Artists and Climate Change

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Fading Reefs: Using Process To Tell A Story

By Elizabeth Ellenwood

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of coral reefs. In 1992, my family sailed from Florida to the Bahamas. I still remember my five-year-old self mesmerized by the crystal-clear water and the world of creatures living beneath its surface. My “class time” consisted of snorkeling and observing the reefs: fish of all sizes darting in and out of vibrant coral structures, conch shells glistening and nurse sharks gently resting on the sandy sea floor, jellyfish camouflaging with the water, and, on the lucky days, spiny lobsters emerging from their caves. I was witnessing a thriving ecosystem. This formative childhood experience cultivated in me a lifelong love of the ocean. Less than 30 years later, the coral reef ecosystems are collapsing or have fully collapsed as a result of climate change. Now, as a practicing artist, I feel an urgency to help protect and bring attention to the vital reef systems that sparked my interest in the ocean.

Elizabeth Ellenwood snorkeling in the Bahamas, 1992.

Climate change means ocean change. The ocean’s temperature is warming, it is becoming more acidic, sea level is rising, and storm patterns and precipitation are changing. All of these factors individually create stress for corals. Combined, they have demolished the reef systems that have flourished for centuries. The coral reefs of my childhood memories are bleaching, and entire ocean ecosystems are vanishing due to the loss of their habitats.

Fading Reefs 1, Anthotype made with beets.

The term “coral bleaching” has bounced around news headlines for years, but it took documentaries like Chasing Coral and Mission Blue to inspire me to dig deeper into the science. Corals get their colors from pigment-rich algae that live within their tissues. The coral-algae partnership is symbiotic, each supporting one another. When stressed from the ocean changes, the algae are expelled from the coral, revealing the white coral skeleton underneath. This bleaching triggers a domino effect: all living organisms that relied on the reef habitat either vacate or die, from the smallest plankton to the largest predator. The reef system is rapidly turning into a wasteland; no corals, no fish. This devastation is taking place on a massive scale and at a rapid rate, with nearly half of the world’s coral reefs bleached or severely damaged.

Fading Reefs 2, Anthotype made with blackberries.

This devastation has swept through coral reefs in the Bahamas – the very ones that brought me so much childhood joy. I feel a loss for the diverse ecosystems that depended on the corals. Caught in a vortex of pollution, rising temperatures, acidification, and overfishing, thinking about humanity’s destruction of our waterways can be paralyzing. But to improve our relationship with the ocean and bring about positive change, we must fully understand the effects of our actions.

My research on coral reef bleaching led to the creation of my series, Fading Reefs. I am inspired by the biology of corals, driven by sadness for the loss of the reefs from my childhood, and compelled to shed light on this destructive cycle. It is important to me to create based on science and in a sustainable way, using environmentally friendly processes and as few materials as possible. One of the oldest photographic processes, the anthotype, uses the light sensitivity of plants and sunlight to create an image. Because these prints fade over time, it is difficult to research historical images, though documents and research track its emergence from 1816 to 1844.

Fading Reefs 3, Anthotype made with red cabbage.

I see the process of coral bleaching and the anthotype process as linked together. Making anthotypes requires time and patience. This process begins with crushing or juicing a plant to create the light-sensitive emulsion. A piece of paper is then soaked in the liquid and dried, absorbing the pigment of the plant. An image on transparency film is placed on top of the color-stained paper and then placed in direct sunlight. The image develops and appears on the page as the sunlight bleaches the pigment in the exposed areas of the plant emulsion. This is a very slow process; depending on the plant used and the strength of the sun, the printing can take days, weeks, or even months. Once developed, anthotype images will fade over time, especially if they are exposed to UV light. There is no way to make them permanent, which I see as a beautiful quality to embrace. 

In the 1800s, anthotypes were stored in what they called “night albums” and only viewed by candlelight to help preserve the images. Some artists build boxes or use black fabric over their framed piece to protect the prints while they are on display. When Fading Reefsis exhibited, I embrace the impermanence of the process and leave my prints uncovered to speak to the vulnerability of the corals. The anthotype process is a perfect way to tell the reefs’ stories, the bleaching pigment in the prints refers to the devastating loss of pigment-rich algae that not only give corals their colors, but most importantly keep them alive. The prints in Fading Reefs are delicate, time sensitive, and beautiful – just like our ocean’s coral reefs.

Elizabeth Ellenwood with anthotype in process, photograph by Tim Martin.

Just as the algae is crucial to the corals’ survival, the corals are vital to the oceans, and the oceans are integral to human life. It is possible many of us will go our entire lives without actually seeing a living coral reef, but we must work urgently to save these necessary ecosystems. Corals not only support an underwater ecosystem, they also provide for life above the water’s surface. Reef structures provide crucial protection from storms for coastal areas and offer an abundance of food that we consume. Studying individual corals and organisms living within the reefs even helps advance medical technology and treatments. No corals means an unhealthy and unbalanced ocean, which affects the entirety of the world. 

Fading Reefs 5, Anthotype made with red cabbage.

We all have skills and abilities that can help our coral reefs and waterways. Small actions have the potential to contribute to global impacts. Paying attention to what we consume, where we shop, and what organizations we support can support a thriving ecosystem. While half the world’s coral reefs have been negatively impacted, the remaining fifty percent desperately need our help. We need to get creative in our conversations and solutions, ultimately bringing awareness to and helping to protect these very special underwater worlds.

While Fading Reefs started with my memories and my call to action, it is ultimately about our shared world, our oceans, and our shared responsibility. It is my hope that my anthotype prints will not only act as a reminder of the rare and precious life that exists in our oceans, but also provide insight and perspective on coral reefs, inspiring viewers to become involved in ocean conservation and compelling individuals to acknowledge that the fate of the oceans and of humanity are woven tightly together.

(Top Image: Fading Reefs 4, Anthotype made with red cabbage.)


Elizabeth Ellenwood uses photography to visually explore and bring attention to critical environmental issues. She is a recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Student Research Grant and an American Scandinavian Grant. Her recent solo exhibition at The Alexey von Schlippe Gallery was supported by a Connecticut Sea Grant Art Support Award. Elizabeth’s work was recently exhibited at The Newport Art Museum, Panopticon Gallery and The Vermont Center of Photography. Elizabeth received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from The New Hampshire Institute of Art and a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art from the University of Connecticut.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Poet Tamiko Beyer

By Amy Brady

This month I have for you an interview with Tamiko Beyer, a writer whose latest poetry collection, Last Days, is out now on Alice James Books. Tamiko writes passionately about the climate crisis and how it’s driven by systemic forces like capitalism and racism. She’s also a social justice communications writer and strategist.

I spoke with Tamiko about what inspired her most recent collection, how she thinks about climate change beyond her writing, and the role she sees poetry playing in our larger discourse on climate change.

