Question Time

A project by David Berridge, Rachel Lois Clapham, Alex Eisenberg and Mary Paterson as Open Dialogues.

Published in the Winter edition of the CSPA Quarterly, which was focused on the 2009 United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen.  To view or order back issues, visit  To subscribe to the CSPA QUARTERLY, join us!


A set of cards is laid out in front of you. A word is written on each card. You are asked to pick a card. You might pick ‘Home’, ‘Personal Knowledge’ or ‘Wild Card’. You are asked some questions. The interviews are recorded, they are 2-5 minutes long and later appear, as anonymous recordings, online. Go to the website and a random interview is played. Listen to two or more and it becomes a series of moments and voices, young and old, in different ways public and private, and all a snapshot of how people were thinking – or, at least, talking to four English strangers wielding cards and dictaphones – during the two weeks of the COP15 climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

This was the premise of Question Time, a collaboration between four UK based artists which took place under the auspices of New Life Copenhagen, a social sculpture project that saw 3000 visitors to COP15 hosted by 3000 Copenhagen households, at a time when every hotel in the city was fully booked. Whilst Question Time didn’t choreograph social dynamics in such an explicit way we sought, through our series of questions, to mould an encounter that might reveal something about attitudes, beliefs, and opinions, over two weeks that – the advertising hoardings and inflatable globes all around the city told us – was “a last chance to save the world.”

Listen to all the Question Time interviews on the website archive and there are considerable differences of style and mood. This not only reflects the different places we went to find interviewees – from the alternative ‘Klimaforum: the people’s summit’, to the official UN negotiations at the Bella Centre, to NGO receptions, protest marches, the Christiana commune and various bars and cafes throughout Copenhagen – but also how our own questions changed. To start, we asked people’s views on climate change, on why they were in Copenhagen, on how they thought change might happen. But people’s responses to these questions were often well rehearsed, ready-made or of a rhetorical nature. This left us unsatisfied, and so at the Question Time daily summit meetings we re-wrote the questions. The sheer pervasiveness of the conference and climate related issues during COP15 meant an oblique approach to our subject might be profitable instead: How do you feel about the ground? How are you in the future? How do you think? 

Our role in Question Time was under the same scrutiny as our encounter with the people of Copenhagen and their  responses to our questions. As such we decided early on to not edit the resulting interviews or the website archive. This is not to deny our position (as artists, activists, interviewers, climate documenters) within this deeply participatory artwork – simply that our agency was more located in the before; orchestrating the encounters, setting the questions, laying out the cards, pressing RECORD and asking, in our own particular ways: ‘Would you like to pick a card?’. The rest was left to the live.

Reading these excerpts on the page is very different to hearing the sound files, which differ again from the actual experience of each encounter. The interviews can be read as sources of ideas, opinions, activist tactics, anecdotes, obsessions and platitudes, by a range of world citizens, speaking variously as activists, delegates, shoppers, politicians, shamans, drinkers, and/or mothers. Or, ignore the content, and what emerges as important is the tone of a voice, rhythms of speech and breath, the hesitations and silences, the background muzak. 

Listening to the interviews now COP15 is over, may contain wonderful and insightful moments. Others, at times, bore us with their cliches and lack of imagination. Our own interactions and questions seem a similar mixture of surprising and strange, provocative and awkward, the insightful and the productively inept. Question Time proposes that all these ways of speaking and listening tell us something, not only about COP15 but also about how climate change is figuring right now in our experience, imagination and language. 

What follows are partial responses to ‘Wild Card’, ‘Future’ and ‘Ending’, selected by the Question Time archive’s inbuilt randomizer.

Is everything ok?

Yes, yes everything is fine.

No not at all. But it changes. Yesterday is was 65, which is OK. Today it’s a little bit more. I’m very influenced by the immediate climate.    Yesterday it was very frenzied, today it is evil.

On a very, very, very spiritual level yes, but if you are grounded and you look around then there is a lot of sadness. I would like to help other people be less sad.

Do you mean in the world outside, or in my world?

It’s not OK as we forgot who we are and why we are on mother earth. There is a chance now to recognize who we are. When you know who you are and accept your divinity you see it in others equally, and when we meet at this level God is not somewhere outside, we are all God. We could save so much money, use new technology, and build a beautiful place if people recognized that we are the chosen ones and took the responsibility to live together in peace.

Not quite, but eventually I hope it will be.

Yeah, everything is alright, even better than before, but I think that’s due to some steps that I have taken. 

No, especially not when you talk about the earth, or… ‘Yorskal’.

For me, everything is OK. I’m Buddhist.

It’s very good yes. I’m happy flying around.


How do you feel about the ground?

The ground…? I would like to be more grounded

The ground. The mother earth? It’s beautiful to be on this ground. Without being in a body, here on this ground, the mother earth we could not experience this beautiful journey that we are all on. It’s necessary to have a body, to be on mother earth, with mind, spirit and heart energy we can do better.

Good. It’s good to feel that something is solid.

About the ground? Like in what sense- the world, or being grounded? That’s a really hard question.

The ground. Any ground?  …In one way I feel very supported by the ground and I want to be here. At the same time I feel a large concern for the earth, I understand the ground as the earth I want to reach out and help humans that share the earth

The ground? How do I feel about the ground? I guess I’m down to earth. I haven’t thought about it that much. I’m an air person myself.

I really don’t know. Not yet. You mean earth or ground? It’s a big question.

I feel more comfortable with soil and farming land.

Shaky. The ground is not open, it’s closed. We could have used the ground more artistically for the climate conference.

The ground? I don’t have any relation to the ground, I guess I am floating a lot.

I don’t know how to respond to your question.

How does this end?

It ends by you turning off the recorder

There are no enemies, enemies are something that you create when there is a conflict of interest and two interests are not being met in the same way. You create through the label of enemies someone you pit against yourselves because you need to defend your interests, so in essence they become enemies but I don’t think there is such a thing.

By death

What disaster or emergency level are we currently at?

What disaster or what…?

It’s one second to twelve. But I would like to think about that one second in a positive way – that we are actually turning around in that one second. We are becoming aware, stopping financing war, stop eating meat, stop cutting down forests.

What sorry?

We are on an 8, not just for the climate but also for people, how we have been overspending, we need to pull the handbrake and reconsider ways of doing things.

We are the top level, like the end of the world, something like that.

Maybe 7

Too high. You can barely walk the street without the police looking at you. It’s overreaction.

Do you have a question you would like to ask?


What are you doing?

Yes, I have a lot of questions, of course.

Me? No. I don’t know. Sorry.

I question how long the earth will continue to be here

To you? I would ask, what is the most important question to ask.

What is good design? It’s not really related to climate change but it is something I have been thinking about a lot.

How do you choose these words?

What is your passion?

How do you hope?

How do you hope? – Is that the question? I guess I…um…how…how I hope…I guess if we are talking about the  phenonology or my methodology of hoping…I guess I go for something that seems plausible but also reasonable and then I hope for that…but the framework of what is plausible and reasonable for me is quite wide…for example with COP15 I think I am far more optimistic than the world leaders.

 That’s a difficult question…we don’t know what it’s going to be like but that it has to change is clear…

By not hoping. I don’t hope for anything…just go along…but don’t get your expectation too high. Actually that’s a lie… you’ve got to have high expectations…I think there is a difference between expectation and hope…

I hope…err….I have hope for the future…I think it’s going to be really good.

I hope with my positive thoughts…I believe in people…I believe in good things…that’s it for me.

Question Time is a project by David Berridge, Rachel Lois Clapham, Alex Eisenberg and Mary Paterson as Open Dialogues. It was programmed as part of New Life Copenhagen in December 2009. Open Dialogues is a UK based collaboration that produces critical writing on and as performance.