and re-enjoy, Agam, a 2014 book project from the Philippines. Thanks very much to Redentor Constantino, from the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities – publisher of the book Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change – for permission to excerpt the cover and other information about the book, and for providing assistance in finding out more about this amazing title. Block quotes are text from the Agam website.

Agam reflects the confrontation between climate change and diverse cultures across the Philippines. It combines original new works in prose, verse, and photographs and depicts uncertainty – and tenacity – from the Filipino perspective, minus the crutch of jargon.

The title, Agam – an old Filipino word for uncertainty and memory – captures the essence of this groundbreaking work. Inside are 26 images and creative narratives in eight Filipino languages (translated into English), crafted by 24 writers representing a broad array of disciplines – poets, journalists, anthropologists, scientists, and artists.

All proceeds from the sale of Agam will go to the project Re-Charge Tacloban, an integrated solar and sustainable transport services and learning facility in Tacloban, a city devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall.

I have recently been in touch with Renato again, who stated:

Agam has been launched in several capitals. In addition to a huge number of events in the Philippines, Agam has been launched in Washington DC, Manhattan, Berkeley, Denver, Berlin, and Bonn. The book has won three national book awards. For two years now we have partnered with Iyas, an annual creative writing workshop run by some of Agam‘s contributors. We have helped organize activities as well as provided lectures and insights into the climate issue and the way it intersects with the creative process. We are working on an international version now, helping put some shape into the overall scope of the book.

He also stated wisely:

Get your bearings, lose your marbles – this might very well be the basic principle by which advocacy and literature will meld in the face of the climate crisis. I can’t think of a period in history when poets and writers are more needed than the present. This is our Thermopylae, our defining moment; we are faced with change that will only become more violent the longer the spectatorship of the public remains ascendant. We face likewise the opportunity to survive and thrive and, most importantly, to sweep aside vestiges of the old order constructed by anthropomorphic conceits thinking we, particularly the few, can live so large and so indifferently without any consequences.

Agam is a song, a poem, a story, a photograph, a calligraphic sweep of the hand. It is all of these and more. One of its descriptions: This is a book that asks you to sit down and take a deep breath, it draws a line in the sand and whispers in your ear, “This is where our stories begin.” It tells of the archipelagic country’s people and natural landscapes and environmental changes. It roars with the wind carving through coconut groves and buildings. It swims with the rising Abra River, it counts fingers from the past while observing the many storms. It eyes the haunted wreckage from typhoons and floods. It follows the uprooting of trees, the remaining dust. Naomi Klein said of the book:

Agam is exquisite: a deeply original concept executed with tremendous artistry. Rather than asking readers to care about the whole world at once, these elegant vignettes distill the climate crisis down to its most intimate and human details. By focusing on the small, the biggest questions of all are cracked open. How do we heal after our most beloved and nourishing places have turned against us? How do we live in a world that has itself become a question mark? And most of all: How can we stop inflicting such violence on one another?

This glance into the dwindling wildness of the Philippines is told beautifully, thoughtfully, and with an eye to how humanity is impacted. According to Ecowatch:

The Global Climate Risk Index 2015 listed the Philippines as the number one most affected country by climate change, using 2013’s data. This is, in part, due to its geography. The Philippines is located in the western Pacific Ocean, surrounded by naturally warm waters that will likely get even warmer as average sea-surface temperatures continue to rise.

The Stories Within

The stories in Agam are accompanied with beautiful artwork and photography. These people are not fictional. The storms are not fictional. Agam fuses storytelling and reality in an artistic medium.

In “Tulo Ka Hinumdoman,” Merlie Alunan writes poetically of the strength of wind and how it slashes through groves of banana and coconut trees and rice fields, how the same wind could be so strong as to turn a person into dust, how the wind ruins buildings and urban objects, how it–with the rising seas–takes what’s in its path. There’s an overwhelming sense of nature being boiled up by climate change, and turning more powerful.

In “Agayayos” (Ever Flowing), Arnold Molina Azurin recalls a former town being entirely moved to higher ground away from the Abra River as wild waters rose and rose. He says this constant environmental and climate shifting: “Sometimes very slow in coming and almost imperceptible, but sometimes severely and instantly catastrophic.” Landmarks end and new ones begin–sometimes so subtly, sometimes strongly–always forever changing.

Merlinda Bobis, in “Sampulong Guramoy” (Ten Fingers), asks us to see the invisible. Ten fingers of the mother…of the father. How many times does one count when rotten rice needs to be scavenged from a storm, when a roof needs fixing, when the village is evacuated. I can see a child using the fingers to count and see the shadows and light dash to and fro in these terrible storms, which become haunting memories. Over and over.

