In 2005, when climate change was still a distant subject for many people, an article was published by the American environmentalist Bill McKibben, highlighting the urgent need of spreading the word about this worldwide problem and that, maybe, the best way to do it would be through the Arts. What The Warming World Needs Now Is Art, Sweet Art is a powerful 21st Century manifesto calling out a generation of creative people that have the power to raise awareness, expose and encourage in their hands - or on stage. More than one decade later, are the artists embracing McKibben’s challenge?
In 2019, the situation has changed. Scientists and organisations are starting to adopt a stronger language about climate change, by using terms like ‘emergency’ or ‘crisis’, and activists such as the young Greta Thunberg are craving for unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. There is now an atmosphere of urgency we are all breathing in: it is impossible not to feel the problem closer than ever or that time is running out fast. The idea of an ecosystem breakdown can be really frightening. However, it can also act as a source of inspiration for artists to use their talents to both create and motivate people to protect our planet. Many of them are holding hands with movements like “Extinction Rebellion” by taking the responsibility of warning us that the time to react is now.
A young generation of creators are also gradually defining a new vision of climate change when trying to retell the story of Mother Earth by implementing a fresh air of action and hope. At The Place, some of the most promising choreographers have found the space to explore (and perform) their own voices to combat the environmental crisis. From soft whispers of plastic bags to screams of a polluted sea, the latest editions of our Resolution Festival challenged audiences to rethink our role within nature. In 2018, Greta Gauhe used music and dance to explore multiple dimensions of pollution. In this year’s edition, Hazel Lam’s work called Lighthouse was dedicated to the oceans in a claustrophobic and visual performance where she became gradually entangled in plastic cables. Recently, the young choreographer Alicja Nauman has presented Be fruitful and multiply, where plastic bags were representing a mixture of feelings around the consumption society and human excess that is gradually destroying nature.
Alicja, who considers herself an ethnographer in first place, reinforces the idea that environmental crisis is not a fashionable topic that artists have now decided to talk about. There is a need of take it seriously, of researching deeply and properly, then artists can use performance as a very powerful tool to address the current social and political issues between space, time and people. The aim is clear- it is about “challenging audiences and giving them a true opportunity to confront themselves with their fears, fantasies, attitudes and emotions”, she reminds us.
Performers should be braver than ever these days. McKibbens was looking for courageous artists to embrace climate change within our culture. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays?”, he asked many years ago. Well, here they are now - stronger than ever and asking for everyone’s help. Today, one hundred countries are celebrating World Environment Day, the United Nations most important date to motivate people to protect our Planet. But it’s necessary to embrace this date everyday by getting inspired, acknowledging our flaws and engaging with each other to create a greener future for all.
Image: Be fruitful and multiply by Alicja Nauman, photo by Camilla Greenwell