I’ve been having a go at creating some infographics, to print out and mount, and also to share on social media. Comments would be welcome.
I’ve been having a go at creating some infographics, to print out and mount, and also to share on social media. Comments would be welcome.
We are instigating Climatemas, and call on you to hold a midwinter climate masquerade where you live on 21st December 2018.
The planet is in crisis. 21st December is winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day. It will be a day of darkness, but the solstice also marks a turning and a rising into the new year. 2019 promises more threats from the climate emergency but also promises more creative resistance.
In the spirit of Extinction Rebellion, and to mark a Friday for Future, hold a gathering, walk or simple event in spectacular costumes and masks.
Dress as fellow Earth beings – any of the other species that are threatened with struggle and extinction.
Embody a wild ancestor, or Mother Earth, a sky god, or a weather spirit.
Be the ghost of Christmas future, or wear a mask to express your emotions about climate change.
March, dance, sing, put on a music night, or devise a climate-themed mummers play.
Mark the moment of solstice by shining a light on the truth of climate change, or burning a clock to show that we have nearly run out of time.
Paint your face or wear an amazing hat, and hand out leaflets in the high street.
Generally make a spectacle to raise awareness of climate change and ecocide. Resist the tide of Christmas consumerism.
If you use Facebook, do share posts on this event page about what you plan, and maybe create your own local Facebook event page. Comment on this blogpost to share plans.
Share photos/stories on Twitter or Instagram using #climatemas
Here are some inspirations for your costumes and masks
And here’s a poster! Email on ClimateMuseumUK@gmail.com if you’d like a printable PDF version.
#4QsonClimate is a contemporary collecting project of Climate Museum UK. We are collecting what people feel about climate change, using four questions to draw these out.
You might use these questions to talk about it with other people and encourage them to take part. This is also an action research project, exploring the potential of making, drawing or describing an object to help us think about the complex enormity of climate change. Tim Morton has described climate change as a ‘hyperobject’, something that has power but is somehow invisible, massively distributed or too big to conceive of.
There are several ways to share responses:
Also, if you come across a Climate Museum pop up activity, you might be invited to make draw, or to make an object with clay and write a label using these questions. This object will enter the Climate Museum UK collection.
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:
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:
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
We visited Robert Therrien’s giant Untitled (Table and Four Chairs), in one of the oil tanks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
…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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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: