Tate Modern + Climate

Martin Creed’s ‘Everything is going to be alright’ seen with visitors & Shard

A planned strand of Climate Museum UK is to run tours of museums or open heritage sites, adding (more, or more pertinent) climate and biosphere content to their stories. These tours might be in collaboration with the museum, or more independent and paid for by those on the tour.

I tried out a possible format and approach yesterday, at Tate Modern, coinciding with the Rise for Climate rally outside it. I set up an Eventbrite page with free tickets, limiting it to a small number of 20 people, and it sold out.

The rally was intended as a creative activism event. An art toolkit offered many tips and templates for the 100s of worldwide rallies, around the symbolism of the sun for renewable energy, and an orange cross for an end to fossil fuels.


I identified myself as guide by wearing Olafur Eliasson’s Little Sun solar light, an artwork/social enterprise supported by Tate Modern as a legacy of The Weather Project, which had filled the Turbine Hall with a strange mirrored sun, and turned it into a kind of beach.

The tour was a 90 minute session, exploring the building and its history, the cityscape, the institution and its interpretation, and a series of artworks as stimuli for conversation. It included two symbolic risings, or mindful climbs up the Blavatnik building and the Boiler House, before joining a third rising – the rally outside.

We began in the Turbine Hall, with an overview about Bankside Power Station and its conversion into Tate Modern:

Tate Modern is iconic for its re-generation of a building from a redundant industrial technology to promote the new future-facing economy of creativity and art. However, the oil industry is still in receipt of massive public subsidy and continues to provide the bulk of our energy, despite this industry being fully aware of the facts of climate catastrophe and its contribution to it. Public spending on Culture (and recreation/sport/media) in the UK is the second lowest in the EU, despite being the 5th (now 6th) largest economy in the world.

Public money – donations in the Turbine Hall

Bankside was generating power from 1891 to 1981. At first, it lit street lamps, and then supplied printing presses in Fleet Street. It’s located on the river to use its water for cooling. (We talked about the location of all four Tates right by tidal waters, that the impacts and imminence of rising sea levels were known while all buildings have been expensively revamped. Yet, very few could foresee quite how quickly the permanent Arctic ice is melting. How are museums like Tate making contingency plans for these impacts?)

The power company had often been fined for creating a smoke nuisance, so later they also used Thames water to filter out the pollution. They used 10 million gallons of water an hour (!) and ended up polluting the river. By the 1930s it was considered inefficient and polluting, and in 1948, after a coal shortage and the nationalisation of the electricity industry, the power station was converted to use oil, the first in Britain. It was redeveloped, and the new building was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, known for designing the red telephone box and Battersea Power Station. Oil was shipped by barge from the Shell Haven refinery. The oil tanks held 4000 tons of oil, now ‘The Tanks’, holding art installations.

Tate display: Poster of Beuys event in Scotland.

In 1973, Britain experienced the oil crisis when Arab countries imposed an oil embargo. This triggered a stock market crash, rising inflation and food prices, and unemployment. It also triggered an interest in sustainability and growing your own food, and the Ecology Party (now Green) was born. The Government meanwhile poured money into North Sea oil rather than the new renewables available. Due to oil prices and its location, Bankside became too expensive, so it was disused. In 1994 Tate announced plans to turn it into an art gallery. In 2006, EDF passed the switch house over to Tate and the new Blavatnik building opened in 2016, the same year they announced the ending of the sponsorship arrangement with oil company BP.

Time and clocks was an undercurrent theme for the tour: How much time do we have? What do we do first? What really matters?

As more was understood about the devastating impacts of climate change, its direct link to fossil fuels, and the  impacts at extraction sites, there was growing protest about oil companies, who in turn used sponsorships as a way to seek Social License to Operate. BP sponsored Tate for 26 years, increasingly challenged by the Art not Oil coalition and particularly by the actions of one of its members, Liberate Tate.

It is very interesting then to consider that the new Switch House building is named for its main donor, Blavatnik, the richest man in Britain. His fortune is built on the oil industry, in part through a joint-venture between BP and a Russian oil company. He gave an extraordinary £50 million towards the largest ever cultural fundraising project in the country, at £266 million.

