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10 Best Art and Sustainability Initiatives in Berlin

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Berlin is known as a city par excellence for artists, creatives and grassroots movements and it is exactly these people who are great at imagining and repairing broken systems, making significant contributions to creating a more environmentally safe and just society. To celebrate their work, I selected the ten most innovative art initiatives in Berlin (in alphabetical order) that engage with environmental issues through their artistic programming and practice.

1.  Art Laboratory Berlin

Bio-art, art/science, citizen science , visual art, arts education, art & technology

This small gallery space is a gem known across the globe. (I was tipped by a friend from Indonesia to check them out!)

The main focus of Art Laboratory Berlin is to present contemporary art that exists at the intersection of art, science and technology. Within this field, they have a keen interest in the non-human and their survival on this planet. Their ongoing research is called Nonhuman Subjectivities/Nonhuman Agents. The exhibition Non-Human Subjectivities used data to show how different species will be affected by climate change. The work of Art Laboratory Berlin is often embedded in a theoretical framework, building on the work of scholars such as Rosi Braidotti, John Grey, and Donna Haraway, to better understand the phenomenon of the nonhuman.

Art Laboratory Berlin pursues a sustainable form of interdisciplinarity, going beyond the mere juxtaposition of art and science. They want to create constructive synergies between artists and scientists in order to support transparency and content production.

“I enjoy facilitating collaborations that demystify science and take the scientists out of the institutional straitjacket.” —Christian De Lutz

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Saša Spačal, Mirjan Švagelj und Anil Podgornik, Myconnect © Copyright 2014 Damjan Švarc / Kapelica gallery photo archive (Nonhuman Networks exhibition).

2.  art objective – contemporary art collaborations

Visual art, education

Art Objective – Contemporary Art Collaborations is an artist agency that functions as matchmaker for artists, cultural institutions and exhibition venues. When I Skyped with one of the founders, Katja Vedder, she was on her boat. Katja is a passionate sailor and concerned with the state of our oceans. A key project of Art Objective is OCEAN Contemporary, a great example of her professional engagement with the ocean. This collaborative, non-profit research and exhibition project aims to stimulate contemplation and responsibility for our oceans through contemporary art. International artists present pieces with a focus on the ocean and the many problems for which humanity is responsible. The project follows the objectives of various national and international strategies within the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020) and the previous United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) to prevent the rapidly dwindling biodiversity of our planet and preserve it for the future.

Other projects include Bitter Water (2016), a collaboration with a shipping company on polluted waters, and Tension Test (2015), an exhibition presenting the ocean as endangered landscape, habitat, mythology, the scientific subject of research, a target for political strategies, and an ecosystem on a tension test.

“It’s good as an independent curator to concentrate on a topic. I’m passionate about the ocean so this is my focus. I’m still constantly amazed at all the new perspectives I find; people draw so much inspiration from the ocean.” —Katja Vedder

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Ulf Saupe, Waterscape nr 34 © Copyright 2016 (OCEAN Contemporary).

3.  Entretempo Kitchen Gallery and The Food Art Week

Visual art and performance, food design, food art

The Berlin Food Art Week and its related activities are organized by Entretempo Kitchen Gallery. Entretempo is an interdisciplinary art space researching and exploring food from a cultural and design perspective. Art becomes an extension of the kitchen and food, a common base for expressing and sharing thoughts and ideas. When I visit founder, artist, cook and author Tainá Guedes in her kitchen gallery in Prenzlauer Berg, she quickly rustles something up for lunch. It is delicious. One of the key programs she organizes is the Food Art Week, which shines a spotlight on the political and social impact of food as a manifestation of history, sociology, geography, science, philosophy and communication.

All projects of Entretempo Kitchen Gallery involve food, art, sustainability, alternative economies, and environmental activities. Additionally, Entretempo practices solidarity through community-supported agriculture, using organic and regional vegetables from Speisegut, a Berlin-based community farm project. Going beyond the normal reach of a gallery, it hosts workshops, lectures, events, and offers a range of creative services for food and design-based projects.