In “Unnatural Disasters,” Sheila Coronel finds power in the bayanihan spirit, as the compassionate people help each other through each crisis. According to TheMixedCulture.com: The Bayanihan (pronounced as buy-uh-nee-hun) is a Filipino custom derived from a Filipino word “bayan”, which means nation, town or community. The term bayanihan itself literally means “being in a bayan”, which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work, and cooperation to achieve a particular goal.

In “Sa Laylayan ng Bahaghari,” Ni Honorio Bartolome de Dios tells the story of a beach that is now gone, swallowed by the sea. As with the other stories, the tale is haunting and reminiscent of loss and death. But there is still hope. Maybe a rainbow will come.

May Ling Su, in “The Power Couple,” shows the spirit and strength of Filipino people–and hints at the disparate contribution to climate change vs. the uneven results. The power couple recycles. They do not do social media. They have no education, money, or opportunities. They do what they can to survive and live in the culture–fishing, hunting, toiling in extreme weather. They are hit hard by climate change:

We’re called “resilient” by the system that ravages our resources and spits us out, the remains of the carcass they have consumed and now consider waste.

Authors

Agam‘s authors are Regina Abuyuan (also the Executive Editor), Merlie Alunan, Dr. Leoncio Amadore, Arnold Azurin, Romulo P. Baquiran Jr., Herminio S. Beltran Jr., Merlinda Bobis, Renato Redentor Constantino, Sheila Coronel, Honorio de Dios, Daryll Delgado, Grace Monte de Ramos, Ricardo M. de Ungria, Marjorie Evasco, Alya B. Honosan, Susan S. Lara, Padmapani L. Perez, Mucha-Shim Lahaman Quiling, Joel Saracho, Jose Enrique Soriano, May Ling Su, Ramon C. Sunico, Mubarak M. Tahir, Dr. Michael L. Tan, and Criselda Yabes.Among these authors are winners of the Carlos Palanca award, a Magsaysay Awardee, a SEAWrite Awardee, the Chancellor of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, public intellectuals, and pop culture experts. All of them in one book.

Click here for bios of Agam‘s authors.

The Photographer

Behind the lens is Jose Enrique Soriano, who took portraits of people he met. He imposed no story or caption behind their faces – no unnecessary drama, just “the people at the forefront of climate change.” In this case, it means those who live with its effects. There is no sweeping background of the devastation. The pictures are about the people, as the stories are too.

The Cover

The cover is a mix of new and old typography by Kristian Kabuay. It’s not very apparent, but the calligraphy is baybayin with modern techniques from the Hanunuo Mangyan tribe in Mindoro. (The black “squiggles” on the front cover reads “A-Ga-M” and on the back, the more traditional “A-Ga” is written.)

Please be sure to read the 10 Reasons Why We Love Agam.

For more information about ordering, please visit Agam’s Facebook page.

The featured image is by Dee Rexter, titled Boat from Bora, taken at Boracay Island Malay, Aklan. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change(Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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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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An Interview with Artist Anne Percoco

By Amy Brady

I have for you this month a fascinating interview with New Jersey-based artist Anne Percoco. Anne is a co-collaborator on an art project called The Next Epoch Seed Library – it comprises a custom set of drawers and shelves filled with plant seeds native to the region. The project also consists of walks, workshops, discussions, an open-access curriculum, deep-time seed storage experiments, and other activities. I spoke with Anne about what inspired The Next Epoch Seed Library, another work of art called Indra’s Cloud, and what she hopes people take away from viewing her work.

Anne Percoco. Photo by Colleen Gutwein.

Tell me about The Next Epoch Seed Library.

The Next Epoch Seed Library is a collaboration between myself and Ellie Irons. In 2015, we were both working with weeds and seeds in our own practices. During a studio visit soon after we first met, the idea of a seed library for weeds came up, and we ran with it.

We began by designing seed packets, going on some seed collecting walks together, and creating a small collection. Then, we had the chance to participate in a group show: Intersecting Imaginaries with No Longer Empty in the Bronx. We decided to build a custom set of drawers and shelves into an I-beam in the raw gallery space. The drawers held seed packets, including a special collection from the surrounding neighborhood, and the shelves held seeds in jars and some informational brochures.

Since then, we’ve broadened our activities to include more than just maintaining our collection, which is made available to the public in the form of a pop-up library that travels between exhibitions and venues, and is accessible by mail at all times. Our offerings now include walks, workshops, discussions, an open-access curriculum, deep-time seed storage experiments, and special projects. We also have a semi-permanent base at the Sanctuary for Independent Media’s Nature Lab in Troy, NY, where Ellie lives.