We passed this list of donors and these weather items in the shop, and entered the Blavatnik building.

The Clock is an artwork by Christian Marclay about time, coming soon
Another theme was stairs upwards; aspiration & rising. These go nowhere but show traces of the original working use of the tanks.

We visited Robert Therrien’s giant Untitled (Table and Four Chairs), in one of the oil tanks.

therrien hyperobject

We stood underneath this and shared how we felt: Small, powerless, like Alice in Wonderland, like a Borrower, subversive, not able to have a seat at the table. We discussed climate change as a hyperobject, unthinkably large and complex, and many ideas about scale and power.

We ascended some stairs

To Helio Oiticica’s ‘Tropicalia, Penetrables‘ installation from 1966-67 which is a very early example of participatory installation art by this major Brazilian artist (who died in 1980). Fittingly, his name Helio means sun. This piece enables the visitor to ‘penetrate’ it, to experience real lived objects, albeit out of a lived context in a gallery.

Walking on the sand

There is sand to walk on, colourful shack buildings, living plants, and a video of two parrots (which were alive in his original version). We talked about photosynthesis, the inclusion of plants in a museum that alter the controlled atmosphere, the poetry of the everyday, the deforestation of the Amazon and the museum-isation of the world.

Spectrum of Brick Lane

With David Batchelor’s stacked light piece, we discussed how he sees the world differently from Helio Oiticica, living in a different urban context. He responds to our environment being largely constructed from metal, plastic and artificial bright light. We talked about colour, and how our experience of colour has changed with technology, and the energetic requirements of a lit up world.

Jenny Holzer Artist Rooms

From here, we entered the Artist Rooms display, to consider how Holzer perceives the contemporary environment as constructed from words or information, which frazzles and disconnects our emotional response to it, and also conditions our thoughts. We sat on one of the marble benches, onto which were etched the words ‘My fear grows more powerful with every second. I am powerful like a second of fear. I am the universe’. This was stimulus for a wonderful discussion about the dissonant and shifting perceptions of time, scale and one’s power, when living daily with a climate-changed world. This led to talk about the role of fear in communicating climate change, and how this translates to education and talking with children. We also touched on Holzer’s work about war, e.g. some words ‘The beginning of the war will be secret’, and whether we are already in a hybrid war waged through information manipulation.

Monika Sosnowska, Pavilion

This piece led to discussion about architecture, Communism, people-power, and collapse. It refers to the artist’s experience in Communist Poland, where architects such as Oskar Hansen expounded about Open Form Theory, a position that defines your relationship to reality, and the idea that people would humanise and evolve a simplistic or brutal environment. Although this ideal still informs participatory art and architecture, the artist felt it didn’t work in her reality, and represents the collapse that she experienced in modernist urban environments. We talked about climate-linked collapse, top-down utopianism, Buckminster Fuller and biomimicry.

Tate Exchange current project

We then began our ‘mindful climb’ – being aware of our bodies as energy convertors – up to the viewing floor. (Most chose to take the lift, but some of us passed Tate Exchange, and remarked that this current project about production indicates how the environment is so often erased – as all the banners are about humans and society).

st pauls
St Pauls cathedral from the viewing platform

At this level, we considered the building as an artwork, the symbolism and function of the single tower opposite the dome of St Pauls. We talked about Canary Wharf, the rash of towers enabled by foreign investment, the role of oil and other natural commodities in fuelling the financial industry. We also talked about St Pauls as a symbol of resilience against fire and the Blitz, and its links with justice campaigners.

After making a symbolic descent in lifts to ‘zero’, thinking of zero carbon…

…we then used escalators to rise up a second time, but only as far as the Artist and Society display, as we were running short on…time. We had been intending to pop into the Weimar Germany display to look at a painting of Krupp’s arms factories, for a reminder about links between oil, arms and viscissitudes of the economy.

Toguo, Purification

We had to stop at this marvellous work by Bartelemy Toguo, an artist from Cameroon. It depicts African people tortured, poisoned and in all manner of ways afflicted by abuses of human rights. The writing on the piece is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Toguo wishes to see a regeneration of culture, a more ecological and just revival. Although the label didn’t reference this, the flowing interaction between blood and green/grey colours relates to his interests in the interconnectedness between life forms, both human and more-than-human. This relates to his concern about deforestation and extraction of raw materials in Africa. We talked about the impacts of climate change on people in the global South, and its links to ecocidal extraction and colonialism.

