Reclaim the future: engaging with arts and creative practice – Extract from CAT’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’
This is an extract on the arts and zero carbon transition:
“Communicating the Zero Carbon Britain scenario means helping people visualise what it could be like to live in the year 2030 if we rose to the challenges of the 21st century. To offer a context to this, we looked at how our society currently portrays the future, and how this has changed over time. We quickly became aware that there are actually very few positive visions of a 21st century future. Dystopia and ecological collapse almost always abound when contemporary culture looks even ten or twenty years ahead. Be it a novel, a film, a TV series or a computer game, the setting is dark. From Children of Men, The Road, and 28 Days Later to The Survivors – the list seems endless. Yet back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, the way we projected the future felt very different. The likes of Dan Dare, Thunderbirds and Star Trek were going to take us away to exciting places with transporters, hover bikes and jet packs.
As the seventies rolled into the eighties and nineties the wonders of science and technology were seen to be smashing into the limits of the planet’s ecosystems. Alarm signals from the Green movement, along with Bhopal, Chernobyl and a wide range of other major catastrophes, led us into a different way of seeing our future. In film, a tipping point was perhaps Blade Runner, where the future became much darker.
Of course, setting any human drama in a tragic famine situation would not make palatable viewing, so a number of clever tricks are deployed. Either 98% of the population dies from ‘the virus’ before the film begins and the story is based around those relearning to plough with oxen in a deserted Somerset mansion – or – 98% of the population are converted to ‘zombies’ so that if you have to shoot a few dozen of them as you escape the city with the medicine for the sick child, no one thinks any the worse of you.
Despite the fact that a great many of us would like to explore the drama of human interaction set against a backdrop in which we are rising to our 21st century challenges – the artists, novelists, filmmakers and playwrights usually choose to paint it black.
But if society is unable to imagine a positive future, then we won’t create it.
There is, therefore, a need to forge direct links between those working in the arts and sustainability to create a community of practice amongst people who understand the need to catalyse big shifts in how we think.
In tackling issues of race, gender and class, arts and creative practice have shown they can reveal our blind spots and help us see our prejudices; they can break through denial and catalyse a transformation of attitudes and behaviours.
The arts offer a much needed mirror that can help individuals and societies reflect on where we really are, and help us to explore the alternatives. Although science based reports such as this can show a way forward, when the arts and science work together we can begin to visualise what it might actually be like to live and love in a world where we are rising to the demands of the 21st century, and so reclaiming the future.”
Ben Twist is Creative Carbon Scotland‘s Director and he has a brilliant blog. This article is copied from from Ben’s strategy blog which is well worth following!
Over the summer Creative Carbon Scotland focused more than we have in the past on talking to people and organisations working on climate change and sustainability about the role of the arts in their field (as opposed talking to people in the arts about climate change).
We’ve been doing a lot of thinking (and I’ve covered some of this in one of my other blogs) about the particular role of the arts in working on carbon reduction and adaptation to a new society. My part of this has been to do a number of talks to various groups, from an event at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation during the Edinburgh Festivals to a TEDx talk at Heriot Watt University.
I’ve refined my talk over the summer and the structure now goes something like this:
- We’re facing a major social change: either we achieve the carbon reduction targets implicit within the Paris Agreement – in which case our relationship with energy and fossil fuels will have to change radically – or we don’t achieve them – in which case issues such as migration, changing food supplies, resource related conflicts and so on will bring about major social change (as they are already).
- The Mexico City Declaration by UNESCO provides a useful definition of culture in a broad sense as effectively the way we live in the world.
- Using that definition, climate change is as much a cultural issue as a scientific or technical one: it is a function of our culture, our way of living in the world, which is a culture of consumption. We dig up resources, use them and throw them away, and this latter stage is a major cause of climate change. In order to avert more climate change, we need to shift to a culture of stewardship.
- This would have useful implications not only for environmental sustainability and climate change but also social sustainability (climate justice but also equalities more broadly) and economic sustainability (perhaps abandoning the search for endless economic growth and following up some of the principles of Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth, for example).
- So how do we achieve this cultural shift?
- Culture in a narrower sense – what we generally call the arts, but this includes design, film and media, museums and heritage etc – is the expression of culture in the wider sense used above. Art has often been said to ‘hold a mirror up to society’. But it is also therefore a way of understanding, interrogating and changing the wider culture.
- The German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote, ‘Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it’!
- Working with the arts is therefore a useful way to work on achieving the cultural shift.