Where did the idea for the Library come from?

I was first attracted to this idea because of the seeming absurdity of carefully collecting, sorting, displaying, and distributing seeds of plants that easily propagate themselves on their own, even in the most challenging of environmental conditions. However, I quickly learned from Ellie, who has a background in environmental studies, that these intrepid plants provide tremendous benefits to urban and damaged landscapes. Many cities are lacking in green space, especially in underserved neighborhoods (an environmental justice issue). It turns out an overgrown vacant lot provides benefits similar to a natural landscape – it provides food and habitat for pollinators and other critters, absorbs excess stormwater, filters particulate matter from air, draws toxins from the soil, stores carbon and produces oxygen. Patches of weeds even provide mental health benefits to us humans: our heart rate and stress levels get lower as we walk past weedy greenery. Furthermore, weeds do not require intensive watering and fertilizing like cultivated plants and lawns. They are incredibly self-sufficient. For damaged and polluted landscapes, hardy weeds often act as healers. Their presence makes the land more habitable, allowing other species to move in.

We learned after starting NESL that there are a few organizations which are actively collecting seeds of wild cousins of our food crops, in anticipation of future pests or environmental challenges which they might face as climate change takes hold. These relatives may contain valuable mutations and adaptations in their DNA which can potentially lend their resiliency to our food crops. A few examples of wild crop cousins in our collection include: prickly lettuce (lactuca serriola), a relative of lettuce; Queen Anne’s lace (daucus carrota), a relative of carrot; and curly dock (rumex crispus), a relative of buckwheat.

What do you hope viewers of your art take away from the experience?

We hope that NESL prompts viewers to become more observant and appreciative of these humble but vibrant plants who live alongside us and are supporting us as we move through the sixth mass extinction. We’ve also experienced that handling plants, learning about them, and collecting their seeds is a tactile, pleasurable activity, which we enjoy sharing with participants.

Additionally, we hope that the binary concept of native vs. invasive species is broken down in some way by our project, particularly in the context of human-impacted landscapes. We cannot afford to label all non-native plants as harmful, as many provide important ecological services to urban and disturbed landscapes while other species struggle to adapt. Often the measures taken to remove these plants (such as herbicide) are quite destructive in themselves!

Indra’s Cloud is another fascinating piece of yours that speaks to environmental concerns. Please tell me about this work.

In late 2008, I was in residency in Vrindavan, India with a local environmental NGO, Friends of Vrindavan. For this project, I collected about 1,000 plastic bottles and sewed them together to create large half- and quarter-sphere domes. Friends of Vrindavan helped me transport the project in pieces to the bank of the Yamuna River, where I hired a boat for the day. I tied the overlapping domes of bottles onto the boat, which created a bulbous shape. From shore, the sculpture appeared to be a floating, plastic cloud. The boatman poled the sculpture around the town of Vrindavan on the Yamuna River, enacting a parikrama, a traditional circumambulatory walk meant to honor a town, temple, or deity.

The Yamuna River is widely known to be a physical manifestation of the goddess Yamuna, and it’s considered a blessing to bathe in her waters. However, the river itself is terribly polluted with raw sewage from Delhi and industrial effluent from surrounding factories.

Indra’s Cloud. Photo by Anne Percoco.

The image of a cloud made of water bottles on the Yamuna River references a well-known local myth about water resources. In the story, Krishna persuaded the cowherds of Vrindavan that the rain their cows drink does not come from the sky, but from the land itself. Therefore, he encouraged the people to gift their yearly offering to Mount Govardhan instead of to Indra, the rain god. In revenge, Indra sent a dark storm cloud which released a torrential downpour onto the town, but Krishna lifted the mountain like an umbrella, with his pinky finger, to protect his friends. The story is a reminder of the interconnectedness of nature, that the water we drink does not come magically from the sky or a plastic bottle – it is affected by the land and everything that is done to it by humans.

As a result of this project, one frequent tourist group to Vrindavan transitioned from single serving plastic bottles to reusable dispensers, saving an estimated 3,000 bottles per year. This project was made possible with the support of Friends of Vrindavan as well as the Asian Cultural Council.

What do you think that art can tell us about climate change that other forms of communication (like news reports and other types of nonfiction) can’t?

Whenever I wonder what individual artists like me can possibly contribute to this crisis, I think of these two quotes in tandem: Rebecca Solnit wrote that “environmental problems are really cultural problems,” and Matthew Coolidge wrote that “art is the R&D of culture.” If these quotes are true (I think the first is true and the second can be true), then it makes sense to use artistic forms to investigate what is broken in our culture, what would allow us (Americans & members of other industrialized societies) to so casually and regularly undermine our basis for survival – and to pose alternative value models. For example, in my work both with NESL and in my individual practice, I try to find value in materials, places, and species that are widely considered worthless. I also try to elicit from viewers their attention to small details as well as empathy, both of which I think would be important for the kind of cultural shift we need right now.

Coolidge goes on to say that art is an incredibly flexible discipline. Because there are really no hard and fast rules, artists can connect disparate ideas and hold space for nuance and contradiction in a way that might be difficult in other fields.

What’s next for you?

NESL has three group shows opening soon: In the Weeds: Art and the Natural World at Wheaton College in Norton, MA; an installation at Swale House on Governor’s Island NY in connection to The CURB Banquet event, and New World Water at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. We have outdoor test plots currently installed on the campuses of both Seton Hall and Wheaton for our project, Lawn (Re)Disturbance Laboratory, and we’ll be leading two workshops at Wheaton next weekend.

For NESL, there are several things we’d love to do in the future, from creating a seed vault within a permanent public sculpture, to expanding our open access curriculum, to studying a particular plant that grows in Chinese copper mines, to just generally growing our collection and network of collaborators and participants.

In my personal practice, I’d like to remake a piece using pens that are running out of ink. Pens are such interesting everyday objects: disposable vehicles for expression, a connection between the body and mind. If anyone has empty or near-empty pens to donate, let me know!

(Top image: The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University. Photo by Anne Percoco.)

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

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Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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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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The Factory of the Future: A Collaborative Project for Imagining Otherwise

By Zoë Svendsen

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” With that claim, George Monbiot opens his book Out of the Wreckage, a call to arms for a world beyond neoliberalism. When it comes to stories, it matters who tells them, as well as what the stories are and where space can be found in culture for imagining otherwise.

The fight over who gets to tell what story is ongoing, but there is also another role for the arts – to flesh out what those other stories might be. When this happens, a generative role for the arts in relation to politics starts to emerge. It is not necessarily a traditional message-based role of overt acts of persuasion, but one that undertakes the speculative and provisional work of imagining, depicting how we might live within very different social and economic conditions. It is a challenging requirement: I, for one, have had all my theatre muscles tested by the demand to imagine how possibilities for a world beyond climate crisis might work. For so many of us living in cultures built on fossil fuel use, it is much easier to see losses and sacrifices than it is to see what might be gained by a transition to a world that faced up to the crisis.

I work with a network of theatremakers and, having made a show called World Factory that immersed audiences in the ethical conflicts embedded in consumer capitalism, we asked ourselves: What next? Supported by an artistic residency whose aim was to explore future scenarios in relation to climate change, I looked at how the economic system could be changed, through a process I call “research in public,” where research that ordinarily goes on behind closed doors becomes a conversation held in public – at relaxed events publicized on social media and in cafés or theatre foyers or anywhere informal.

In response to these conversations, my collaborators and I devised forty-nine economic and legislative changes to enable human and planetary flourishing. We then put these to audiences in the performance installation WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE at the Barbican Centre in London over five days in September 2018. Actors improvised stories of a transformed City of London based on the scenarios that were discussed, argued over, and voted on by audiences.

The task for audience and actors alike was to imagine what it might be like to live in a “new normal” of social and environmental flourishing. The creation of the imagined stories was structured in a way that was built on collaboration – not consensus. It was networked, multi-perspectival, and took place over time. No single person (maker, expert, or audience) was present at every moment. Each generation of audience watched stories created from discussions held earlier by other audience members and worked on scenarios themselves, which would be watched by others. This principle of generational, generative thinking is embedded in the heart of the future direction of the project.

In response to the Barbican installation, my performing arts company, METIS, was commissioned to create a bespoke version for the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019, which we developed in collaboration with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. Entitled The Factory of the Future, the artistic “output” is now a video installation, but also encompasses workshops and consultative conversations in Oslo. Added to our stories of a post-capitalist London are stories of a transformed Oslo in a post-fossil fuel culture. To source the stories, we have been working with architects, urban planners, and local citizens to imagine what Oslo might be like under economic conditions designed to enable the flourishing of both humans and the environment. The actors will then create stories of what it is like to live in the city under these transformed conditions; these stories of Oslo will then be added to the video installation that presents an alternative London.

Anna-Maria Nabirye and Tom Ross-Williams imagine the future during WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE at the Barbican Centre, September 2018. Photo by David Sandison.

