In the last couple of years a number of plays about climate change have been staged in London from Steve Waters’ The Contingency Plan to the multi-authored Greenland at the National Theatre and Richard Bean’s The Heretic. The Contingency Plan was funny, dramatic and accurate; Greenland was not very dramatic, not very funny and accurate; and The Hereticwas very funny, quite dramatic and fairly inaccurate.
Meanwhile, this blog has been waiting since 2010 for the results of the substantial grant of $750,000 (£470,000) from the US National Science Foundation for a new play about climate change by The Civilians theatre company. The reviews for The Great Immensity are now in. It sounds as if it has made some of the same mistakes as Greenland.
So what happens in The Great Immensity? The set-up is that a character called Phyllis arrives at Barro Colorado Island, a rainforest and research reserve in the middle of the Panama Canal, in search of her twin sister Polly, a filmmaker who has suddenly disappeared. The researchers on the island help Phyllis reconstruct her sister’s last days through flashbacks, video interviews from Polly’s hard drive, and vaudeville musical sketches. Phyllis learns that Polly was engaged in a project to do with the upcoming Auckland Climate Summit. The action then moves to Churchill, Manitoba, where Earth Ambassadors and others disclose what happened to Polly.
Robert Trussell in the Kansas City Star calls it a “risk-taking show”and an “unwieldy cargo container of theatrical virtues and deficiencies”.
“Integrated into the narrative is alarming information about the plight of the planet. I’m not questioning the scientific information that forms this play’s foundation. My concern is how the show works as theatrical entertainment.”
Victor Wishna, in the KCMetropolis, an online journal of the performing arts, takes the viewthat what theatre does best is provoke, rather than educate or entertain. Although well-performed, he finds it a single-issue, educational show, with no subplots or diversions from the message of the irreversible damage that humans have done to the planet.
“Theatre-goers may very well leave The Great Immensity more frustrated and agitated than inspired. Unlike a lecture or even a documentary film, theatre isn’t expected to offer answers but to raise—to provoke—questions, to challenge assumptions, to take us from ‘There’s nothing to be done’ to ‘Isn’t there something we can do?’”
“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)
ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.
Culture|Futures is organising the conference “Eco-Leadership through Culture” on December 5th from 9.30 to 19.00 during the UN Climate Summit COP17 in South Africa.
The conference is co-organized with the Municipality of Ethekwini (Durban), the Ecological Sequestration Trust and the Danish Cultural Institute in co-operation with many other partners in Durban and worldwide.
The conference will take place at the Durban Municipal City Chambers located at The City Hall, 263 Dr Pixley KaSeme Str (West Str), 1st Floor Council Chambers, Durban. The program will feature key notes and panel-interventions from some of the world’s highly recognised specialists and activists highlighting solutions needed to solve the challenges of the World and Africa.
Key notes include Peter Head, one of the world leaders in integrated urban sustainable development and chair of the new Ecological Sequestration Trust, and Prof. Edgar Pieterse, director of the Africa Centre for Cities. They will present a global and African perspective to address major global and African challenges for urban/regional development and discuss the significant role of culture.
The purpose of the conference is to:
clarify the vision of an Ecological Age by 2050, how to deliver it and the role of culture
inspire institutions working with culture, and cities in Durban/Africa/World to undertake eco-social leadership
build Culture|Futures as a new international network for cultural institutions/actors, cities/regions and other stakeholders in eco-leadership
If you want to attend the conference, please register by sending an e-mail to email@example.com with your name and organization (if relevant), or by signing up to http://culturefutures.ning.com/events/culture-futures-eco-leadership-through-culture-conference-durban – (this requires that you first go through a signup procedure to join the Culture|Futures online network (approval to the site may take one day).
As there are only a limited number of seats at the conference, confirmation of registration is required. The conference is free of charge.
Culture|Futures is an international collaboration of organizations and individuals who are concerned with shaping and delivering a proactive cultural agenda to support the necessary transition towards an Ecological Age by 2050.
The Cultural sector that we refer to is an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral, inter-genre collaboration, which encompasses policy-making, intercultural dialogue/cultural relations, creative cities/cultural planning, creative industries and research and development. It is those decision-makers and practitioners who can reach people in a direct way, through diverse messages and mediums.
