My chief reservation about sustainability is that it can mean so many things to different interest groups. For one protagonist, sustainability may demand a massive redistribution of resources and wealth, coupled with radical reassessments of consumer values and economic practice; for another, it involves no more than modest adjustments to what we already do in order to accommodate a few of the most urgent ecological imperatives.
As with Climate Change, then, there’s no overall consensus concerning the precise shape sustainability will take. ‘Sustainable forest’ can mean a rich and ancient woodland drawn upon occasionally but left mostly to its own devices, or it can be a perpetual pine plantation supplying wood pulp and with practically zero biodiversity in it.
That’s why I’ve chosen mercury as a metaphor for sustainability. It challenges any assumption we might have that sustainability takes a uniform or consistent form among those considering it.
The image of mercury scurrying across a surface is familiar to most people, and is apt here because it allows us to better grasp the current ungraspability of sustainability. Sustainability is a fraught and fugitive issue, beset by political and personal evasions and manoeuvrings.
What’s more, the way in which sustainability can be made to adapt shape is both weakness and strength. On the negative side, if mercury is mishandled it becomes a toxic nuisance; likewise, sustainability can be distorted, misrepresented or misapplied, either through ignorance or cynically, to allow damaging practices to continue beneath a veneer of acceptability.
On the positive side, if put to proper use in a careful and structured way, and if its complex nature is understood and worked with, sustainability also provides an extremely valuable, if not life-saving, tool.
Mercury can communicate what the weather’s doing outside, or signal the degree of fever in the human body; sustainability, too, could be harnessed to monitor and sustain the wellness of our species in relation to its environment. Either that, or we can let the concept mess with our brains and slip through our fingers.
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The editors are Robert Butler and Wallace Heim. The associate editor is Kellie Gutman. The editorial adviser is Patricia Morison.
Robert Butler’s most recent publication is The Alchemist Exposed (Oberon 2006). From 1995-2000 he was drama critic of the Independent on Sunday. See www.robertbutler.info
Wallace Heim has written on social practice art and the work of PLATFORM, Basia Irland and Shelley Sacks. Her doctorate in philosophy investigated nature and performance. Her previous career was as a set designer for theatre and television/film.
Kellie Gutman worked with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for twenty years, producing video programmes and slide presentations for both the Aga Khan Foundation and the Award for Architecture.
Patricia Morison is an executive officer of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, a group of grant-making trusts of which the Ashden Trust is one.
The Birds is set in a landfill/crow’s nest, and inhabited by half-puppet half-man trash art creations, our protagonist’s seeks fortune with a plan that hinges on Man’s “out of sight out of mind,” mentality. The old adage, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” rings true and he prevails by defeating his enemies with their own greed.
Performed by: Freddie Bennett, Patrick Bonck, Matthew Jellison, Nicole Hodges*, Kim Ramirez, & Eric Sutton*
With Lighting Design and Stage Management by Michael Beyrouti, Costume Design by Dana Dobreva, Puppetry by Lillian Clements, Composition by James Stewart, and Set Design by: Aaron Gonzalez *Appearing Courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association
Equity Approved Showcase
The flowers were scarlet poppies and they burst through the wall. In 1997, the Lecoq-trained theatre company Bouge-de-là presented Under Glass.
Its young woman protagonist lives a closed existence in a cramped bedsit, selecting each day the same clothes, in the same order; her ritualized sequence of actions structures each day predictably, protecting any her from all outside influence. Yet on one wall of her attic room is a poster of an Alpine field, studded with flowers.
An unvoiced and largely repressed fantasy of Switzerland and what this appears to represent is stirred into life when a young Swiss man, a neighbour, meets and fleetingly befriends her before leaving again, to return to his native country or travel elsewhere.
The audience recognises, as he does not, the consequences of his actions for this vulnerable woman: better perhaps that he had never come at all.
In the performance’s final moments, she is left alone, again, in the small, drab room – even more alone, because abandoned. She leans against the wall, unspeaking: the damage done seems irreparable.
Then utterly without warning, flowers push their way through the wall. The dirty, fading wallpaper becomes an Alpine meadow, and pressed against it she appear to us to lie amongst poppies: maybe sleeping; maybe dying. She will never leave her little room; she will not travel to the places she dreams about. But in this moment she is transported there, and at the same time the pure fresh air and open fields burst in here. Living flowers, poppies, pushing in through peeling paper, connect two worlds: poetically, the image layers fresh against stale; movement against stasis; death against life.
This woman will not trust someone else another time. She will retreat still further. Perhaps she will die. But as she breathes in the scent of flowers, we can believe that something has changed for her in a way worth the anguish that comes with it.
Dr Frances Babbage is convenor of the MA in Theatre & Performance at Sheffield University. Her first book was Augusto Boal (Routledge, 2004).
GAS ZAPPERS is a series of interactive online art game that tackles climate change. The game’s protagonist is the polar bear—that victimized, yet cuddly symbol of global warming. Players embody the polar bear as it progresses through different climate change scenarios: Venice under water, a forest threatened by bulldozers, and an altercation with vicious oil derricks.
GAS ZAPPERS have different gaming scenarios with custom designed gameplay addressing the various components of global warming. Each scenarios embody a specific environmental identity addressing the causes, problems and possible solutions to the various scientifically proven contributors to elevated global temperatures. The project is made possible by Tribeca Film Institute.
via GAS ZAPPERS an online game about Climate Change » Play.