“I want to live a meaningful life. I don’t want my grandchildren to say: “But you were in the middle of it, why didn’t you try to do something about it?” —Tainá Guedes

5. Uli Westphal Entretempo

Uli Westphal, Mutatotes © Copyright 2006 – Present, Uli Westphal

4.  Green Music Initiative

Music and creative industries

When I visit Jacob Bilabel in his office in the Torstrasse, the wall is covered with prizes. These are mostly prizes awarded to the Green Music Initiative (GMI) by the music industry for coming up with initiatives such as low carbon touring or sustainable CD packaging. It is not our first time meeting. I first got acquainted with his work on EE Music, a European collaboration project with the aim of creating a dialogue amongst leaders of the music industry on how to establish an efficient and sustainable music culture in Europe.

Active in Europe through multiple EU projects, GMI acts as a platform for coordinating the music and entertainment industry’s efforts to minimize their footprint. CO2-reduction strategies are implemented in cooperation with scientific institutes, stakeholders, and artists, paving the way for others to follow. GMI showcases best practices with the objective of creating industry-wide demands for innovative and sustainable solutions – both from a climate and business point-of-view.

“This is not about saving the world, this is about understanding we ARE the problem. But precisely because we are the problem, we are also the solution.” —Jacob Bilabel

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Green Music Initiative.

5.  Haus der Kulturen der Welt (The House of the Cultures of the World)

Visual art, performance, theatre, dance, music, literature

Beautifully situated on the banks of the river Spree in the Tiergarten, a huge inner-city park, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) is a prominent and well-established space for international contemporary arts and a forum for current developments and discourse. The HKW presents artistic productions from around the world with a special focus on non-European cultures and societies. Visual arts, music, literature, performing arts, film, academic discussions and digital media are all linked in an interdisciplinary program.

In cooperation with artists and experts, the HKW offers visitors opportunities to grapple with the conflicts and challenges our time, in which questions about sustainability are often embedded. How do our living conditions impinge upon others? What kind of a future do we want to live in? How do we deal with climate change?

In the two-year interdisciplinary work The Anthropocene Project (2013-2014), the HKW examined the implications of the thesis “humanity forms nature” through sciences and arts. The project Über Lebenskunst (2010-2012) (on the art of living) was set up to develop and test new approaches to the art of survival in the 21st century. This included an educational program, which was jointly developed with the Future Institute of the Free University of Berlin, to bring issues of culture and sustainability to classrooms throughout Germany. The national committee of the United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development added this project to the official measures in the national action plan.

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Armin Linke, Whirlwind © Copyright 2007, Armin Linke, Haus Kulturen der Welt, Anthropocene Project (2012-2014).

6.  id22 – the Institute for Creative Sustainability

Art, architecture, community art, co-housing and development

Tucked away behind the long line of construction materials shaping the Spree bank in Berlin, id22 – the Institute for Creative Sustainability helps keep residents’ community spirit alive. The institute is especially interested in co-housing projects that are sustainable and participatory. In collaboration with members, partners, and volunteers, the Institute studies and supports pioneering local Berlin initiatives, including the Spreeacker Initiative, that recognize the crises emerging in the world around us, with a focus on social and environmental injustice.

id22 emphasizes communication and networking, cooperation and conviviality, and helps strengthen these creative communities. Increasing sustainability through creativity is at the core of this practice. They conduct research and support and publicize initiatives with a focus on creative sustainability, self-organization and inclusion.

“There will be no environmental protection without attention to people, and without social justice.” —Michael Lafond

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Members of the Spreefeld Cooperative. © Copyright 2015 Michael Lafond.

7.  Orchester des Wandels (Orchestra of Change)

Music

Orchester des Wandels (Orchestra of Change) is an initiative by the Berliner Staatsoper (Berlin State Opera). Their primary goal is to inspire audiences and the public, and to raise awareness about climate change. The musicians had the idea of putting climate protection on the program through Klimakonzerte (climate concerts). This was realized under the auspices of Daniel Barenboim. The music is accompanied by visuals and performed at the State Opera as well as other venues. For exaple, the orchestra played at the opening of the recent project EnergyTransitionArt , has performed a range of musical interventions at scientific events, and contributed to the 10th anniversary celebration of the KlimaAllianz (Climate Alliance Germany).