The poems in your recent collection, Last Days, are rife with images of plants, animals, and humans living and moving together. Is it fair to say that you’re encouraging readers to think about interconnectedness between life forms? Or perhaps that the boundaries between humans and other living things might be more porous than many folks believe?
Yes, that’s exactly right. I wrote Last Days as a poetic practice of radical imagination for our current political and environmental crises. I believe that one of the root causes of these crises is how disconnected so many of us feel to each other and the world around us. This vast disconnection makes it possible to internalize and enforce white supremacist structures. And, the exploitation of people and the natural world required by capitalist systems is made far easier when CEOs, workers, and consumers (that is, all of us) can disconnect from the harm we are causing to other people, other beings, and the Earth by our participation in this system.
I wanted to explore what it might look, feel, and sound like to live into the truth that we are all completely interdependent. How do I understand the ways in which I am more connected to than separate from the warbler singing in the laurel tree next to the tidal river? In what ways are we both dependent on the tree and the river, and the algae and the bacteria? What does it mean to move through the world as if we are all connected not just in the present moment, but also across time and space – connected to our ancestors and the generations that will come after us?
Your poems also speak to environmental crises. What else do you hope readers take away from this collection?
I hope that these poems encourage readers to follow their own threads of interdependence, and see how that might shift their relationships to the people and beings around them.
But of course, the climate crisis cannot be solved only by individual changes. I hope that some of these poems also encourage readers to think about the larger systems that are fueling the crisis, like racialized capitalism.
The central poem of the collection follows a small group of revolutionaries who are taking down the Corporate empire. As they do, the main character comes to understand her own power and trust her intuition. I think 2020 made clear to so many more people that we are, indeed, in the last days of the Corporate empire. We need radical, transformative changes if we – all beings – are going to survive the climate and related crises.
So I wrote this book for all the activists, organizers, healers, cultural workers, teachers, and artists who are doing the daily work of creating radically new worlds within this broken one. My wish is that these readers can lean into the hope that Last Days is rooted in, and that the poems offer ways for them to ground in their power.

Do you think about environmental issues, climate change, and related problems beyond what you write about in your poetry?

It’s impossible for me to live in this world, in this moment, in this body, and not think about and be affected by the climate crisis and its root causes – racism, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy. As a writer of prose and poetry, and as a social justice communications strategist, I feel called to write about the structures and systems we are living under, as well as the ways that we can navigate through them, ultimately tear them down, and create new ones. 

For most of the years during which I worked on Last Days, I worked at Corporate Accountability, which wages campaigns challenging the life-threatening abuses of corporations, and I still write for them as a freelancer. So I’m often writing about Big Polluters, their role in fueling the climate crisis, and the solutions that are being led by communities on the frontlines of the crisis – Black, Indigenous, people of color; communities in the Global South; women; people with disabilities; and youth.

I also write about these issues in my newsletter, Starlight and Strategy.

What role do you think poetry plays in our larger conversations and thinking about climate and environmental issues?

Poetry invites us to think and feel expansively and nonlinearly, to listen closely, and be willing to be completely surprised. I can think of it as practice for how to implement solutions to the climate crisis. We need to listen to the people on the front lines who are already putting these solutions to work. We need to be expansive, radical, and unfettered by what we’re told is politically possible.

My favorite kind of poetry helps me understand language as more than just utility, but as magic. I’m currently co-editing a book with fellow poets Destiny Hemphill and Lisbeth White on poetry as spellcasting, by and for BIPOC. We are thinking about how poems are ritualized acts of liberation. One section of the book is devoted to the way poetry as spellcasting can help re-establish a reciprocal relationship with the Earth and help us move in right relationship towards healing deep wounds inflicted on ourselves and the Earth.

Some of your poems speak to the damage – ecological and cultural – wrought by colonialism. 

The collection as a whole grapples with the many manifestations of white supremacy, of which colonialism is one. Colonialism can only succeed when both the people who are doing the colonizing and those who are colonized feel deeply disconnected from the source and power of the land and the people.

I spent my first ten years in Japan where I absorbed both the fundamental Buddhist teaching of interdependence, as well as the form of animism that is central to the Shinto religion. I grew up understanding that things have a spirit – are beings – whether they are animate or inanimate, and that all beings are connected. These are ancient teachings, central also to Indigenous cultures, and colonization and imperialism have attempted at every turn to destroy such ways of understanding the world. No wonder we are in the crises we are in. In this collection I seek paths back into interconnection.

Your collection opens with quotes from three incredible writers and activists, including Audre Lorde. Her quote is: “I have always known I learn my most lasting lessons about difference by closely attending the ways in which the differences inside me lie down together.” How do these powerful words relate to the poetry in your collection?

Yes, the work of all three powerful women – Audre Lorde, Grace Lee Boggs, and adrienne maree brown – were influential in the development of this collection.

When I was pulling the book together, I was reading Audre Lorde’s collection of essays, “A Burst of Light.” I spent a lot of time with the titular essay: diary entries as she lived her life with cancer. That line, that idea, appears in several places in the essay, and it stayed with me. I guess it’s another approach toward understanding how we are interconnected – we all have differences inside ourselves, and knowing how to navigate these differences in generative ways teaches us to better navigate differences with others to whom we depend on and are connected to. As a queer multiracial femme and a third culture kid, I’ve spent a lot of time navigating the differences inside me, and I was interested in what it might look like to think about how they “lie down together.” Many of the poems that address race and nationality in this collection is my attempt to do that.

Your approach to launching this book is a bit unusual. Please tell us about it!

In this political moment, I feel called to reimagine what I do and how I do it. So as I thought about launching this book, I was interested in how it could be a catalyst for new ways of thinking about the intersection of arts and organizing, poetry, and movement work. I developed an idea for a launch grounded in collaboration and solidarity instead of competition, one that operates within a gift economy instead of a capitalist approach.

The central component of this project is to give away Last Days and performance artist and poet Gabrielle Civil‘s forthcoming chapbook, ( ghost gestures ), to at least 250 organizers, campaigners, activists, cultural workers, and healers, prioritizing people working on racial, climate, and economic justice. At the time I write this, we’ve already got 175 people signed up to receive the books. I’m also organizing virtual “catalyst events” in the fall to inspire and activate people; creating tools for teachers to share the books with a new generation of organizers, activists, writers, artists, and cultural workers; and promoting other BIPOC writers with new books through my website, newsletter, and social media. And I created a successful fundraising campaign to power it all, asking people in my network and strangers to support this new way of launching a book.

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.


Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at at and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Annie Patterson and Peter Blood Rise Up Singing

By Peterson Toscano

In the Art House this month, we feature song leaders Annie Patterson and Peter Blood. They are liberal Quakers in New England who have been leading singing for over 30 years. They talk about the songs that motivate and inspire climate advocates. Some are protest songs and others are beautiful ballads. They discuss the role of music in social movements as they offer up their own tiny desk concert. 

Annie and Peter are the creators of the Rise Up Singing and Rise Again Song Books. These songbooks take on social justice issues like racism, poverty, inequality, and sexism. See them in action on the Rise Up and Sing YouTube channel.

Annie and Peter appeared on Citizens Climate Radio episode 57: The Tide is Rising along with former U.S. representative Bob Inglis, a Republican fostering conversations with fellow Conservatives.

Next month, we meet Claire Vaye Watkins, author of the cli-fi novel, Gold Fame Citrus.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

This article is part of The Art House series.


As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Artists and Energy Transitions

By Joan Sullivan

This post is part of an ongoing series of occasional musings about the larger context in which we currently find ourselves: an energy transition, of which there have been several throughout human history. I have chosen Barry Lord’s important book, Art & Energy: How Culture Changes as our guide, because it sheds much-needed light on the reciprocal relationship between art, artists, and energy transitions through the ages. I also draw inspiration from the emerging field of Energy Humanities, led by Imre Szeman and his colleagues at the University of Alberta and the University of Waterloo in Canada. For previous posts in this series, please check here and here.