Affecting the thinking and behaviour of people and communities is about the dissemination of stories which will profoundly impact cultural values, beliefs and thereby actions. The stories can open people’s eyes to a way of thinking that has not been considered before, challenge a preconceived notion of the past, or a vision of the future that had not been envisioned as possible. As a sector which is viewed as imbued with creativity and cultural values, rather than purely financial motivations, the cultural sector’s stories maintain the trust of people and society.
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In December 2009, the art collective Wooloo secured housing for more than 3.000 activists coming to the COP15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen (NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN).
Now the NEW LIFE hospitality experiment continues in Mexico during COP16 (Nov. 29 – Dec. 10, 2010.)
NEW LIFE CANCUN is aiming to connect visiting activists and NGO employees with local families in the summit location of Cancún, Mexico. An area infamous for its vulnerability to climate disasters, as well as for the high-CO2 emissions associated with its tourism sector.
Utilizing this large meeting of hosts and guests in Cancun as our exhibition platform, we hereby invite artists and activists to explore its social architecture and suggest work proposals of an awareness, educational and/or practical-action nature designed around the topic: “NEW WAYS OF LIVING TOGETHER”.
Individuals or groups working with interventions, activism and other participatory practices are invited to apply for participation at www.wooloo.org/newlifecancun
The deadline for work proposals is AUGUST 1st, 2010.
NEW LIFE CANCUN is a collaboration between Wooloo and the Mexican climate change collective Carbonding.
Wooloo (founded 2002) is a networked artist group operating through the online community www.wooloo.org.
Mixing digital communication with physical participation, Wooloo has developed a working method based on the advocacy of collectivity. While the Wooloo website currently connects the resources of more than 13.000 cultural producers in 140 countries, the group’s various projects function as social experiments in direct collectivism.
Wooloo projects have been presented in such places as Artists Space (USA), Basel Kunsthalle (Switzerland) and later this year at the European Biennial Manifesta 8 (Spain).
While political demonstrations traditionally pit two opposing ideologies against each other–think World Trade Organization meetings and anti-globalization activism–the demonstrations and activities around the 15th annual Conference of the Partners (COP15) were surprisingly complimentary to the talks themselves. The grassroots activists were not opposed to the political maneuverings, but rather wanted to see them go farther. This “will to move forward” allowed for creativity in demonstrations and amplified artistic activism. Curation at local museums and art sites took advantage of the agreed-upon topics of COP15, setting programming well in advance. The more guerilla forces of the art world seized the collective momentum, and artistic presentation during the two-weeks of the climate summit spanned from museum gallery to street happening. While the politicians represented their national agenda, the artists represented the natural world.
The Nation Gallery of Denmark laid the ground work for understanding the environment through artistic representation with their exhibition “Nature Strikes Back: Man and Nature in Western Art”. The aggressive titling is meant to communicate the show’s theme of man seeking dominance over nature. It focuses on how nature in art is rarely a direct representation, but a symbol for itself and man’s relationship to it. This relationship is articulated through five themes: Exploitation, Human Nature, Order and Systems, Landscape and Disaster.
Within the exhibition, “Nature Strikes Back” offers a picture of nature that highlights a clear separation between man and the natural world. A significant point is made to articulate the significance of the landscape conceptually. Having not appeared in European language until the late 16th Century, the word ‘landscape’ has a loaded history of invoking ownership of that which is depicted. This exhibition also clearly addresses the issues of where the border between our inner and outer natures lie, our sense of the idyllic and edenic paradise, as well as our attempts to organize. The story here is one of control and mastery of the physical world and its latter-day break down. The strike which is being made in return is one that equates judgement day to severe climate changes as retaliation against our enclosure and exploitation. This conclusion keeps man at the center of the issue though, which is problematic. It continues to define nature as a logical system to which we stand opposed and from which we will see active retaliation against our harmful activities, missing the mark on man’s inclusion within natural systems.
“Nature Strikes Back”, and its importance, is clearest when its relationship to another exhibition called “Rethink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change” is considered. “Rethink” is an extensive exhibition of installations displayed across four institutions in three spaces and the virtual world. This exhibition was also divided thematically, though perhaps more opaquely by its titles: Rethink Relations at the National Gallery of Denmark, Rethink The Implicit at the Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Rethink Kakotopia at the Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center, and Rethink Information, which was on the Internet at a satellite exhibition at the Moesgård Museum (in Århus) and as public performance throughout Copenhagen.
