Fearless gripping climate art

I’m struggling to write a response to the IPCC climate report published this week, as it’s somewhat overwhelming. I’m pleased to see that it is triggering lots of conversation about climate breakdown. It’s been chosen as the topic of BBC’s Moral Maze this week and commentators that normally steer clear have been touching on it. But, I’m taking time to read the report itself, and to read all the articles about it, and to take an overview of how people are responding.

One particular response was a tweet by John McMahon:

Screenshot 2018-10-11 11.54.23

This is a great provocation, to which I replied: It’s not so much that we need more art/culture like this, but that more people need to feel free to express fears & horrors, without being jumped on for being a ‘doom-monger’. And we need cultural support and infrastructure for communities to work through those fears to be able to adapt, and to find and demand solutions.

Anohni is a brilliant example of a musician prepared to express the darker side of facing climate breakdown. It’s interesting that John picked out the quote “I wanna hear/see…” these horrible scenarios of climate breakdown, from the chilling song ‘4 Degrees’. I take this perspective to be a disassociated character, a cipher for destruction. In yesterday’s Moral Maze programme, Charlotte du Cann was brought on as a witness, as a person who (like me) is actively involved in the Dark Mountain project. Giles Fraser challenged her particularly on one phrase in the manifesto, “We do not believe that everything will be fine. We are not even sure, based on current definitions of progress and improvement, that we want it to be.”  He felt that this was immoral, taking it as a kind of nihilistic wish to bring on the worst. What is at issue, however, is the myth of progress that assumes the possibility and desirability of technological utopia. The truth is that everything will not be fine, and ‘wanting everything to be fine’ will not make it so in this global context, so it is not a helpful starting point or framing for one’s desires.

The kind of work that really shifts the frame to see darker realities and future possibilities, which allows expression of trauma about climate, is fairly rare. Climate art is very varied but amongst its range, there are two strong types especially in the art that reaches mainstream attention:

  • Not really about climate: picking a related issue, or using another disaster as a metaphor for climate – not wanting to be too simplistic.
  • Too obviously about climate: following familiar safe tropes, not wanting to be too arcane, wanting to connect with what people understand.

I suspect there is a body of theatre work on climate change that is more cathartic, fearless and gripping. However, I tend not to go to theatre, (as I spend too much time involved in music, visual art and museums) so it’s hard to tell the impact of theatre if you don’t go.

I decided to start a collection of Climate Art, for Climate Museum UK’s digital museum, to include performance/theatre amongst other categories. Please tell me about fearless and gripping climate art to put in this collection! Here it is: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/bridgetmck/climate-art/


Published by: bridgetmck

Regenerative culture leader. Founder: Climate Museum UK, Flow Associates, and co-founder Culture Declares. In a past life, I've been head of learning at the British Library, Education Officer at Tate and similar roles. https://linktr.ee/BridgetMcKenzie

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