“My drive came from my son, who was born some years ago. I had the feeling that I couldn’t look him in the eye if I didn’t fight for his future.” —Markus Bruggaier

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Orchester des Wandels. © Copyright S. Rosenberg.

8.  Prinzessinnengärten (Princesses Gardens)

Community art, architecture, urban gardening

Although I visited Marco Clausen in the garden during the dormant winter months (February), I can imagine this beautiful space being a hive of social activity in the summer. The big wooden structures of the Neighborhood Academy are just asking to be climbed! Set up by a group of friends, activists and neighbors, Prinzessinnengärten is an urban place of learning. The name derives from the street Prinzesinnenstrasse (Princesses Street), which is in a decidedly modest part of town. The garden is a place where locals and tourists of all ages and backgrounds can come together to experiment and discover more about organic food production, biodiversity, and climate protection – a living space to learn about healthy eating, sustainable living and a future-oriented urban lifestyle.

“What drives me is social, ecological change – we just HAVE to do it, there are no other options.” —Marco Clausen

10. Prinzessinengarten

The bower at the Prinzessinnengärtin, Postgrowth Slam. © 2016 Marco Clausen / Prinzessinnengärten.

9.  ufaFabrik – Internationales Kultur Centrum (International Cultural Centre)

Visual art, performance, community art, comedy, world music, multimedia events

The ufaFabrik brands itself as an “eco-pioneer.” It started doing sustainability work as early as the mid-70s. It has solar panels to generate energy and heat, green roofs and planted façades for insulation, and toilets that use biologically treated rainwater to flush. The ufaFabrik promotes engagement in culture through exchange and education. They bring together local and international cultures, creating a dynamic field for participation for the young and old alike. I first visited the ufaFabrik in 2012 when I attended their conference Creative Strategies for Sustainability. It was an EU-funded program to provide cultural managers with skills to implement sustainability in their organizations. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was so much space! They even have their own bakery and everyone is friendly. This is definitely a product of the 70s…

In 2004, ufaFabrik received an award from the UN-Habitat for Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment. Groups of visitors from around the world now come to learn how to successfully interweave ecology, economy, social engagement, cultural activities, and cultural education. With its informal atmosphere, this is a place where anyone can feel at home.

“Every change in society and in sustainable development starts on a personal level, it begins with us! As soon as we start to change our personal behavior we will produce some kind of effect on the environment and hopefully won’t create new problems. Change always goes hand in hand with trying out new ways of doing things, of communicating, of learning and creating new forms of interaction. Besides strong fights and intense protesting, the surprise, the unexpected, and humor might help to create a change in perspective. We need creativity to encourage others and ourselves, to enjoy what we do, and as a resource to renew our energy.” —Sigrid Niemer

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ufaFabrik.

10.  ZK/U – Center for Art and Urbanistics

Visual art, performance, geography, anthropology, urban planning, architecture and the humanities

The ZK/U – Center for Art and Urbanistics is a residency program and laboratory for inter- and trans-disciplinary activities centered on the phenomenon of The City. The Center is located in a cool-looking former railway depot surrounded by a landscaped park. Analogous to the 19th century transport of goods by rail, this venue seems to be a hub for the transport of ideas and ideals in the post-industrial era. The large spaces allow for studio work and events, but also symposia and exhibitions.

ZK/U promotes international exchange on global issues in the light of what is happening in one’s own backyard. Social and environmental justice are recurring themes that find their way into most projects and events. Working with local and international partners, ZK/U residencies aim to bring together critical minds for artistic production and urban research in which the local community always plays an important role.

“When you see something is not working right, you want that to change. I’m driven exactly by that desire for change: I don’t want to just be a commentator, but provide constructive criticism.” —Matthias Einhoff

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ZK/U – Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik. © Copyright 2016, KUNSTrePUBLIK.