Man at the center of natural representation, as found in a traditional gallery format, provides the historical background of “Rethink” both in the sense of nature in art and traditions in presentation. This exhibition of contemporary pieces focuses primarily on generative and phenomenological work, with many articulating systems through demonstration and/or dramatization instead of classification. Programmed into a heavily ambulatory, semi-public space, without a fee, dynamically connected to its other locations through virtual space, “Rethink” is not just contemporary work, but contemporary presentation. The work not only speaks to being connected to natural systems like in Thomas Saraceno’s “Biospheres” and Olafur Eliasson’s “Your Watercolor Machine”, but is placed in shared open space diminishing barriers to access and the creation of connection to the work.
Together, these exhibitions, including the other locations of “Rethink”, serve as a history and foundation for looking at other artistic endeavors in Copenhagen. Individually they look at representations of our understanding of the natural work. “Nature Strikes Back” represents it as something to be classified and contained, while “Rethink” represents it as something to be experienced and studied. Paired, they reflect what has changed in our perceptions over time. And, while they inform one another, they inform the less mainstream exhibitions outside of curated space even more.
REPRESENTING THE PRESENT
Millennium Art’s “CO2 Cube”, featured in this issue of the quarterly, uses a methodology befitting inclusion in “Rethink”. It is a 27 square foot cube, reflecting the volume of one ton of carbon dioxide, and floated in the lake adjacent to the Tycho Brahe Planetarium. It features current data and video about climate change, pulled from the internet that day, streaming across its two faces which are closest to shore. While its form articulates a natural relationship of man in the contemporary world (this volume of CO2 is what the average american produces in two weeks), the media reflected on its service aims for immediacy even with the lag created by the curatorial impact of the projects relationships with the United Nations, Google and YouTube.
One can also look at the example of “7 Meters”, also featured in this issue. It is a project that’s primary visual impact was in the plentiful flashing red LEDs mounted at seven meters above the ground to reflect the anticipated sea level rise should the ice of Greenland melt. Using projected data, it creates an expansive experience throughout Copenhagen, representing the ghost of climates future by tracing a drastic change in the immediate surroundings. And there is also Mark Coreth’s “Polar Ice Bear”, a polar bear skeleton embedded within an ice sculpture of the same bear, left to melt in public. It exchanges data for exposure to the elements. While it never completed melting due to sub-zero temperatures later in the conference, it combined a known symbol of climate change (the polar bear) with a phenomena of climate change (melting ice) to produce an effective and connective experience through its thematic representations. Both of these projects connect directly to both their immediate environment and larger environmental issues.
All three of these examples were presented in public, high traffic spaces. They focus on a human relationship by representing our downstream effects, both immediate in the sense of the cube as our CO2 output, and that which is more abstract, as with the Ice Bear’s melt created by ambient temperature (which we have a long term collective effect upon). And so, these factors articulate the next step beyond the exhibitions of “Nature Strikes Back” and “Rethink”. They continue the narrative of natural interconnection and immediateness and highlight the core difference between those gallery shows. Whereas “Nature Strikes Back” articulates man vs. nature, “Rethink” and these public space exhibits articulate man with nature.
ACTING AS REPRESENTATIVES
The red-suited, fedora wearing Climate Debt Agents (who sing), the similarly attired, but otherwise hued Mr. Green of OxFam, the aliens of Azaaz.org, the awards-night ambiance of the “Fossil of the Day” awards. These costumed, theatrical performances infuse humor and inclusivity into the plain-clothed protesters and demonstrators. In these performative, engaging acts, once can see that the opposite of cataloging nature is taking action on its behalf. These creative, complimentary demonstrations blur protest and performance art, and exist in the realm of happenings.
The Yes Men, artists who practice ‘identity correction’ by appearing as high-powered spokespersons of corporations, were most noted for their series of press releases on Monday, December 14, 2009. Teamed with Thierry Geoffroy, a.k.a The Colonel, and headquartered at Gallery Poulsen, the Yes Men created what was likely the most effective and affective of actions, where this performance/protest integration was most clear. They called into question Canadian environmental policy through a series of official-seeming statements that were authentic enough to fool news organizations for a number of hours during the day. This temporary hijacking of political identity no longer relies on the representational visual articulations we see in the National Gallery. Instead this direct, subversive action on the behalf of the natural world–using the authentic voice of the Canadian government–represents nature back to man through advocacy, rather than through symbols.
The New Life Festival, organized by Wooloo.org, did not produce or display art itself, but enabled the hosting and accommodation of visitors in Danish homes. It arranged housing for over 3,000 artists and activists during COP15. This allowed many people who otherwise could not afford to be present to observe this moment in history. The New Life Festival also addressed perceptions of Denmark’s closed-off society. Primarily documented with guest books meant to help the guests and host families get to know one another, this project has completely forfeited aesthetic representational work, symbolism or synecdoche. Instead it has enabled direct representation, articulating a peopled mass by enabling it to gather.
Along with the ambitious collection of interviews by Open Dialogues, a literary UK collective, the ecological burial contracts from the Danish art group Superflex, and the anti-Coca Cola campaign from the Yes Men, these projects define success through congregation and collective energy in defense of the natural world. Working in the name of art, they give voice to two key entities absent from COP15: planet and people.
REPRESENTING SUCCESS IN REPRESENTATIVE FAILURE
In light of what is widely regarded as the failure of COP15 itself, having been unable to reach a binding agreement politically, there is hope and elements of success to which the arts can speak. Closing the Bella Center to NGOs, and the addition of a second credentialing process (meant to remove non-political dialogue from the meetings), underscores this ‘success’. That decision reflects a perceived threat from those who did not represent a political body’s or a nation’s political interest: the people in support of the natural world itself. This group that threatens the political process is the success of these two weeks in Copenhagen. It is a group from around the globe, from all walks of life, which is made of people that are as varied as the ways a changing climate will affect them, and which is reified by gathering and identifying itself as a mass en masse.
Sustainability and Contemporary Art: Art, Post-Fordism and Eco-CritiqueInternational Symposium
EU Budapest 19-20 March 2010
Ralo Mayer, Multi-Plex Fictions
The 2010 Symposium on Sustainability and Contemporary Art brings together artists, philosophers, environmental scientists and activists to explore the conundrum of capitalism’s remarkable ability to absorb criticism and adapt to new circumstances. According to post-Fordist theory, in the wake of the social upheaval of May 1968 capitalism was able to recuperate radical desires for freedom, creativity and personal liberation through the adoption of the principles of flexibility, horizontality and autonomy, and the shift from industrialism to immaterial labour.
Today, the energy and idealism of the environmental movement is arguably in a similar danger of being transformed into the motor of a green capitalist resurgence that threatens to rescue neo-liberal globalisation from the economic downturn. This symposium asks whether environmentalism is in fact now facing its own ‘post-Fordist moment’, in which the language and values of ecology are at risk of being turned into an ideology of bureaucratic control and a technocratic justification for sustainable growth. It also raises the question of whether the environmental movement has anything to learn from the strategies of resistance proposed by the theorists of immaterial labour and the exploration of these issues by contemporary artists.
In the wake of the debacle of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, the question arises whether there might be more to ecological crisis than mitigating the threat posed by climate change to the current global economic system, and whether the danger posed by the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of bio-diversity deserves to be a greater priority. The symposium will try to locate a sense of eco-criticality in the approaches of contemporary artists, and also consider the implications of an ecologically-nuanced, post-Fordist critique for the international art world.
The symposium on Art, Post-Fordism and Ecological Critique is the fifth in an annual series of events organised at Central European University by Maja and Reuben Fowkes of Translocal.org, the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and the Centre for Arts and Culture at CEU. This year’s programme will include an afternoon of presentations and critical conversations in the main auditorium of Central European University on Friday 19 March, and a workshop event with symposium participants on the following day.
A small number of additional places are available for the workshop upon application.
Confirmed speakers include: Stephen Wright (art theorist, Paris), Igor Stokfiszewski(curator/critic/playwright, Warsaw), Branka Cvjeticanin (multimedia artist, Zagreb) and Ralo Mayer (artist, Vienna).
via Sustainability and Contemporary Art Symposium Budapest.
From 7 – 18 December, representatives from 192 nations, as well as thousands of activists and NGO organisations, will gather in Denmark for the UN Climate Change Conference.
To help solve the problem of over-booked hotel accommodation, NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN is running a volunteer-based campaign to get private Danish homes to open their door to the visitors.
NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN is organised by the arts collective Wooloo.org, who are utilizing this large-scale human meeting as its exhibition platform. Artists and performers will be presenting events, happenings and performances as part of their ‘residencies’, for hosts and guests in Copenhagen.
The artists curated by Wooloo.org will develop projects that reflect a new, sustainable way of life, works that are experiments in civic engagement and social empowerment.
NEW LIFE COPENHAGEN is an official partner of both the UN Climate Summit and the Alternative Climate Summit. Friends of the Earth and WWF are co-partners.