A common thread throughout Barry Lord’s book, Art & Energy: How Culture Changes, is that energy transitions overlap. This may seem obvious and redundant. But readers of this blog will appreciate that the social and cultural tensions inherent to these decades-long (sometimes centuries-long) energy transitions – when the new trumps the old – inevitably result in profound changes across all sectors of society: transportation, architecture, agriculture, industry, politics, warfare, and culture. These shifting tectonic plates, if you will, have inspired artists throughout the ages – in the past as in the present – to respond with bold new methods of expression.

What’s different today, of course, is that 21st century artists are not just responding to the current transition from non-renewable fuels to renewable sources of energy. They are primarily responding to the much broader context in which the current energy transition is but one part: the global climate emergency that has triggered the sixth mass extinction. The stakes have never been higher. We need artists of all stripes and colors on board, ASAP. 

A tsunami of artists from all disciplines and from all corners of the globe have already risen up; many have found a home here on the Artists and Climate Change platform. But for those artists and writers who have not yet “found their voice” within the global climate movement, I’d like to suggest that they take a closer look at energy transitions as a source of artistic inspiration – as did JMW Turner in the middle of the 19th century. Turner witnessed the dying days of the “age of sail”, as tall sailing ships were replaced by smaller, polluting coal-powered steam ships that were not dependent upon the whims of the trade winds. 

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839. Oil on canvas, 90.7 x 121.6 cm Turner Bequest, 1856. NG524. Downloaded from the National Gallery.

An excellent place for artists and writers to begin reading about energy transitions is Barry Lord’s book. It artfully weaves together the history of the reciprocal relationship between art, artists, and energy transitions over the millennia. This book provides valuable insights to help contemporary artists understand the current energy transition within a historical and cultural context. 

Lord shines a light on artists who played pivotal roles in previous energy transitions by influencing (how I loathe that word!) social and cultural values that contributed, either directly or indirectly, to broadening the consensus for cutting-edge “alternative” energy sources. And, as each previous energy transition has already demonstrated, it is only a matter of time before these so-called “alternative” energy sources dethrone the formerly dominant energy source(s). 

The same can be said for today’s renewable sources of energy – wind, water and sun. While no one (yet) can predict how long fossil fuels and renewable energy will co-exist within the global energy mix, one thing is for sure: renewable energy will eventually dethrone fossil fuels to become the world’s dominant energy source. It’s only a matter of time. But time for the climate is running out… 

Moreover, the critically important questions of who controls the future production and distribution of all this clean energy, and its geopolitical consequences, are beyond the scope of this post. For those interested in a deeper dive into the energy humanities, I suggest the recent January 2021 special issue on “solarity” in the South Atlantic Quarterly.

My goal in this post is simply to encourage artists to recognize the historical precedent of previous generations of artists who, intentionally or otherwise, helped contribute to successful energy transitions by influencing the perception of and the cultural values associated with the “alternative” energy source. The current energy transition is no exception. Once again, artists can help us get there more quickly. 

Nina Simone said it best: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” 

And how the times have changed! I only recently discovered that coal was initially considered an “alternative” energy source, i.e., alternative to renewables. Wood, wind, water, animal power, and human slavery were the dominant energy sources (all renewable) from the earliest human settlements right up into the middle of the 19th century. So it is quite remarkable how quickly this new “alternative” coal became the world’s dominant energy source: by the late-19th century, coal was crowned “king,” fueling the Industrial Revolution. Coal’s heyday lasted approximately 200 years, until it was usurped by oil and gas in the post-WW2 era. Although coal’s contribution to the global energy mix has been declining ever since, it still generates nearly 40% of global electricity. 

Having photographed the renewable energy transition for more than a decade, I’m eager to convince other artists and writers that energy transitions are truly fascinating and a rich source of inspiration! Not just from a technological perspective, but from many inter-connected social, cultural, historical, and political perspectives. Let’s be clear: today’s energy transition is definitely not just about solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and battery storage. As promising as these solutions are, technological infrastructure alone does not an energy transition make. What’s missing is the social or human component.

I’ve started calling this missing component of the current energy transition the “human transition.” By this I mean an awakening, a renaissance, an unquenchable thirst to break free from the chains of our lifelong addiction to fossil fuels. To fully embrace, in Lord’s words, the tantalizing possibility of a shift away from a “culture of consumption” (proscribed by the age of oil) towards a “culture of stewardship” (inherent to the age of renewables). 

This is where global artists come in: to wake us up from our stupor, like the protest music of the 60s and 70s.

Without music and poetry, without the deceptively simple lyrics and melody of the next “Imagine” which will be forever seared into our collective consciousness, I fear that the current energy transition will not evolve quickly enough. Technology alone can not do it for us.

This profound shift in social norms and cultural values requires nothing less than revolutionary transformation – at both the individual and collective levels – of the way our violent extraction-based society is organized. More urgently, it requires looking at ourselves in the mirror to confront the ghosts of acquiescence: why and how we have allowed ourselves to remain numb for so long to the unspeakable violence, injustices, and inequalities to both the human and non-human worlds throughout the entire fossil fuel era. Without critical self-reflection, a truly Copernican transformation seems unlikely. 

Technological infrastructure alone does not an energy transition make.

As we have learned from previous energy transitions, artists can and must use their creative energy to question the past and envision the future. I’ve purposely left out many of the more complicated and thorny geopolitical issues that are so well addressed by energy humanities researchers Imre Szeman and Darin Barney, co-editors of the previously mentioned special issue on solarity.

With their blessing, I’d like to end here by quoting directly from their introductory chapterin that journal. It is impossible for me to paraphrase: their words are so powerful, going straight for the jugular. Please take note.

The solarity we envision is committed to the core impulse guiding left politics, which is the struggle for equality and social justice against the rapacious force of extractive capitalism. The realities of environmental racism and the implication of energy extraction in ongoing colonial histories mean that any concept of solidarity worth the name must begin from the experiences of those whose bodies and relations have been made expendable through the brutality of extraction, and who stand to suffer most greatly from the accelerating climate and environmental effects of fossil fuels (citing Kathryn Yusoff, 2019). 

This means that solarity begins in solidarity with Black and Indigenous people in the Americas and elsewhere, with racialized and impoverished communities in the so-called Global South, with women, with care-workers, with those who have been disabled by their environments, and with the non-human others previously relegated to the exploitable domains of mere objecthood (citing Jamie Cross 2019; Sarah Jaquette Ray 2017; Sheena Wilson 2018; and Kyle Whyte 2017).

The first imperative of solidarity in relation to these will be to stand aside and accept their leadership in the struggle against the global fossil fuel regime, and in the development of radically alternative practices, relations, and infrastructures of solarity. This might include putting our (in our case: white, male, affluent) bodies and our accustomed ways of living on the line, as others have done for so long with theirs. As Nandita Badami argues in her provocative essay in this issue, we may need to turn from Eurocentric ideas about the sun and “enlightment” to a solarity of endarkenment.

The second imperative is to think and work together to develop political and economic forms that facilitate, nurture, and manage egalitarian societies, as an energetic base for even more widespread social transformation. A solarity animated by solidarity will require humility, patience, and courage, especially on the part of those for whom petrocapitalism has delivered mostly comfort, convenience and impunity. This, and not just our fuel source, has to change.”

Very powerful words, indeed. Thank you Imre and Darin.

(Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Joan Sullivan.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.