- There is often an assumption that the role of the arts in areas such as these is to communicate complex ideas more effectively and particularly to engage the wider public emotionally rather than factually. This is indeed a useful role of the arts, but they can do much more. I have a slide which provides a (non-exhaustive) list of ways in which the arts work.
I think there are interesting ways in which artists can contribute to addressing climate change through making artistic work – CCS is involved for instance in a project led by the RSPB on developing awareness of the importance of the peat bogs in the Flow country as carbon sinks.
And there are also ways in which artists can use their skills, knowledge and ways of thinking in non-artistic projects and settings. After one talk, someone who has been attending the meetings of the Local Advisory Committee of the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference in 2017 came up to me. ‘I realise that’s what you’ve been doing at the meetings,’ she said. ‘You’ve used your role as an artist to make us think about and discuss things we wouldn’t have discussed otherwise.’
This was encouraging, as that’s what I do, although I hadn’t really thought of it as such in that particular situation. And in a way, that’s the point: I was being a member of a group and using the skills I have as a (former) theatre director, just as others in the group use their skills as academics, project managers etc.
This is all part of a strand of our work at CCS called Culture/SHIFT: the artistic and conceptual work that we do alongside, and inextricably linked to, our more practical and technical work supporting cultural organisations to reduce their carbon emissions. There’s more information about this here.
We’re always interested in more people working on climate change and sustainability attending our Green Teases and other events – following our most recent Arts & Sustainability Residency we’re thinking about reserving places for non-artists next year.
Our message must be getting through: we’ve been asked to run a session on this subject at the SSN Conference on 1 November. We’ll run through some of the ways in which we think the arts can support climate change and sustainability work and help participants to think about how this could be useful in their work. Sign up now!
|An Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project ‘Exploring energy and community in the past, present and future’ aims to help to revive public and political conversations about energy by looking in a fresh way at its past, present and future. Artists led by Tipping Point and Visiting arts are working with communities and university researchers.
Story 1: Policy Story: Demanding Times gathers a novel mix of communities of interest around energy policy, and generates new accounts of energy policy and politics past, present and future. Story 2: Industry Story: Future Works is rooted in the English midlands, and seeks to unearth fresh accounts of the long relationship between energy, industrial making and landscape, and explores where it might go next. Story 3: Everyday Story: Life Cycles engages with the role that energy resources have played in shaping communities and everyday life in south Wales.
by Naomi Wright
It is the beginning of term and we stand about discussing our theme for our classes ahead. I suggest art and energy, it interests me for all sorts of reasons. I say I am helping with similar themed workshops with some college students outdoors as part of Regensw’s art and energy programme. I wonder whether it will interest the class. We think about the wide range of meanings for energy. Energy is everything, I say, remembering a recent workshop. In a physical sense, binding the molecules of our being, energy fixed from the sun, in the movement of a river, the heat from a fire, in our food, in the every-day. We have our own energy, in the spirit of the land, in leylines, in happiness, in despair.
So the term at Crediton arts centre has taken this as a theme…. A couple of us are working with an old luccombe oak that has had to be cut down in the local park. We think of the power within, the height and weight of it, the history in it, the energy held beneath in the ground. The dying energy, used by fungus, the last of the leaves to be photosynthisising.
Others in the class discuss their drawings through the eye of an energy lens. Lines are energetic, directioned, growing. The still life is far from still as vegetation takes on a new meaning, pots spin, and all the senses are enlivened.
We’re all curious in how this will progress… Pat especially, as she has ideas for some new installations.
Naomi Wright is an artist who collaboratively researches the benefits of being outdoors in the elements. In sunshine, wind, or rain she maps and constructs places, things and conversations that make the most of our ecological interplay.
SusLab: a unique international platform to develop successful sustainable innovations for homes.
Suslab are interested in researching peoples perceptions of energy and have recently completed a research project with the RCA on drawing energy. An EU funded international project combines quantitative research with ethnographic design methodology.
Perception, practice and the energy transition.
|Published in 2015, The Metabolic Landscape is a beautifully illustrated, fascinating and engaging exploration of the unfolding relationship between energy and the landscape, and our interpretation of it.|
|Humankinds search for more powerful sources of energy to sustain an urbanising existence has created an energy transition that, while hugely beneficial to human existence, is now being identified as a source of harm. Just as metabolic disease refers to energy-sourced medical problems, so too the planet, the authors propose, is showing increasing signs of metabolic distress.|