The full publication looking at art/sustainability initiatives in Berlin, called “Creative Environment,” is now out! A free online version can be downloaded here.

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


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

Youth Shine in Performance for Climate & Energy 

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Shine is a musical performance for youth-led community engagement and resilience planning. It weaves climate science and artistic expression into a funny and powerful story that spans 300 million years of geological time to convey how energy, humanity, and climate are interrelated. Rehearsing each part of the mini-musical immerses youth in the lexicon surrounding climate and energy, and leads participants in embodying different aspects of climate science and human development that led us to this point – where our use of fossil fuels is impacting our climate.

The first half of the show is professionally scripted, composed, and choreographed to convey this story that has already been told by history; the second half – our future story – is authored by local youth to generate solutions for their city’s resilience challenges. Local youth are facilitated in performing the show in each location. This entire performance experience is designed to support and celebrate youth engagement in community resilience planning. Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre is a book to guide educators and youth organizers in using creative expression based on (or inspired by) Shine.

Paty Romeo Lankao rehearsing with youth in Shine.

In each city where this show has been mounted, local stakeholders have served as hosts and champions of the effort. Paty Romero Lankao is an interdisciplinary sociologist working as a senior research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) leading the “Urban Futures” initiative. She was co-leading author to Working Group II of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) and convening author of IPCC: AR5, North American chapter. Born in Mexico, she now resides in Boulder, Colorado. Now imagine Lankao pushing tables to the side to make room for an all-day rehearsal in the finest conference room NCAR boasts – where IPCC negations took place and where the dramatic start of the Rocky Mountains fills the view of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Snacks of grapes, crackers, and cheese sticks are placed on the tables, and costumes are strewn around the carpet in preparation for thirteen young performers to arrive.

Through Lankao’s position at NCAR, she has claimed this place of positive social power for the expression of youth voices for authoring ‘urban futures.’ Throughout the day, she rehearsed the dances and movements alongside the youth, sometimes elucidating a scientific principle or idea brought up by the script. With a group of four other young people, she created and performed in a scene for Act Two that focused on the importance of maintaining our forests to avoid global warming. In the late afternoon, she performed in our public showing of Shine for NCAR scientists, invited guests, and the general-public. No one present could miss the crystal-clear messages she sent through her example: (1) the contributions of young people matter, (2) performance is a valid method for community engagement in authoring our city’s future.

Shine has been performed by local youth in eight different communities, five of which are cities that are a part of the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Initiative: Boulder (June 2015), New York City (October 2015), London (January 2016), New Orleans (April 2016), Chicago (September 2017), and three that were not: Tuba City, Arizona within the Navajo Nation (March 2015), Malope, South Africa (June 2016), and Brookfield, Connecticut (July 2016).

Performing Shine at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado.

As an Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado (CU), I wrote and created this performance experience in collaboration with nationally recognized performing artists and climate scientists. Three-time Grammy winner Tom Wasinger composed the music, and master teacher with the New York City National Dance Institute and former Broadway performer Arthur Fredric developed the choreography. Primary scientific collaborators include Lankao, energy engineer Joshua Sperling with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and James White, Professor of Geological Sciences and former Director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (currently Dean of Arts & Sciences) at CU. I travelled to each location of the tour to facilitate each of these performances with local collaborating host institutions. The intention of the tour was to learn best practices from each city’s process to contribute to a deeper understanding of how performance can effectively engage youth in authoring their city’s plan for resilience.

Youth are often identified as being disruptive. If there was ever a time to disrupt the narrative of the energy and climate, it’s now. Shine invites and celebrates youth’s disruption of the status quo. Tom Wasinger, the composer of Shine, lovingly describes the rehearsal process as “controlled chaos”. The freedom of thought, preposterous ideas, radical concern, and outright silliness that youth have brought to city planning through the tour of Shine has been exceptional. This theatrical approach offers a viable alternative mode for exploring, thinking, and creating modes for living in this world. What we do in these coming decades will determine if we can thrive or even survive on this planet as a species. How we plan for our future and who we include in the planning may determine what that future looks like. Participatory performance by youth is one way to shine a light on a brighter future.

Included in the supporting  Open Source Materials for using this performance are the script, links to the music, videos of the choreography for each song, materials for building curricula, interviews with collaborators, and a professionally shot video of the entire production. These materials, along with a two-minute trailer of the international tour, can be found on the Inside the Greenhouse website. Check out Performance for Resilience for deeper analysis of the lessons learned along Shine’s year-long international tour and conclusions on how to best utilize performance for resilience planning.

(Top image: Weaving the fabric of community in the performance of Shine.)

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Beth Osnes, PhD is an Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado. She is co-director of Inside the Greenhouse, an initiative for creative communication on climate.  She is passionate about using performance as a tool for youth and women to participate in authoring their own climate and clean energy futures. Recent books include Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre (Palgrave 2017) and Theatre for Women’s Participation in Sustainable Development (Routledge 2014). She is featured in the award-winning documentary Mother: Caring for 7 Billion.

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

Best Laid Plans

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It really could be beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Theatrical Review Through a Climate Lens

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Imagining Water #4: Floating Start-Up Countries

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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On occasions when artists had been gathered in social settings and were bemoaning the latest actions of politicians or public policy, I’ve often heard one or another of them say, “I wish we had more input in how society is shaped – it would be so much better.” Well, with a memorandum of understanding signed in January of 2017 by French Polynesia to allow for the creation of the first Floating Island start-up “country” within the protected waters of a Tahitian lagoon, a scenario in which artists are active participants in building new societies is now entirely possible.

The Floating Island Project: Seasteading

The Floating Island Project is the brainchild of the Seasteading Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 2008 by activist, software engineer and political economic theorist, Patri Friedman, grandson of the Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, and billionaire entrepreneur, Peter Thiel. Its mission is to foster the creation of politically independent seasteading communities or floating cities, which will enable residents to establish new ways of living together under governmental and cultural models of their choice as well as serve as a blueprint for the future survival of existing countries threatened by rising sea levels. The term “seasteading” is a reference to the concept of homesteading, the process of making a home in a new frontier outside the boundaries of developed communities. In this case, the frontier is the entire ocean covering 70% of the earth’s surface.

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View of “Artisanopolis,” a design for a potential seasteading community that was awarded First Place in an architectural contest sponsored by the Seasteading Institute. Courtesy of Gabriel Schaeare, Luke Crowley, Lourdes Crowley and Patrick White (Chile) and the Seasteading Institute.

The goal of The Floating Island Project is for seasteading communities to be self-sustaining in water production, wastewater treatment, aquaculture, vertical farming, nanotechnology, wave, wind, solar and marine energy production and other existing or yet-to-be-developed research and technology. As it is envisioned, residents of a floating community could live in modular “pods” that can detach at any time and sail to join another floating city that offers a better form of government or a more compatible cultural environment. As the theory goes, because governments would have to compete for citizens, the best ideas of governance would emerge to accommodate a diverse population.

The French Polynesia Pilot Start-Up

At a cost of $60 million, the Seasteading Institute expects to establish a dozen structures by 2020 on a floating surface about the size of a soccer field just off the coast of French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean where islands are already sinking below sea level. According to scientific projections, about a third of these islands will be totally submerged by 2100. The first start-up “country” in French Polynesia will contain homes, offices, shops, restaurants and other components of modern life.

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A design for a potential seasteading community showing modular bio-domes and other building structures that can be moved within the “country” or to another “country” altogether. Credit: Seasteading Institute.

The floating communities will be built by Blue Frontiers, a company founded in 2017 by Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute, and other members of the Institute’s executive team. Known affectionately as the movement’s “Seavangelist,” Joe Quirk has outlined in detail how the floating cities of the 21st Century can be laboratories for creativity and innovation in his 2017 book, Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians.

Despite the book’s lofty title, Quirk presents a compelling argument for the establishment of new mini-countries that would enable innovators to “rethink society from the ground up,” a process that might enable us to solve some of our most intransigent social, political and environmental problems. He poses the question, “What would you do with political freedom, limitless energy and nearly half the Earth’s surface?”

Ephemerisle

In 2009, before the Floating Island Project became a reality and as a working experiment of the seasteading philosophy, the Seasteading Institute sponsored the first week-long, floating festival of self-governance entitled Ephemerisle on the Sacramento River Delta in California. Now independently run, it has become an annual gathering of “thinkers, doers, artists, dreamers, muckrakers, and builders interested in life on the water.” In his book, Joe Quirk describes how Ephemerisle has evolved from that initial festival to an event in which hundreds of participants, including scientists, engineers, artists, entrepreneurs and activists create a series of self-contained “makeshift islands by connecting a variety of boats, platforms, inner tubes, and floating art projects.” Participants naturally self-select islands whose governance, rules and identities most suit their needs and philosophies but migrate among the other islands at will by motorboat “taxis” or connecting docks. Art is an essential component of the Ephemerisle culture.

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One of the self-governing islands in Ephemerisle, 2009.

For more information on the Floating Islands Project, including FAQ, a video by Joe Quirk explaining the basics of seasteading, and a sign-up form to receive regular up-dates on the progress of the first start-up country, click here. Artists, are you ready?

(Top image: View of “Artisanopolis,” a design for a potential seasteading community that was awarded First Place in an architectural contest sponsored by the Seasteading Institute. Courtesy of Gabriel Schaeare, Luke Crowley, Lourdes Crowley and Patrick White (Chile) and the Seasteading Institute.)

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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. Susan’s latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides caused by climate change, the trillions of pieces of plastic in our oceans and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. Susan is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The Toxic Sublime: Interview with Giuseppe Licari

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

With his charming Italian accent, generous smile, and genuine curiosity for archaeology and landscape, it’s not hard to see how artist Giuseppe Licari got access to one of the biggest steel factories in the world – a site that only a few people have seen or even know exists. Located in Belval, a small town in the south of Luxembourg, the factory doesn’t just produce steel, it produces history in the form of soil: a man-made geology. Every day a layer of new soil is formed, covering the landscape in a white glass-like powder. This “new soil” is a mixture of metal oxides and silicon dioxide called “slag” – a by-product of the steel industry. Though it creates a seemingly magical snowy landscape, the absence of life is alarming. Soil analyses indicate that the grounds of this tucked-away Winter Wonderland are rich in arsenic, zinc, cadmium, chromium and lead, leaking across the borders of Luxembourg.

In 2015 Giuseppe Licari and eight other established artists were selected as part of a residency program to engage with the de-industrialization of Belval. The main features of the new plan for the site include a brand-new university surrounded by a public park, built on top of dumped slag. Branded as a “European Silicon Valley,” the reimagined site is meant to wash away any further remaining toxic heritage, transforming an industrial economy into an educational one. Giuseppe was particularly interested in the post-industrial anthropological nature of the site and he spent six months as Artist-in-Residence in Belval.

YO: What was your first impression of the site upon your arrival?

GL: There was something particularly uncanny about the site. Even though it looked like an inconspicuous construction site, there was this particular smell. The slag heaps were not visible – the only thing I could perceive was the smell. After 6 months, I even started to recognize and differentiate different smells. The slag was used to level the valley where the factory was built and it was dumped in different sites in the Lorraine area. In the last century, steel was produced out of a mixture of iron ore and coke (brown coal mixture), which released a huge amount of dioxide dust everywhere in the surrounding area. The water used to clean the chimneys of the blast furnaces was disposed in the slag heap, creating black lines in the artificial landscape. The landscape of Belval is literally a geology made out of waste. Later on, trees grew on top of the waste. The poisonous heritage became invisible in molds and a few birch trees, and that was labelled a “natural park,” – a naive attempt to transform the by-product of industrial activity into something natural.