Joan Sullivan is a Canadian photographer and member of @WomenPhotograph, focused on the energy transition. In her monthly column for Artists and Climate Change, Joan explores the intersection of art and the energy transition. She is currently experimenting with abstract photography as a new language to express her grief about climate breakdown. You can find Joan on Twitter and 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 eJoan Sullivanquipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Imagining Icebergs

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

Multi-media artist and educator Itty Neuhaus has spent a great deal of time observing and interpreting environmental changes in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and in Iceland and Greenland. Since 2000, when she took her first trip to Iceland, her drawings, photographs, sculptures, and videos have addressed the degradation of glaciers and the nature of icebergs. 

Neuhaus’ initial interest in the region was piqued by John McPhee’ description in The Control of Nature (1989) of an Icelandic physicist’s effort to divert the flow of a volcano by directing voluminous jets of water at it. She was fascinated by the notion of attempting to re-sculpt the Earth, as the scientist had done, and decided that she wanted to see Iceland for herself. On the flight there, Neuhaus observed a line of icebergs calving off a glacier and felt a sense of intense loss. In her attempt to process these feelings, she discovered a working method and subject area that would dominate her practice over the following years. 

Western Brook Pond Fjords II, scratched postcard from Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada, 4” x 6,” 2012.

During that first visit to Iceland, Neuhaus began a postcard series in which she removed areas of pretty tourist scenes by scratching away at the surface of the postcards with a stylus and superimposing ice melts and other environmental losses onto the idyllic imagery. She also observed the deep crevasses that existed in the glaciers and heard stories about individuals who had fallen to their deaths within them. As a result of the experience, she began to imagine that the Earth itself has a conscious volition and is luring us into its center – a notion that later led her to create a body of work on human bodies and crevasses.

With funding from the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she has taught since 2000, Neuhaus continued to travel to locations where she could observe icebergs and glaciers. In 2011, she spent four months on a research and lecture fellowship as a Fulbright Scholar in Newfoundland and Labrador that included three months as an artist in residence at the Gros Morne National Park through Parks Canada. Her experiences helped her to understand how artists have an opportunity to educate the public on the climate crisis by translating big issues like habitat loss and environmental degradation into provocative imagery. 

Scratchberg II, photograph taken off Twillingate, Newfoundland in the Labrador Sea. Printed on vellum, 28” x 38,” 2015.

During that time, Neuhaus continued to create what she refers to as “scratch works,” taking photographs of icebergs and scratching into the surfaces to show melting ice and other environmental impacts of climate change. For one particular piece, she sat on a rock waiting for an iceberg to flip over as the waves increased and changed. While she was waiting, she considered her hours-long observation to be a metaphor for how we are all simply waiting for the Earth to change in radical ways without implementing effective interventions. The underside of icebergs and their actual movements filmed over a period of four hours from a bluff in Twillingate, Newfoundland is reflected in a 2008 video entitled Dance of the Three-Pronged Wonder. In order to emphasize the mystery of what lies beneath the surface of the water, Neuhaus digitally altered these portions of the iceberg so that they appear to grow as the icebergs dance to a waltz by P.I. Tchaikovsky.

In 2015-2016, as a Fulbright Scholar on an Arctic Initiative, Neuhaus was the only artist among a cohort of physical and social scientists, economists, and others who were studying the degradation of icebergs in Greenland. Using a hydro-robot designed for the task, they were measuring the size, salinity, and other aspects of the icebergs while she was drawing and videotaping them. The work she began there culminated in a 2018 solo exhibition titled Sublimation: An Iceberg’s Story, which was held at the Kentler International Drawing Space in Brooklyn, New York. The show included a scratched composite photograph taken in Greenland, printed to a size of 27’ x 4,’ backlit, and hanging loosely over two gallery walls. It also included a video written and filmed by Neuhaus called Icylla, An Iceberg’s Story. Told in the voice of Icylla, the last existing iceberg in a world without ice, the piece incorporates a watery soundtrack, a gritty narration, animation, and stunning imagery of Greenland and Iceland.

Neuhaus completed Arctic Magnetism, a “scratch work” based on a photograph of the Russell Glacier in Greenland, in 2019 (see detail at the top). A large-scale photograph printed on film in two pieces as mirror images, it was created, as much of her work is, by removing portions of the photograph with scratch nibs and steel wool. Almost nine feet in length, the Russell Glacier looms over us as if sucking us in and pushing us away at the same time. With its dramatic imagery and frenetic motion, Arctic Magnetism exudes a sense of foreboding and serves as a metaphor for our own impending demise.

During the extraordinary 2020-2021 pandemic year, Neuhaus decided to pause from her usual subject matter and address the way in which the virus has imbued us all with a fear of touch. Instructed not to shake hands, hug, or conduct any normal actions that necessitate physical contact with other human being outside of our “pods,” we washed our hands constantly to prevent infection. Her series of monoprints and paintings, each 18” x 24,” consists of hands rendered in black and white in the process of washing. Shown together, the Wall of Hands emphasizes the redemptive and regenerative nature of water, which both cleans and heals. 

Wall of Hands, sixteen monoprints and direct brush paintings on rice paper, 18” x 24,” 2020.

Neuhaus’ inventive works cleverly imitate the melting and disappearance of icebergs and glaciers. As she goes through the process of scratching at the surface of her photographs, she can viscerally feel how the ice is melting away and how the landscape she witnessed at one particular moment in time is changing before her eyes. It is imperative in viewing these frozen moments in time not only to serve as witnesses to this change but to do everything in our power to prevent further environmental loss.  

(Top image: Arctic Magnetism, photograph of Russell Glacier, Greenland. Printed on backlit film. Drawing by removal with scratch nibs, steel wool with water-based crayons, 106” x 44,” 2019.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate disruption a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.


Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer whose work has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and photographs have addressed water and climate change. She co-created a national, participatory public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and which has inspired thousands of adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to protect this vital resource. Her most recent body of work calls attention to the growing number of rampikes along our shores – trees that have been exposed to salt water and died as a result of rising tides.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Envisioning a Green New Deal on Stage

By Thomas Peterson

Last Earth Day, I wrote about the evolving iconography and visual culture of the day, lamenting its gradual cooption by corporate greenwashing – protest art replaced by bee-themed Google Doodles. I ended the essay with a call to action, encouraging a return to the radical artistic visions that accompanied the first Earth Day in 1970: 

This Earth Day, and for all the Earth Days to come, we must find a way to strike that balance again. The stakes are too high for cute utopianism. Earth Day may have devolved into a corporatized greenwashing opiate, animated flora and fauna masking collaboration in ecocide, but it can become revolutionary again if we pair an unblinkered exposition of the extremity of the crisis with a reaffirmation of our love for life on earth. We must make images that tell the devastating truth about what is happening to our planet and the life that inhabits it, images so powerful they cannot be sanitized into endless cute bee oblivion. These images must radicalize us, radicalize us with love.

In the past year, I have attempted to answer this call in my own work. In just a few months, communities around the world will begin to perform the short plays commissioned for Climate Change Theatre Action 2021: Envisioning A Global Green New Deal, a project I co-organize with Chantal BilodeauJulia Levine, and Ian Garrett, and to which I contributed a play for the first time this year. We commissioned fifty playwrights from around the world to reckon seriously with the intensifying climate crisis and then respond to it with visions of a world worth fighting for, visions of beautiful, sustainable futures for the people and communities we all know and love. 

Still from the Climate Change Theatre Action 2021 trailer, directed and animated by Kalia Firester.