Writing to Tate, next to Beuys’ blackboards

Our final stop was with Joseph Beuys, looking at his blackboards from his Information Action performed in the Tate in 1972. He had become more involved in Green politics, and art as eco-social sculpture, and he founded a group dedicated to direct democracy through referenda. We touched on how the referendum to leave the EU had perhaps not justified Beuys’ utopian thinking on this, partly due to the interferences of interests of those who want to do away with environmental and human rights and protections. The writing on these blackboards seems incomprehensible so we talked about how we communicate complex ideas such as climate change.

During this action, the audience voted on whether it was anti-democratic for him to keep the microphone. We finished by talking about power, voice and institutions. Had I talked too much? I handed out cards provided by Tate inviting our feedback, and suggested they could write anything, perhaps about how Tate might better reflect that we live in a biosphere, at a time of climate breakdown, and the problematic history of the building.

We then went off to have lunch and to join the rally…to try to speak the truths of climate breakdown and the necessary action we must take to those in power.

Here are some more photos from the day.




Collecting climate music

One of the collections of Climate Museum UK is songs and compositions about climate change (and the wider planetary crisis).

It feels important to capture the musical response to the unfolding planetary emergency. The artists gathered in this list might be commissioned for new works. Researchers might use this collection to inform research on music & arts about the environment. These songs can provide solace or inspiration, or be sung in protests or performances.

In creative guide for the #RiseforClimate day of action (8th Sept ’18) Lu Aya of the Peace Poets has shared some ways that music can be used in movements for climate action and justice: Gathering, Grounding, Focus, Energising, De-escalation, Grieving, Bonding, Moving, Transitioning: Escalating, Accompanying, Channeling, Messaging, Transforming, Beauty, Rage, Love, Connectedness, Purpose, Closing.

In total, there are around 630 songs, and growing.

Most of the songs are on the following Spotify links:

The main playlist: Climate Change

Another playlist is Extinction and endangered species – which is also useful for Remembrance Day for Lost Species

Here are some general songs about the environment, ecology and planet Earth

Some songs inspired by the Dark Mountain Project, facing darker futures or collapse.

And in addition, songs about rain, about sun, about forests and trees, and about animals

Other things shared with me, not on Spotify, include:

The above playlist is of music produced by the duo ‘Decades After Paris’ in chronological order of the place each song has in the story. The 2015 album tells a story of our future with climate change, starting at the NYC People’s Climate March in 2014. Subsequent releases contribute to this story, at different parts of the timeline. The latest piece, Apocalypse Sky was a response to forest fires in 2017.

Composer Jonathan Dove, who went on Cape Farewell’s expedition to West-Greenland in 2008, launched a work named Gaia Theory for a symphony orchestra which was premiered during the BBC Proms 2014. Inspired by the work of James Lovelock and continuing Dove’s concern to address environmental issues in his music, Gaia Theory takes as its starting point Lovelock’s idea that the Earth behaves as a self-regulating organism, and his description of all the inter-related processes maintaining the earth in the optimum conditions for life as a kind of dance.

Aslak Grinsted is a climate scientist who makes music when he’s on location in Greenland doing his research.

You can see the Twitter thread where people shared many suggestions here.

Comment on this post or email on climatemuseumuk@gmail.com if you’d like to add a track to the collection.


Notes on the 1st prototyping workshop

Screenshot 2018-07-29 14.34.37

It’s been over a week since the first prototyping workshop at Toynbee Studios on 20th July. I promised to write a blogpost but the session was so rich with ideas and questions, thanks to the expertise and creativity of the participants, I’ve spent the week cogitating (and working on other projects). Here are a few of the cogitations it stirred:

  • What comes first? Forming an organisation with clear objects, policies and sources of support, and a bigger group of people around me, or a working prototype for a mobile museum that tries out methods as a way of building that support and forming those policies?
  • How to ethically develop and sustain an organisation that focuses on climate justice, in a time when it is clear that the climate is breaking down earlier than expected? In some ways, it is the most direct response one could make to this emergency but it also gives pause, in terms of not wanting to exploit anybody’s experience for potential gains that are not evenly distributed.
  • How to involve more people directly affected by climate injustices and historical inequalities in the prototyping process? Or, whether taking the working prototype on the road, if partners and communications are well chosen, would achieve this?

The workshop was in four parts:

  • Getting to know each other, exploring personal and communal interests in the Climate Museum. Presenting the background and brief
  • Exploring and generating questions that might help people engage with climate change, using clay (made from paper) to make an object to help ‘hold the question’
  • Working in groups to make structures or visual ideas for an installation
  • Reviewing and discussing issues and next steps.


These are the questions that were shared:

  • How do we talk about the future shape of the UK after rising seas
  • Is it inevitable that many species will go extinct, and does it matter? 
  • How could we imagine a future which isn’t stranded by what we want to revive from our past?
  • What does progress look like if you factor in climate change?
  • What is normal?
  • How do we make sure questions and answers aren’t dominated by white privilege?
  • Who is ‘we’?
  • How do we ensure those imagining climate futures intersect with those more directly experiencing climate change in the present?
  • What is the food of the future?
  • What if we see the atmosphere as a peeled off orange skin, partly protecting but partly fractured?
  • How do I know what is the right thing to do? How can I live my best life? 
  • How do you find space in every day life to address climate change?
  • Do we have to go back in time? How do we talk about it without people feeling that things are taken away from them that they enjoy?
  • How do we find the solution inside the problem?
  • How do we measure our footprint fully and easily?
  • How do I live a good life in an ecocidal culture?


The installation ideas

Group one (prompt – ‘past, present and future’)

  • A structure for allowing visitors to frame and reframe the past, present and future
  • An extendable table to allow more content to be revealed from either the past or the into the future
  • Familiar objects: tables, cushions, knitting 
  • Lucy shared a stimulus object she had made  – a 3D fox in a boat (see below)
  • Hilary shared some old board games
  • Who is left behind if we escape to other planets? (Other species and most people)
  • The future is here just not evenly distributed, both in terms of its horrors and its benefits
  • The future is open
  • Layers and different depths for different people 

Group two (prompt – ‘intersectionality’)

  • Structure that enables conversation between different voices, like a web of strings with tin cans, like ‘tin can telephones’
  • Involve more identities in the prototyping stage
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Leave space for it to evolve
  • Don’t ask questions if you aren’t going to answer. What happens to the responses?
  • Not trying to tell stories but to listen
  • Who is listening? The museum is not a person
  • Is the listener another audience member?
  • Questions could be collected from everywhere, so that visitors start to make a map

Group three (prompt – ‘the Kubler-Ross change curve’)

  • Structure: Make it easy for people to find and enter, and then through the experience to emerge with something (peace, clarity, agency)
  • Invite people inwards
  • A mirror reflecting ‘you’ to make it obvious who it is for
  • Playful e.g. tree climbing, sticks, rhythm
  • Intriguing objects, left behind items, curiosity
  • Tactile and thoughtful
  • Dissolving the normal rules of a museum
  • Include a structure with extending bits e.g. pulling signs out of a stand to learn more
  • Crazy mirrors
  • Natural world element materials like grass under your feet or a natural textured wall, materials gathered from each place e.g. Like the clay or soil 
  • Sounds and music
  • Remove your shoes
  • Give and take away. Can take something with you, exchange ideas, and leave objects
  • Connection to natural world

Group four (prompt – ‘an expanded perspective’)

  • Structure inchoate and webby because climate change is a hyper-object
  • Enabling you to make connections between you and the others
  • A safe space for tackling the messy and complex issue
  • Layers of information around a central object, so that visitors can add to it
  • Climate change as a hyper-object (e.g. like London is a hyper-object. You don’t need to know every road to know London)
  • It can be seen as an interconnected map of everyone who has interacted with it


Summing up

  • These four ideas could form a possible brief for the first iteration of a working prototype to try out with some groups this Autumn
  • Key principle: Involve and evolve
  • Consider who is listening to the questions? Mainly conversations between participants? Is the museum listening? How are people’s stories honoured and useful?
  • Frame and re-frame: Make clear there is no single truth, no authoritative story of past, present and future
  • Connections: To you, to place and to world
  • The need to give choices to different audiences: Layers, different ways in, depth, tempo