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The Promised Land, 2016. Slag process of steelmaking, Arcelor-Mittal Harsco, Differdange Luxembourg.

YO: What about the social impact?

GL: The trauma of the landscape mirrors the trauma of the community. Since the closing of the factories in the early ‘90s, the mostly foreign workers have remained unemployed. They were “discarded” similarly to the slag. The two remaining factories in Differdange and Belval are now operated remotely and compared to the last century, many fewer people work there. Most of these workers commute from France and Germany because they get a higher salary than in their own country.

The steel industry has polluted the area along the border with France for a century. In Schifflange, a village close to Belval, regulations forbid people to plant a garden as it’s dangerous. People don’t drink tap water for fear it has been contaminated by the soil. The toxic waste can leak everywhere; groundwater contamination is a huge concern. And this doesn’t stop at the border. There has never been any studies of the health of Luxembourgish people, and I was often met with suspicion when I tried to bring this up in conversations.

YO: Were you able to maintain an artistic practice? Or did the dramatic state of the site impose a new role on you?

GL: I find my position as an artist very complicated. On Google maps, the site seemed really interesting but I didn’t quite realize the size and scale of the industry’s impact. I felt like an investigative journalist, seeing something terrible happen right under my eyes. But as an artist I often question my position. Should I be an activist? How do I communicate this dramatic reality beyond the local community? One day I saw two rabbits on the site and thought that maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought. But the next day when I got back, I found two dead rabbits. Their death was odd: there was a circle of dust around them, probably created by their spasms and compulsive movements as they died. I took a picture of this “Geography of a Death” but didn’t want to put it in my exhibition. It was a very blunt reference to the people who died working in the industry, but it would have destroyed the more abstract and poetic feeling of the site.

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Geography of a Death, 2016, from the archive of the Schalk project, Belval Luxembourg.

YO: What did you learn from the soil samples you collected?

I started collecting soil samples of the area as part of my ongoing project Terra Moderna. I started with sites I could easily access – agricultural fields and slag heaps that were open to the public. When I finally got access to the Arcelor-Mittal site, I also got permission to collect recent slag produced from recycled steel. They called it electro-slag. The scariest thing I learned from the chemical analysis of these samples was that the agricultural land was very rich in arsenic and cadmium, two very poisonous substances that are absorbed by plants and eventually reach the human body. After this discovery, I became concerned about eating local food.

YO: Why do you think no one else picks up on this?

GL: The financial independence of Luxembourg has been made possible because of this industry. A professor from Leuven University, who saw the chemical analysis, wanted to start a research project on the contamination of the soil at the site, but he was stopped at multiple levels. Local media have been censoring themselves for a long time. The money that comes in because of the industry seems to have bought the silence. Cleaning the many contaminated sites has been left to the next generation, an attitude common to most industrialized countries. People don’t really know or don’t want to know about the toxicity of their environment. They would rather focus on the jobs the industry brings. They take pride in “how they built their own country” and are financially independent, and fail to realize what lies under their feet. The contemporary archaeology is kept hidden.

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The Promised Land, 2016. Slag process of steelmaking, Arcelor-Mittal Harsco, Differdange Luxembourg.

YO: You use a digital camera and shoot from a very low angle, which makes the landscape look immense. The photos have been exhibited as a lightbox and in the Schlak book. What was your intention?

GL: I hope to bring awareness to people though I’m not sure how long this awareness will last. It’s so important that the next generation know about this legacy. I wanted to stimulate dialogue, but I didn’t want to limit the conversation to Luxembourg because it really is an international issue. I try not to point fingers but to elevate the landscape to the sublime. I’m amazed by the beauty of this toxic landscape; I am surprised and shocked that something man-made can look so extra-terrestrial. It’s like visiting another planet. Pictures can be beautiful and sinister at the same time. The prominent Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman wrote in his book Wasted Lives: “Once there was a place where you could dump the garbage out of view, but today there’s no such place; everything has been touched by human activity, everything has been colonized and there’s no place we can hide it so we have to deal with it”. This is the reality that I want to bring to the public.