Oslo is often already seen as a beacon of environmentally friendly, socially engaged practices. The project takes this as inspiration whilst challenging the city to imagine it is no longer able to derive its wealth from oil or the exploitation of its copious natural resources. Every scenario we imagine is based on conversations had with specialists, which means our imagined alternatives are not utopias, they have roots in reality. They are tried and tested, but never at a systemic level. This is what sets the artistic work apart from reality – the socioeconomic ideas are not necessarily new, or even wildly radical, but they currently swim against the tide of neoliberal systems and so remain outliers.

What we are attempting is not the fashioning of another utopia – the scenarios we generate are multiple, overlapping, partial, and also at times contradictory. They aim at the very act of imagining rather than achieving consensus about what is to be done. It is nevertheless a challenge.

The demand for “realism” (the term hovering somewhere between its social use and its use in drama) masks our embeddedness in neoliberal myths, which take, as a given, that the only possible economic structure is that of the “free” market and that self-interest is the main driving force behind all human behavior. Much has been written about this theoretically, but this project has forced us to recognize how we are living it, to notice our own internal barriers to believing a more collaborative, less self-interested social structure is possible. Still, despite now understanding the economic myths we are caught up in and their impact on our everyday decisions, we as a group of artists have had to train ourselves not to find it so implausible that global structural change could ever actually occur. The project, however, invites us to imagine otherwise, to immerse ourselves in the potentialities of such change.

We have even come up with a term for our current situation, “high-carbon culture,” which explains the contradictions we currently live in – that we, in high-carbon culture, are fossil-fuelled and environmentally damaging regardless of our motivation or capacity for change.

It is also, however, a myth that change cannot occur quickly or decisively, as the Rapid Transition Alliance demonstrates: humans are adept at large-scale, rapid, lasting, transformational change. By imagining our way beyond such “implausibility,” we’ve started to take a deep pleasure in willfully and doggedly ignoring those despairing whispers, enjoying instead our forays into a culture of repair, recuperation, and mutual value.

The act of storytelling embedded in alternative scenarios takes on a political dimension. Unlike traditional conceptions of political art, it does not directly argue for revolution – there is already so much brilliant and necessary directly activist work being done on this front globally. Rather, it creates a space for imagining what might be gained once transformative change does become possible. In this sense it doesn’t matter too much what particular detail of this alternative culture we exercise our storytelling muscles on. It just matters that we keep doing it, that we keep on fleshing out other realities in defiance of the current obvious systemic barriers.

Factory of the Future in workshop, Oslo 2019.

I am excited by the discovery that the more I stay in this space, the more I start to see this other reality emerging all over the place. The very act of imagining transforms my perception of possibility, suggesting that, as Monbiot implies, reality really might be shaped by the stories that hold the most sway in our imaginations.

Having experimented throughout this project with a variety of interactive performance forms, we have, ultimately, come to focus on to the simplicity of storytelling: drawing on terrain mapped by politicians, policymakers, economists, and future visionaries to imagine what it might actually be like to live in another world. This involves drilling down into everyday life, acting on writer Amitav Ghosh’s invitation set out in his seminal set of essays on culture, the climate, capitalism, and colonialism, The Great Derangement: “What we need […] is to find a way out of the individualizing imaginary in which we are trapped.” And, brilliantly, we are far from alone – there are proliferating examples of this kind of work, from Jonathan Porrit’s The World We Made, to the Paris-based Plurality University’s Future Fragments project, to Naomi Klein’s collaboratively created manifesto at the end of No is Not Enough. We hope to continue our work, to collaborate with cities and imagine them as otherwise in the face of climate crisis.

At the very least, then, this practice of imagining otherwise is a kind of bearing witness, offering a reminder in the historical record for those in a climate-crisis-ridden future of self-interested survivalism, who might look back and ask, How the hell did they let it happen? It is a testament to the fact that, right now, we have the ingenuity, the techniques, and the desire for our future to be collaborative and epic rather than isolationist and tragic.

(Top image: Introduction to the scenarios for WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE at the Barbican Centre, September 2018. Photo by David Sandison.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 30, 2019.

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Zoë Svendsen directs the performing arts company METIS, making participatory theatre performances and installation works exploring contemporary political subjects, including: Factory of the Future (Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019); WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE (Artsadmin Green Commission 2018/Barbican Centre London); World Factory (Young Vic, London, and UK tour); 3rd Ring Out (TippingPoint Commission Award; UK tour). Zoë has worked as dramaturg at theYoung Vic, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and lectures on drama and performance at the University of Cambridge.

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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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