This fall’s Climate Change Theatre Action, beginning on September 19th and concluding on December 18th to coincide with the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow, will be the fourth iteration of the global distributed festival. Founded in 2015, Climate Change Theatre Action is a biennial series of readings and performances of short plays about the climate crisis, and a project of The Arctic Cycle in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Practice in the ArtsClimate Change Theatre Action 2015encompassed 80 performances, reaching several thousand people around the world. In the fall of 2019, over 220 presenting collaborators in 28 countries produced events, engaging over 3,000 artists and reaching an audience of roughly 26,000 people. In the United States, collaborators presented over 150 events, reaching all 50 states for the first time. As we prepare for this fourth edition, we anticipate even greater global participation – these plays will soon grace stages, Zoom screens, classrooms, parks, perhaps even mountains, deserts, lakes, and seas.

Coming into this year, 150 short plays had already been written for Climate Change Theatre Action, 50 for each edition. If a through-line can be identified in this formally diverse and multi-faceted collection, the common theme is courage in the face of crisis. The 2017 plays search for kernels of optimism, provoked by the question “Where Is the Hope?”, while the 2019 plays portray climate heroes who are “Lighting the Way” to a just and sustainable future. As we considered guiding themes for CCTA 2021, straining for hope in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that the necessity for positive visions had never been less urgent, nor had the need for rapid, dramatic action to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and redress environmental injustice. So we asked playwrights to envision the societies and communities they hope to see on the other side of the unprecedented societal transformation that we must achieve if we are to mitigate the worst effects of a warming climate.

Facing the intersecting, compounding crises of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, racist violence, and skyrocketing economic inequality, people around the world are turning to a common framework for solutions: a Green New Deal. Just as policymakers worldwide are considering massive investments in clean energy, care jobs, and a regenerative economy, we asked the CCTA 2021 playwrights to consider what an equitable, sustainable, decarbonized, and just society might look like, in their communities or beyond. What would it look like if Green New Deals were adopted around the world, and these plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while addressing interwoven social inequalities became realities?

Climate Change Theatre Action 2021 trailer, directed and animated by Kalia Firester, voiceover by GiGi Buddie.

Fifty-one playwrights took on the challenge, hailing from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Uganda, the UK, and the US, and representing seven Indigenous Nations. 

The call for 2021 producing collaborators is now live, and the 50+ plays are available for perusal. Individuals and organizations are invited to host an event in their communities this fall – anything from an intimate reading to a fully staged show, and from a podcast to a site specific performance. I invite each and every one of you to explore the plays in the collection and to take action by envisioning a Green New Deal on stage.

I sincerely hope that as artists and activists around the world gather to enact these visions on stage this fall, the performances will radicalize us with love and catalyze the societal transformations we so desperately need.

(Top Image: “Climate Change Theatre Action 2021: Envisioning A Global Green New Deal” by Alex Lee)


Thomas Peterson is an organizer, writer, and director whose work focuses on the climate crisis. He is an Artistic Associate with The Arctic Cycle, with whom he co-organizes Climate Change Theatre Action, and a field organizer with Green Corps. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and was a Williams-Lodge Scholar in Paris. He has written about theatre and locality, climate propaganda, the aesthetic of the sublime in climate theatre, and about the cultural history of the infamous lawyer Roy Cohn. He is currently developing The Woods Avenge Themselves, an original adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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The Job of Complicating: An interview with Javaad Alipoor, Part II

By Biborka Beres

This is the second part of a two-part interview with UK-based theatre-maker and political performance artist, Javaad Alipoor. You can read Part I here.

I too have a critical philosophy background and only recently made practicing art my official thing, so the idea of approaching theory as an artist and art as a theorist to transgress the boundaries of each is appealing to me. To circle back to hyper-objectivity – Timothy Morton’s concept of the crisis of the Anthropocene, where we as humans are to deal with definite but huge objects, such as the consequences of climate change – are you creating a space of refuge or shelter, a sense of solidarity in the face of these great challenges?

In some ways I’m doing the opposite of that, though opposites can often be quite similar… The internet is a hyper-object in the sense that it’s an unimaginably large, but definite thing that is very difficult to take responsibility over or manage. In the show Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, we get you to go on and into the internet. Rather than giving a space of refuge away from that, we’re making a space in which you feel that you are complicit and understand your level of complicity. Then, at the end, we delete the Instagram account used for the show. Part of this exercise is understanding how you are already actively and creatively shaping something. It is complex, in that it is complicated to take agency.

What drives you to engage with these subject matters? Is it anger? 

Funnily enough, it’s often not anger about the subject itself, but rather anger about the stupid way it’s talked about.

The show Believers plays this dramaturgical game: ostensibly I, as a British mixed race and Muslim, am going to talk about Muslims being radical. I start off going, “What’s the problem with young Muslim men?” But we end up asking, “What’s the problem with young men?” Halfway through the show, you realize that actually one of the main characters is this white racist, a sort of incel school shooter. It’s about masculinity and technology, about wealth and consumerism. There, I was really angry about the racist, Islamophobic discussion, and that motivated me to create the piece. But to be honest, my real motivations have to do with the fact that I have been lucky to find theatre and a little section of the global theatre community who is interested in my work.

You mentioned complicity. Do you see an optimal way to face the climate crisis in some sort of collective complicity?

I’m not a climate policy specialist, but I am convinced that one of the tragedies at the moment is that the greatest challenges that human beings are facing are challenges that need a collective global solution. For instance, COVID-19 – and let’s be clear, COVID-19 is related to climate change – anthropogenic climate change, the global refugee crisis… These issues are not entirely reducible to each other, but they are linked. They require collective global action but there isn’t a collective global subject capable of delivering that action. The tragedy lies in that the grand political projects of the 20th century were all built on the idea of one collective subject that would somehow come together, and shape the world for the better. If you’re a Marxist, that’s the international working class, the global peasantry in Africa and Asia. If you’re a feminist, it’s probably women. Everyone had a subject that was going to redeem things.

And of course, that never happened. 

So you are calling for an understanding of the material diversity in this global society project, and then holding people accountable more as individuals.

Somehow there has to be action together. The problem is: we live in a world which is more and more nationalistic, more and more intensely market-driven, both of which optimize individuals and atomize countries.

What’s the third part of your trilogy?

It is going to look at the relationship between violence and theatre and the internet. There’s an Iranian pop star from the 70s named Fereydoun Farrokhzad, whose story I’m interested in. He was a huge star, then he escaped and went to Germany where he got mobbed by people. Then he became a man with no money who lived in a small flat over a shopping mall. He was murdered incredibly brutally in 1990: he was stabbed more than 70 times, his tongue was cut out, and his genitals cut off… The German police never solved the case. 

Now, one thing that’s really interesting about the internet is the way it promises an equality of access to other human beings. I’m talking to you, you’re talking to me, but of course there are great divides in the world. If I think about my own family background, there is this fundamental divide between refugees and people who aren’t refugees. Certain things can happen in the refugee world and they don’t even matter. You know, a lot of the refugees who get to Europe are better off as refugees, because if you’ve got no money and you’re not European… The irony about people not wanting refugees is that the ones who get here are incredibly ambitious, incredibly educated, and incredibly driven. I’m interested in looking at the humanist promise of the internet, which says that everyone can be equal before the screen. In India, for example, more people have access to smartphones than to running water. 

We also got a podcast starting in about two months and we’re working on an installation project called Pop Icons. We’re going to Australia and England and maybe a couple of other countries to work with minority communities. If you’re an immigrant from the Global South, you probably have a box of tapes that your dad or your mom or their auntie brought from back home. With this project, we’re asking people to play those tapes from that great period of migration, the 70s, when everyone came. The 70s is also the great period of pop music: genres like Ethiopian jazz, garage rock, Turkish psychedelia, Iranian farming, and Afrobeat emerged then. Basically we are going to collect loads of these tapes and find a way to share them. 

Thank you, Javaad. I am excited to see and hear these upcoming pieces.

(Top image: Production of Rich Kids: The History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Photo by Peter Dibdin.)


Biborka Beres is a senior student at Bennington College in Vermont, USA, studying dance, drama and philosophy. Her interests and works lie at the intersection of socio-political change and the performing arts. In her interviews for the Artists & Climate Change blog, she is continuing her process of exploring how the arts can create models, practices and imaginary worlds which allow humans to coexist peacefully with nature and with each other.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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The Job of Complicating: An interview with Javaad Alipoor, Part I

By Biborka Beres

The Javaad Alipoor Company is a UK-based theatre company led by artistic director Javaad Alipoor, who has been envisioning and creating extraordinary virtual theatre performances since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. His work has not only adapted to the challenge of transitioning theatrical performance from physical spaces to the virtual environment, but it has made extraordinary use of new tools and means, creating, for example, Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. The show is a deep, historical exploration of a car crash involving the children of the Iranian elite as well as the present-day climate crisis, using Instagram Live.

I asked Javaad how his unique, politically-loaded storytelling informs his vision for the future, and how it helps him to engage with wide-scale, systemic issues such as consumerism and the climate crisis.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the idea for the performance came to you? This performance connects some seemingly disparate dots – how did you manage to do this in one virtual piece? 

This is the second part of a series of plays that I have been developing about contemporary technology and its relationship to contemporary politics. The first part was a play called The Believers Are But Brothers, which opened at Edinburgh a couple years ago and went to a few places in Australia, the U.S., and Europe. One of the things that interest me about the contemporary world is this seeming contradiction, where so-called technological progress gets quicker and quicker (although if you’ve seen Rich Kids, it probably doesn’t surprise you that I don’t necessarily think of it as progress), but at the same time, it seems to unleash a very ancient part of human beings. On the one hand, social media helps people connect; it gives shape to, for example, the #MeToo movement, and it helps Egyptian Democrats overthrow a dictator. On the other hand, it helps the far right all across the world: Bolsonaro, Orban, Germany, Brexit… The first part of the trilogy was about three young men who get involved with violent extremism through the internet, using an app called WhatsApp and its secret messaging feature. Two of them were young Muslims in the UK, then there was a white boy who supported Donald Trump. It looked at the radicalization of people who feel like losers.

Production of Rich Kids: The History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Photo by Peter Dibdin. 
On the left: Javaad Alipoor.

I’m of mixed background myself; my mom’s English and my father’s from Iran. I speak Persian and I follow the news from the country. The rich kids of Tehran have actually become a real issue. It’s not just Iran, but a lot of developing countries: Zimbabwe, China. The people running these countries want to seem anti-imperialist, so in Iran, if you’re powerful, no matter how much money you’ve got, you don’t show off. Your whole justification is: you only care about Iran and Islam and standing up to the Americans. The problem is these guys have kids who don’t have those responsibilities, but have Instagram. That’s what I wanted to make a show about. I consider myself to be a bit of an anthropologist, so what I find interesting about the internet is the way it gives you an insight into super niche people’s lives. I can, within a few clicks, go on the websites that ISIS used to recruit people. Or I can see the Instagram accounts of people who are the children of dictators in the Middle East. 

Where that intersects with climate change is that I am not only an anthropologist, but a political artist, too. And a political artist has a very specific job to do.

How did you decide to explore climate change in this context, moving from political critique to locating it within a greater context, and talking about consumerism, for example? 

I would say that this is the job of a political artist. Then there is the job of a political intellectual or a political activist. I’m lucky I get to do all of these things. I write occasionally for The Guardian or The Independent about cultural politics or Middle Eastern politics. I’m a very political person and I’m immersed in lots of different campaigning groups. I was part of a movement in the UK, which started after Brexit. I don’t know if you’ve been to the UK much, but there has been a lot of very intense racism, not only against Polish people but against Blacks and Asians as well. Yes, a lot of these people are guest workers, but many of them have been here for three or more generations. The movement I was part of was about showing solidarity with them. There, I knew what the answer was. If I know what I think should happen, I write an article about it, or I might come and knock on your door and ask you to sign a petition, or say, “I think you should vote this way at this election.” However, there are deeper questions that are fundamentally about our relationship to history. Now, I don’t know what the answer to those are. This is where the tools of a theatermaker or filmmaker come in, since we have ways of developing an argument that can keep contradictions in our art. People ask me, especially regarding the show about radicalism, “What do you think we should do?” And I’d say, “Well, what I think is the thing you just watched.”

Yes, that speaks to complexity, but there’s also a high level of specificity in it. 

That’s what I mean when I say that a political artist has a specific job. It’s the job of complicating. I mean, I reckon our politics aren’t a million miles away from each other. So when I make a show like that, I’m not teaching you anything. We share a lot already. My hope as a political artist is to be able to complicate issues and to make people feel complicit and implicated in something greater than them. And also to give people provocations and things to think about. 

I found that a lot of artists believe performance is not about proving anything that’s already been proven scientifically, but about creating an intimate relationship between people and facts. What is the relationship between your work and scientific facts about the climate? 

I used to be a community worker until I was about 27. My academic background is in philosophy and religious studies; I wrote my Master’s thesis about psychoanalysis and Sufism – mystical Islam. I don’t necessarily trust the idea of scientific facts. That doesn’t mean climate change is just an opinion to me; I just think science is not what most people think it is. It’s certainly not the only domain of truth. 

I consider this question more in terms of commitment. I am more committed to critical theory and to philosophy than, say, scientific facts. In this show, I’m trying to explore how the fundamental political and moral challenge of climate change is to understand it as what a lot of philosophers of science say it is: the great challenge of the Anthropocene.

There’s a great post-Deleuzian philosopher called Timothy Morton, who wrote the book Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the WorldHe makes the point that the great political and moral challenge we face around climate change is reckoning with non-infinite, definite but huge objects. This laptop I’m talking to you on now is going to take 25,000 years to break down. So I should take responsibility for something for 25,000 years – see, this idea is huge, but definite. And it is challenging the tradition of political and moral thinking about how we should act. Because if we think about human beings, as I say in the show, we are used to thinking in two kinds of timescales: we either think about me, my children, my parents, or we think about the infinite, God, Mohammad, or Moses.

That’s really difficult. What does that even mean? So, my relationship is to that kind of critical philosophy and critical thought rather than to scientific facts. I’m very pessimistic about the state of the world, as I think a lot of us are. I’m pessimistic about the possibility of truth coming from any of the specific and very mutilated categories of, let’s call it late capitalism. One has to be kind of radical about it. We might look at theatre and think most of it doesn’t really have anything to say about the world, but in the same way, most philosophy that happens in universities doesn’t have anything to say about the world either. These are mutilated, alienated, little forms of stuff. A friend of mine once told me to always approach these issues from the other direction. If you’re doing critical thought, engage with it like an artist, and if you’re doing art, engage with it like a critical theorist. I try to do that in my work. 

Thank you, Javaad.

In the second part of this interview, we discuss Javaad’s motivations to make work in theatre, tactics to engage with the climate crisis during COVID, as well as his plans for upcoming productions. 

(Top image: Production of The Believers Are But Brothers. Photo by The Other Richard.)


Biborka Beres is a senior student at Bennington College in Vermont, USA, studying dance, drama and philosophy. Her interests and works lie at the intersection of socio-political change and the performing arts. In her interviews for the Artists & Climate Change blog, she is continuing her process of exploring how the arts can create models, practices and imaginary worlds which allow humans to coexist peacefully with nature and with each other.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Choreographer and Dancer Cassie Meador, Part II

By Biborka Beres


This is the second part of a two-part interview with Cassie Meador of Dance Exchange. You can read the first part here.

You make me think about the difference in the speed of individuals’ thoughts, including panic about the climate, and the speed of being and acting together. They seem to be two completely different timescales.

This work at the intersection of art and science is about supporting and creating spaces where people can reflect and ask questions, where they can search for answers while being held by the strength of community. We’re not just consuming facts and information, but moving the ideas and deepening the questions as we connect to the range of emotions we experience when we’re facing the realities of the climate crisis.

My kind of shorthand for this has become moving to notice and noticing to move. We’re moving to notice more intimately our relations with all that we share on this planet, and we’re noticing how this moves us towards the individual and collective actions we can take. For me, this is a thru line, and I come back to it when I feel off track, or a sense of unclarity about how I should be contributing.

I was actually wondering if you had any phrases, thoughts, or other sources of energy for when you face a challenge regarding your work. How do you deal with skepticism either from inside or from outside?

I have a son; he’s a year and a half. And because of the pandemic as well, there’s been a stretch of time that has been less about making work. I haven’t made a dance in a while, I mean in a performance project sort of way. I’m just embarking on a new work, and I was thinking, I didn’t feel like leading that alone. All of it is hyper-collaborative and co-created with the individuals and communities we’re working with, but I needed the strength of a larger collaborative team on it. It’s not a direct response to your question, but it has to do with that.

Moving Field Guides workshop, photographed by Jori Ketten. Cassie Meador started developing Moving Field Guides on the How to Lose a Mountain 500-mile walk, and uses dance to support connection, appreciation, and ultimately stewardship and advocacy for the environment. Initially developed in partnership with the US Forest Service in 2011, Dance Exchange has since led more than 200 Moving Field Guides nationwide.

Would you mind talking a bit more about this new project?

We’re just at the beginnings of Future Fields, a performance project that’s going to cultivate the communal exploration of climate change and agriculture. We’re exploring how food is or could be grown and experienced in a changing world. I’m really excited to be co-leading this project with two other dance-makers: Christina Cantanese and Dr. Jame McCray. In our work together, we’re interested and invested in the ways that dance-making can yield new ways for personal and local experiences to be woven together – the larger stories of how climate change is impacting our lives and shared planet. We all live in different parts of the country, and we want to see the project unfold across these different locations: one urban with Jame, one suburban with myself, and one rural with Christina. We’re looking for ways the outcomes can grow from the relationships that are built and from the individuals and communities we gather at each site. 

Is the diversity of locations due to the virtual landscape of the pandemic? 

It was in place before the pandemic. We’ve always been interested in how creative outcomes would be held and evolved in those sites. Of course, there is this shared lens and research together, and things that are particular to the sites. We’re early in the development, but all of this early investigation is happening online. Without the pandemic, we probably would have leaned more into gathering in those sites and spending more time and shared space together. This shared time is now being pushed in this online direction.

This reminds me of the story you shared of being on tour and feeling disconnected from nature. During the pandemic, how have you been able to find togetherness with the natural environment and togetherness with other people?

This is definitely something many of us are working on right now. I’m trying to figure out how these moments, when we meet behind screens in Zoom boxes, can be about finding a deeper connection to our bodies and ourselves –and that might be about turning away from our screens and heading back outdoors. I work a lot with K-12 educators and they are spending so much of their time with students behind screens. We try to offer them approaches to kinesthetic learning that keep us and our bodies moving.

In terms of the Future Fields projects, so many of us have to adapt to gatherings and conversations taking place online. This spring and summer, we’re going to be working with the American Society for Microbiology to design and host a creative conversation tentatively titled Research Re-imagined. We’re going to make and share art in this online format to propel a conversation about the relevance of soil microbiomes and the ecosystem services they provide in our changing climate. In a way, we don’t have to go to each location where the scientists, farmers, and artists are doing their work. We’ll bring those people together to connect and engage with each other online. They will be invited to explore creative tools and approaches for expanding the way science communication can engage individuals and communities through the arts. There will also be opportunities for small groups to generate ideas to collaborate across disciplines, and to further activate the research by sharing artistic responses to it, not only through dance-making, but through writing and media arts, too. Although we’ll be hosting the event online, people attending will still be invited to move and create alongside one another.

Over years of participatory dance-making, Dance Exchange has pioneered and developed tools for connecting subject matters with movement. I think embodying scientific information allows for a deeper understanding and richer engagement with the content, particularly with a subject like soil microbiome research, which can be challenging to visualize given its microscopic scale and underground location.

I wish we had similar activities in school. It sounds like such a great way to explore, and it is so inviting as well.

This is why I’m not only committed to the creation of performance work, but to working with educators and looking at how dance can support the ways that we’re learning within education systems.

A moment from a Moving Field Guides workshop. Photo by Jori Ketten.

Do you have a climate vision or a dream for the climate?

I might answer this in more than one way. One thing that’s coming to mind at the beginning of this Future Fields project is how we’re listening deeply to our past, present, and potential futures to create this vision. Jame, one of my collaborators on the project, offered this question: How do we become good ancestors, ones who gift future generations vibrant and growing lands and knowledge? One vision I hold is that we’re engaged in answering these questions together. A vision can be something that is tomorrow or it can be something that is far off. It is always in process. I hold a vision where each of us is able to discover and bring our different capacities and strengths, commitment, and love to this challenge.

I see this emerging and happening, and it’s one of the things that strengthens and motivates me. We’re growing our capacities to approach movements and actions about our climate holistically and systemically. I see us deepening the connections and  reciprocity of care needed, while recognizing the sacredness of what we share on our planet.

I’m reflecting on that vision, and I think it’s a lot about how we are in process with one another too. I appreciate your answers. You have given me lots of food for thought. Thank you.

(Top image: Photo of a Moving Field Guides workshop for K-12 educators, by Vinnie and Beth Mwano.)


Biborka Beres is a senior student at Bennington College in Vermont, studying dance, drama, and philosophy. Her interests and works lie at the intersection of socio-political change and the performing arts. In her interviews for Artists & Climate Change, she is continuing her process of exploring how the arts can create models, practices, and imaginary worlds which allow humans to coexist peacefully with nature and with each other.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Choreographer and Dancer Cassie Meador, Part I

By Biborka Beres


Cassie Meador is the executive artistic director of Dance Exchange, founded by Liz Lerman. She wears multiple hats, including climate activist, educator, choreographer, and dancer. A true visionary, she expands the concept of dance by taking it outside the studio to foster action on climate change and a range of social issues. Her main projects include Bricks and Bones, a performance series co-created with Paloma McGregor in 2015 in response to the erasure of Black lives and communities in Dallas, TX; and Off-site/Insight: Stories from the Great Smoky Mountains, a collaboration with the National Park Service, leaders from the Cherokee community, and regional artists in 2017 to build capacities to contend with the complexities that shape our relationship to park land. 

In 2011, she was selected as an artist representative of Initiatives of Change to attend the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. I asked her about her journey to join Dance Exchange, how she bridges climate education and activism with dance-making, and what pieces she has coming up.