(Top image: From the photographic series The Promised Land, 2016. Slag process of steelmaking, Arcelor-Mittal Harsco, Differdange Luxembourg.)

This article was jointly commissioned by Artists & Climate Change and O, Wonder!

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

 

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

Wind Turbines as Artistic Canvas

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

This month, our Renewable Energy Artworks series continues with a focus on a German wind turbine manufacturer that supports local artists to use its turbines as an artistic canvas. 

When I first sat down to write this post, I intended to describe the background story of how three musicians ended up on top of a wind turbine in eastern Québec, through a collaboration between the international world music festival, Festival musique du bout du monde, and the wind energy think-tank TechnoCentre éolien.

Watch this sublime sunrise concert 80 meters above the ground – the first in the world – in the autumn-tinged mountains of Québec’s magnificent Gaspé peninsula that juts out into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence:

The three musicians from the coastal city of Gaspé are, left to right, Yvette Thériault (accordion), Balby Gadho (djembé) and Justin Garneau (oud). Secured to the top of a Senvion nacelle via (hidden) security harnesses, the trio performs an original composition by Mr. Garneau entitled Le 15ième lever du soleil (The 15th sunrise), inspired by Indian and North African music.

As I researched this post however, I discovered that these artists were not the first to use a wind turbine as an artistic canvas. Artists in Portugal and Australia have also collaborated with their local wind industry to create original works of art that, ultimately, will shift the public’s perception of the beauty and promise of wind energy in a rapidly changing world.

The common link between these three groups of international artists – in Québec, in Portugal and in Australia – is the German turbine manufacturer, Senvion.

Senvion has distinguished itself from other turbine manufacturers through its avant-garde and proactive community engagement strategy that has resulted in, among other things, bold and vibrant artworks that serve as icons of a new era.

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Joana Vasconcelos’ mural on a Senvion wind turbine in Portugal

For example, in 2016 Senvion commissioned two of Portugal’s most internationally renowned artists, Joana Vasconcelos and Vhils, to paint two 100-meter Senvion wind turbines for the 171.2 MW Âncora Wind farm in northern Portugal.

In my humble opinion, these are the most beautiful wind turbines in the world.

The video below describes Senvion’s WindArt project in Portugal:

In Australia, two 69-meter Senvion wind turbines were painted between 2013 and 2014 at Australia’s first community-owned wind farm – Hepburn Wind – by Melbourne artists Ghostpatrol (David Booth) and Bonsai. Watch the video below documenting the completion of the second turbine, which coincided with a “Sleep under the stars” family camping event at the wind farm:

I look forward to the day when more and more artists will be commissioned by the renewable energy sector – solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass, biogas – to add their voices and vision of what our post-carbon world will look like.

Disclaimer: Over the past five years, I have worked as a contract photographer for Senvion on several of its Canadian wind projects, including four community wind projects: Viger-Denonville and Mesgi’g Ugju’s’n in Québec, and Gunn’s Hill and Oxley in Ontario. Even though these projects do not include any turbines painted by local artists, they are all majestically beautiful to me. They give me hope for the future. For my daughter’s future.

Joan, Sullivan, Joan Sullivan, renewable, energy, photographer, Canada, Quebec, winter, landscape, snow, wind

Winter landscape at the Mesgi’g Ugju’s’n wind farm in Escuminac, Québec, with Senvion 3XM turbines. ©2016 Joan Sullivan. All rights reserved.

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Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on solutions to climate change. She is convinced that the inevitable transition to a 100% clean energy economy will happen faster – and within our lifetimes – by creating positive images and stories that help us visualize and embrace what a post-carbon future will look like.  Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram


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

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

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Anniversaries and Creative Resistances

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rally in preparation for the Sandy5 March.

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

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Marching across the Brooklyn Bridge.

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

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Marching across the Brooklyn Bridge.

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

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

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

Share in Climate Optimism.

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


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Keyboard Conversations Across the World

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog