Last weekend was a pop-up over two days in a domestic situation, as part of Telegraph Hill Open Studios. It was a chance to consider how a Climate Museum could work in a context to think about climate action in our ordinary lives. It was also an opportunity to showcase some of the prototype tools. It wasn’t possible to create a hugely structured experience because visitors wanted to see all the other work in the many open studios. Also in the house were sustainable fashion designs by Meg McKenzie, and prints and sculptures by Brian McKenzie.
It was very busy, so it meant I could speak to a large number of people, if very briefly, about the Museum project and about their thoughts on climate change. Some of the time, I was wearing this ‘Climono’, a kimono with the warming stripes, made by Meg.
A range of games, infographics and ‘still life’ arrangements were set up in the kitchen, and the Climate Library was set up in the garden.
There was a large map of the world asking ‘Where in the World is Climate Change?’ with stickers to add stories about particular places.
There were a couple of new tools including Story Cubes and a tool for dialogue to find common ground.
There was a suggestion box for green ideas (responses included: More vegan patisseries, legislate against plastic packaging, make urban art out of recycled waste, and Sustainable energy generation built into all new-build homes).
Apart from the Library, two activities were particularly popular. One was the Climate Confession Box. Visitors write their climate confession on a card, feed it into the box and turn a handle. As a kind of gift to remind them that they’re not alone, a confession card from an earlier visitor pops out.
Some of the confessions were driving to the shops, a diesel car, or flying, and two showers a day, or long hot baths. The great majority were about using too much plastic packaging or single use throwaway items, and not doing recycling properly. For the past year, this has been my experience that whenever I mention global warming or climate activism, many people very quickly start talking about plastic straws, cups and bags.
The other popular activity was the Moodcatcher, a Rothko-like scroll with moody colours and words. Visitors are given three stickers to place anywhere across the choice of emotions, in response to the question: ‘What are your feelings when you think about damage and change to the planet?’
The total scores were: Cool (can block it out) 0; Concerned 16, Hopeful 19, Frustrated 39, Angry 27, Depressed 25. So, frustration is common, and nobody that participated is cool with climate change!
In the context of a pleasant Sunday wandering streets looking at art, with family members, it was difficult for many to settle and engage with this difficult subject, but this activity enabled an easy expression of emotion. Amongst those who did talk about it, a very common phrase was ‘”You can feel it”, “We can feel it’s here now”, “It’s in the air”. This felt very true. You can feel it in the warmth of the early spring, and just a certain strangeness. For a long time, I’ve felt a difficulty in appreciating the beauties of nature because I’m already anticipating their demise in what Catherine Ingram in her essay Facing Extinction has called ‘anticipatory grief’. She writes that “the magnitude of the loss we are undergoing is unacceptable to the innermost psyche…It might be akin to a parent losing a young child… Only this time, it is all the little children. All the animals. All the plants. All the ice.”
This pop-up gave me an even greater sense of the need for Climate Museum UK, to at least enable conversations between people at all different stages of thinking and feeling about the emergency, but also a greater sense of responsibility about what this work will entail.