How did you come to be the artistic director of Dance Exchange? 

Today I am in Maryland. This is where I live and also where Dance Exchange is located, which is on the lands of the Nacotchtank (Anacostan) and Piscataway People. I met Dance Exchange in 2001 at the Bates Dance Festival when I was a senior at Ohio State University. They were working on a project called Hallelujah, which took place in around 15 different communities in the United States. They would ask those communities what they were in praise of, and the question would be answered in all kinds of different ways. 

I came to Dance Exchange the next year. When I was at Ohio State, I started to question why at the university and in the dance program, I was surrounded by primarily young people instead of an intergenerational community of movers and makers, and why dance was only happening in the studio and on stage. There are all these things happening in the world right now, so what is it that we’re making dances about? In Dance Exchange, I found an organization asking these questions at its core – who gets to dance, where is the dance happening, what is it about, and why does it matter? To find a creative home that holds these questions central has been a gift. I’ve been with Dance Exchange for almost 20 years, becoming artistic director in 2012 following our founder’s tenure.

And that was Liz Lerman, right?

Yes. I overlapped with the founder, Liz Lerman, for about 10 years. Those years, working as a performer and dance-maker with Dance Exchange, I spent most of my time on tour and on the road. It was right after Liz received a MacArthur Fellowship, so I spent about the equivalent of six years on tour out of those ten years. The pace of travel and the time spent in airports, on planes, in hotel rooms and in theaters left me feeling disconnected from the natural world. There is this one trip in particular that I remember: we were waiting for our flight and I was standing in front of the magazine racks at the airport. I realized in that moment that I was using magazine covers to orient to the season, and even to know what time of the year it was. I asked myself, “Is this really how I want to be shaping and creating a life?” I also had a heightened awareness of the environmental impacts of moving and producing work at that speed.

It makes me think of how artificial our rhythm is in urban environments. What it means to be an artist today is so disconnected from the rhythms of nature. Is this why you decided to shift to making work about the environment? 

I actually thought I was going to leave dancing altogether. I grew up in a family of scientists, so I was curious about  pursuing a path in environmental science. But Dance Exchange is a place where you’re really encouraged to question and engage with discomfort. As our founder always says: turn discomfort into inquiry. Because I was in a place that didn’t say, “oh, well, you’re questioning this, so you have to leave,” but saw value in that questioning, saw that dance-making could be a partner, I started really thinking about the ways my experience as an artist could hold value in connecting people more deeply to the natural world. My work could have a role in communicating about our world and what’s happening to our planet. This kept me in it. 

Performance of How To Lose a Mountain. Photo by Zachary Z. Handler.

Some opportunities started to emerge because of this questioning. At that time, I was teaching a couple of courses at Wesleyan University that were cross-listed between the College of the Environment and the Dance Department. I was taking all these creative tools that had primarily lived in indoor spaces – whether that was a dance studio or school cafeteria or a hospital; I mean, with Dance Exchange, we worked within all kinds of contexts – and for the first time, using them outdoors. Those courses at Wesleyan became a real catalyst to investigate where I could take my dance-making. One of the places that this took me was to work on a project called How to Lose a Mountain. As I started to look at my own consumption, I was shocked at my lack of awareness of the places and communities that my resource use was connected to and impacting. At the time I was living in Washington, D.C., and I found that my house’s electrical power was directly linked to mountaintop removal only 500 miles from our nation’s capital. Learning more about the devastating impacts, both on the environment and on the health of communities in that region, I had the impulse to go and see this. I had the impulse to use my own body to cover that distance.

I received support and encouragement from Dance Exchange for my journey, and to understand how the dance-making process could involve more communities along the way. It led to a 500-mile walk from my home in Washington, D.C. to one of the sources of its electrical power, a mountaintop removal site in West Virginia. It really broadened my concepts and assumptions around dance. You mentioned putting your body to use, for me that is to actually investigate with it.

That’s so exciting. You mentioned that for a moment, you thought about becoming an environmental scientist. What do you think the role of dance is in relation to science? Would you say there is a complementary relationship between the two?

You can’t get to climate action without finding ways to connect and move through a range of emotions. As we have greater access to both the science and stories of the climate crisis, the emotions evoked and experienced are intensifying. I think art, and dance in particular, helps us to move along the spectrum of emotions we may be experiencing or need to experience to make way for change.

I also think that dance-making offers a way to experience and hold contrasting emotions and ideas at the same time, to be more honest about what we’re facing. We need this range of emotions to process the trauma inflicted by the climate crisis. If it were just about a rational response to scientific facts, we’d be much further along than we are – but it’s also about power. Facts alone don’t shift power. They have to work in relationship with the emotions that live in our bodies and with what moves us to change. I don’t think science has in any way failed us. We need the facts and the science, but we need them to be in relationship to opportunities that give us space to process those emotions, to be vulnerable. 

Reading about the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal made me want to use the power of my own body to walk, to see and hear about those the impacts. Hearing the stories, embodying the stories, and moving with these stories stays with you and reshapes your life in a different way than consuming information does. For me, making dances has never been about a single trajectory to the stage; it is more a plunge into the unknown, a way to ask questions, to go new places, a way to return home and to reshape our lives and actions.

Remembering Water’s Way in performance. Photo by Liz Jelsomine.

So, for you, this inquiry about mountaintop removal was born out of a deeply personal investigation. At the same time, you mention the importance of communities in the work. Do you see your work as going deep into your own individuality, or is it more about connecting to people? 

It’s definitely both. With How to Lose a Mountain, the impulse to create was very personal. In another instance, with the Schuylkill Center, the commission and the impulse to create came from a partner. We were working on a project as part of their LandLab residency program. They commission artists to create work that addresses environmental change through the art-making process, but also supports the deepening of community relationships to the center. One of the things we were looking at was how to connect the personal experiences people have in that place and weave them into the larger story of climate change.

We led many walks at the center and on one of the first walks, I noticed these large bundles of sticks that were being used to slow the water’s movement across the land and to collect debris that would otherwise end up in the river. We learned that these bundles are called fascines. I was struck by the fact that each stick does very little on its own – it is the collection of them that holds the strength and the ability to slow and divert the powerful force of water. This became a metaphor for us; each stick is needed but is not as significant alone. It is the aggregate of them that holds the power. Strength can be found in the ways that we come together.

Dancers carrying the fascines in Remembering Water’s Way. Photo by Liz Jelsomine

As part of that project, we ended up working with a designer and the communities connected to the Schuylkill Center to create large weavings. Sticks and native plants were rolled, bundled, and carried as the audience followed us in and through the woods. Then, these fascines were placed in areas heavily impacted by increased storm occurrences due to the warming climate to help slow the water cutting through the eroded land. The fascines continue to be useful to consider as we reflect on the times we’re living in right now.

This is such a powerful metaphor. I wish I had seen the work. 

Collective action can move in directions that offer resilience and strength, for each of us individually and also for our communities.

Thank you, Cassie.

* * *

This is the first part of a two-part interview with Cassie Meador. In the second part, we talk about the sacredness of what we share.

(Top image: Performance of How To Lose a Mountain. Photo by Zachary Z. Handler.)


Biborka Beres is a senior student at Bennington College in Vermont, studying dance, drama, and philosophy. Her interests and works lie at the intersection of socio-political change and the performing arts. In her interviews for Artists & Climate Change, she is continuing her process of exploring how the arts can create models, practices, and imaginary worlds which allow humans to coexist peacefully with nature and with each other.


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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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