Speaking on behalf of all the amazing artists Iâ€™ve interviewed over the past four years for this monthly Renewable Energy series, I think that one of the greatest compliments any of us could ever hope to receive would be to be described as a â€œsuperheroâ€ by Olafur Eliasson.
Thatâ€™s exactly the word that popped into Eliassonâ€™s mind when he first saw Brooklyn-based artistÂ Jessica Segallâ€˜s brilliantly understated, less-is-more performance inÂ Say When, her visually stunning short film about solar energy.Â
Say When is currently showing at the #COP26 in Glasglow, along with four other short films from the Fast Forward film series produced by Little Sun, the social enterprise co-founded by Eliasson in 2012 with solar engineer Frederik Ottesen.
â€œLittle Sunâ€™s Fast Forward film series offers a vital new space for artists to reimagine the future,â€ according to a quote by Eliasson on Little Sunâ€™s website.
Segallâ€™s Say When is one of those films whose deeply saturated, starkly composed images stay with you long after seeing it for the first time. For me, itâ€™s the bold image of a sequined goddess standing alone on a massive sand-dune, a conduit for the Sunâ€™s rays that she receives and then redirects to the viewer with her magic mirror.
In Segallâ€™s film, there is no need for words. No need for numbers, statistics, or degrees centigrade. Just a simple technology â€“ a piece of coated glass â€“ that allows us to look in the mirror, reminding us of what we already knew but that we seem to have forgotten: â€œHuman culture is and has always been inexorably connected to the ultimate source of light and warmth, the Sun,â€ wrote Maria Popova in 2016.
I asked Segall in an email exchange to explain the importance of embodiment in her work. Here is her unedited response:
In my performances, I play with both the risk of engaging with the environment and the vulnerability of the environment itself. Ecofeminism identifies the abuse of women and nature as from the same source. Any person with a vulnerable body â€“ people of color, gender non-conforming people, know what itâ€™s like to feel in danger embodied on a daily basis. Non-human beings know it as well. Climate change is an embodied danger that to some is still imperceptible â€“ in the legacy of endurance performance, I embrace that vulnerability.
In a previous post, I wondered out loud if embodiment was â€œthe secret sauce thatâ€™s been missing in the artistic communityâ€™s response to the climate crisis to date?â€
Eliasson mentions it here. Chantal Bilodeau, Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle and founder of this Artists and Climate Change blog, mentioned embodiment six years ago in her essay about theatre in the age of climate change:
But if we want to be active participants in shaping our future, we need to move beyond writing playsÂ aboutÂ climate change to writing plays thatÂ areÂ climate change â€“ plays that embody, in form, content, and process, the essence of the issues we are facing. Plays where the concept of climate change is so integral to the work that the term doesnâ€™t even need to be uttered. New problems cannot be solved with old solutions. A new consciousness requires new artistic constructs.
Iâ€™ve been thinking a lot about embodiment lately, especially after re-reading Robin Wall Kimmererâ€™sÂ Braiding SweetgrassÂ about Indigenous wisdom and the teachings of plants. But I was totally unprepared for the visceral, embodied performance by the British contemporary dance artist and choreographer Charlotte Jarvis. Filmed in an empty Globe Theatre, Jarvis embodies the pain and violence that we humans have inflicted upon our non-human relatives with whom we share this planet, as her partner Ben Okri reads aloud hisÂ Letter to the Earth. The video ends with a cameo appearance by their daughter, Mirabella Okri, reading her ownÂ Letter to the Earth. Brilliant. Masterful. Spellbinding.
Apologies to Jessica Segall! When I sat down tonight to write this post, my intention was to focus on Segallâ€™s inspiration to create a silent film about solar energy. But my pen seems to have had other ideas. I have learned to embrace this tension, allowing my pen to open new doors for me, finding connections that I hadnâ€™t previously considered.
In this vein, the similarities between Segallâ€™s and Jarvisâ€™ performances become clear. While visually distinct â€“ slow/contemplative versus jarring/gut-wrenching â€“ these two performances share the common language of embodiment. Both artists have become vessels through which they receive and transmit ancient wisdom. Both artists shine a much-needed light in the darkness of this chaotic era.Â
This article is part of theÂ Renewable EnergyÂ series.
Joan SullivanÂ is a Canadian photographer focused on the energy transition. She is a member ofÂ Women Photograph.Â In her monthly column for Artists and Climate Change, Joan explores the intersection of art and the energy transition.Â She is currently experimenting with abstract photography as a new language to express her grief about climate breakdown. You can find Joan onÂ TwitterÂ andÂ Visura.
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.
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