Next steps

  • Clarity on the structures: The business? The physical manifestation? A development plan?
  • Test, research, and ask people how they feel about climate change. Start small and simple e.g. with a chair
  • Climate cafe e.g. look at Death Cafe ask what brings you here, have climate conversations
  • Produce a small thing to start with and maybe add to it 
  • Think about climate as a hyper-object

Thank you very much to Judith Knight and Mark Godber for hosting us at Toynbee Studios. Thank you to everybody who attended and shared ideas, including those that couldn’t make it but who also shared thoughts. If you think anything is missing or inaccurate from this very rough summary, please let me know.


As the world burns you have a choice

“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.” Carl Sagan

Sagan was alive at a time when clean air and water were more overtly pressing environmental problems than climate change seemed to be. (He died in 1996.) If he was alive today, he might have said “Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if your world is burning”. Hearing the testimony of a Greek father who had grabbed his family to escape the sudden raging wildfire about to consume his house, he had a choice, to stay indoors or run into the sea. He was still alive to tell the tale, so what do you think he did?

Most of us are not directly in the line of a wildfire, perhaps only breathing the smoke spread from massive fires in Siberia, or simply sweltering in the heatwave, but you also have a choice. You can stay as you are in the house, booking your next flight, lining up the next Netflix series, or you can — metaphorically — run to the sea.

Screenshot from earth.nullschool.net

What does that mean? It means ‘planetising’ whatever cause you care about or whatever frame you see the world through. It means being ecocentric, seeing how we ARE nature and intrinsically entwined with other beings. It means being possitopian, neither dystopian nor utopian, but looking at the full range of possible scenarios and solutions in any situation (even as the negative scenarios expand and the positive options contract). It means zooming outyour perspective to see the whole planet and its operating system, the interactions of ice, ocean, atmosphere, biosphere etc, and looking at how this is severely disrupted. It means putting your head under the water and doing a deep dive into current climate science — not the out-of-date and cautious models that the IPCC and Paris agreement are based on.

And then it means, doing something. Whatever your means allow you to do. Many of the things you can do will also increase your means. If you stop flying, you’ll save money. If you waste less food, eat less meat and grow some of your own food, you’ll save money. If you generate your own energy, you’ll save money. But these things are not enough. Don’t just switch your energy supplier but switch your politics, your conversations, your business, your way of planning for the future.

Be anticipatory of many possible situations, and imagine yourself surviving them. If they frighten you, consider what you can do in advance to make the scenarios more survivable, and not just for your own family but for everyone.

This metaphorical choice between home and the sea is not in the same league as the choices you face as an individual consumer — whether to choose line caught fish or not, whether to refuse a straw.

“Society is not simply an aggregate of millions or billions of individual choices but a complex, recursive dynamic in which choices are made within institutions and ideologies that change over time as these choices feed back into the structures that frame what we consider possible. All the while, those structures are being disrupted and nudged and warped and shaken by countless internal and external drivers, including environmental factors such as global warming, material and social innovation, and the occasional widespread panic. Which is just to say that we are not free to choose how we live any more than we are free to break the laws of physics. We choose from possible options, not ex nihilo.” Roy Scranton, author of ‘We’re doomed, now what? Essays on war and climate change’

It is essential to join forces to make your actions bigger, and then to ask your politicians, your bosses, your media companies, and your local institutions to join forces to make their actions bigger. This means resisting the power of the international alliance pushing for the freedoms of the fossil fuel and ecocidal industries to continue business as usual, who are in charge of negotiations for Brexit, of the Whitehouse, and many more places and aspects of the global order.

Part of this resistance is about exposing wrongs and harms, and calling for justice. Another part is showing alternative ways of living — ways that are more regenerative, that protect and rewild the land and sea, and that are circular ecological by design.

Another part is to care for others— whether they are intimate with us or strangers, whether they are human or other species. We are all in the same boat of this burning world, but some are falling much quicker into the rough seas, losing their homes, being bombed, being forced into constant exile, or are being imprisoned or stigmatised or deported back to unliveable places.

All of these actions feel impossible. Putting your head under the water — your own and your loved ones’ heads — to escape a sweeping fire means putting yourself in a place you can’t breathe. But others came to rescue the people in the sea.

Until there is nobody left to care, and to care for, we have a choice.

Talk about climate: Power of three

The first rule of Climate Museum UK is talk about climate change. You could read this article for some insight into why talking about climate change is so vital. It quotes psychologist Renee Lertzman: “The reason why, I think, we have a pervasive environmental melancholia is directly related to the fact that we’re not really talking about this.” 

On Friday 20th July we will have our first prototyping workshop to develop the narrative and structure of the mobile Climate Museum installation. The installation will be a space designed to enable conversations about climate change (and related threats to our biosphere and society) that are emotionally healthy, intellectually rigorous, inclusive of all participants and enabling of a sense of empowerment.

Below are some of my own thoughts about what might help model good practice in using objects, images and spaces to support these conversations.

Being inclusive

Verbalisation is not easy for everyone – as there may be shyness, language barriers, learning difficulties etc etc. ‘Talking’ about climate change could take the form of writing, drawing, choosing, designing or making an embodied response, as well as verbal conversation. We could expand ‘talking’ to mean ‘multi-modal creative conversations’. To make activities more conversational, visitors could comment on another person’s artwork, or a drawing could be created collaboratively, or somebody might be invited to read a story to another person.

The experience for any participant could have three steps:

  1. Explore, absorb, learn
  2. Make a personal response
  3. Respond to others and/or have a conversation

Being situational

After trial runs, it’s hoped that the installation will work in sympathy with any context it visits, whether that’s a library in a former industrial town, a small museum in a coastal village, the HQ of a big tech firm in London, in a university where scientists are training in public engagement, or in a school where some children have lived outside the UK. It may include space for new elements each time, added through an initial co-design process with staff or representatives of that community before it is open to general or invited visitors. These new elements might include any or all of these:

  • the heritage and/or values of that place or organisation, or perhaps scientific research/knowledge
  • its current concern, question or need in relation to climate change
  • contributions that could be made to a better future (e.g. a plan, an idea, or simply potential for change)

Screenshot 2018-09-17 08.15.34

Finding common ground

The hope is that the installation will create accessible common ground for productive and healing conversations. Below is a summary of Katharine Hayhoe’s 3 steps to better climate conversations:

  • It makes sense that you first have to Bond rather than antagonise, so the design of Climate Museum will need to aid social connection.
  • The next step, Connect, could be seen as contextualising, showing a bigger picture and systems – which is something that museums do very well.
  • Inspire is very important, as people need to go away from an experience with a sense of agency. Climate Museum will aim to inspire by drawing out the solutions and ideas for action from the participants themselves, not just simply showing.


  • Screenshot 2018-07-17 12.34.21.png

What’s to come

Yesterday I was at NESTA’s Future Fest, the theme of which was ‘Occupy the Future’. I was happy that the programme included a bit of heritage occupying the future, and to hear Caitlin deSilvey speak. This was in a session called Curated Decay, led by the AHRC Heritage Futures programme. Caitlin is someone I’ve been much inspired by through her writing on ‘anticipatory history’ – taking a nuanced and ecological approach to conservation and curation of heritage. Her work (and that of her colleagues) suggests that although we are well supplied with scientific information about environmental change, we often do not have the cultural resources to respond thoughtfully and to imagine our own futures in a tangibly altered world.

This work resonates with me because I think we fret too much about small losses when nature takes its course while ignoring massive losses due to the actions of accumulators of wealth, developers and grabbers of land, and delayers of climate action. You can see here slides from my talk on why we need to do much more anticipatory work, and resources to imagine possible futures for cultural organisations.

Caitlin talked about a Cornish tin mine that had been beautifully clothed in ivy but then stripped in its ‘restoration’, and about the ‘creative wake’ held by the community for Orfordness Lighthouse which is on the brink of falling into the sea from coastal erosion (made more rapid by climate change). I had been in touch with Caitlin when I developed a project called Lighthouse Songs, part of this creative wake. Yesterday, she talked about the media overreaction to the idea of ‘managed retreat’, interpreted by reporters as abandonment. Rather than abandonment, she proposes ‘palliative curation’, which is caring for something as you let it transform through loss, while capturing what matters so that others can be safe, or learn or benefit in the future.

In Lighthouse Songs, I chose to work with children from Orford Primary School as carriers of what matters into the future. Together with former lighthouse workers and museum staff, building on my own family history and some archive material, we cared for those stories and translated them into a song cycle performed at a concert in Orford church.

During this project, I reflected a great deal on time, and how these children born in 2008 would fare as climate change hits home in the coming decades. Or perhaps only years, not decades. When I was staying in Orford, I heard that my grandma Nancy was lying ill in hospital in Canada, but fully believed that she was back as a little girl in Orford. (My great grandfather was a coastguard on the ness, and she used to stay the night sometimes in his lookout, next to the lighthouse.) She had projected her self back into a time when she was happy, rather than into a possible future. Part of the ‘managed retreat’ process for the lighthouse has been to remove its light. Perhaps when you are dying, or when something precious has to be let go, you go inwards to the light, to keep it warming and guiding you for as long as possible.

But before that there is a phase of resistance, of ‘raging against the dying of the light’. In terms of the whole biosphere and its threats from climate change and other breached planetary boundaries, I’m still raging.

On my walk back from Tobacco Dock, which is incidentally a heritage warehouse building restored into an events venue, I came across a wonderful ruin which has a possible future.


This little building, with no roof and trees growing out of its brickwork, still bears the sign of the Nature Study Museum.

Here’s what an interpretation panel tells us, splashed with bird poo…



This felt poignant. In 1903 or thereabouts, museum staff envisaged a possible future for children in London’s East End, and believed in the value of learning about nature. And teachers and parents must have valued it too as 1000 a day would visit. Just a few metres away from this little (tiny) museum was the tobacco warehouse, full of imported nature: tobacco, spices, wool and animal skins. And also nearby was Charles Jamrach’s Exotic Animal Emporium. This little place offered an opportunity to get close and to understand, rather than to be entertained by or to profit from consuming nature. As Caitlin deSilvey suggested in her talk: In order to care for heritage as subject to natural processes of decay and change, we have to get up very close and to really understand it.

I wonder where plans are to restore this, and whether it will have functions of educating children about nature when and if they do. I wonder whether nature inside is more informative than nature explored outside. In the Future Fest, a garden had been constructed in a dark basement room, with weedy plants transplanted to seem to be growing in the gloom. It felt uncanny. Indeed, natural history museums feel uncanny too, and although they do valuable work of collecting and educating about biodiversity, they are not immune from ethical questions, or above their own histories linked to colonialism.

These are all thoughts that will inform what’s to come with Climate Museum UK. This will, I hope, help people come up close to nature while also taking an expanded perspective on the possibilities of the future.


Prep for prototyping

There are now 22 people booked to contribute to the workshop to prototype the mobile version of Climate Museum. This workshop is on 20th July, at Toynbee Studios, part of the Season for Change. There are still places and it’s free. Here I’m sharing the slides of my intro in advance, so that those coming can prepare, and those interested can see the process.

Those coming, some things you might want to do:

  • Think about what you’d want a Climate Museum to be for you, and for ‘us’.
  • Note down a question that really got you thinking or talking about Climate Change.
  • Consider sharing an item that could be inspiring to others (e.g. poster, book, object or fact)
  • The workshop will include making a structure so it would be really helpful if you can bring one or two items of found materials that you think would be appropriate (e.g. a cardboard box, a piece of cloth, roll of wallpaper…)


The really central question for the workshop is: How can we all explore and talk together about Climate Change in ways that are emotionally healthy, intellectually rigorous, inclusive of all participants, and enabling a sense of agency? And how can a small mobile museum be a space that opens up this potential?

I look forward to meeting you and working with you!

Climate Museum UK prototyping

Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.14.52Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.15.02Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.15.13

Climate Museum UK prototyping (4)Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.15.45Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.15.59Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.16.10Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.16.21Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.16.34Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.16.44Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.16.56Screenshot 2018-07-20 08.17.08Climate Museum UK prototyping (11)Screenshot 2018-07-17 19.19.38

Creatively stirring response to the climate emergency