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A review of Tate Lates – ‘Art in real life: Addressing the sustainability challange’

Art in real life: Addressing the sustainability challenge
An incredible evening of environmental chatter with likeminded eco-warriors

On our first official E.C.O. outing since we launched a week ago the three of us headed to the Tate Modern in London to enjoy an extremely engaging and poignant evening of sustainable commentary. Olufar Eliasson was joined in conversation by Clare Farrell, designer and activist, Malini Mehra, Indian climate campaigner and Commissioner to the Mayor of London and Mary Robinson, Adjunct Professor of Climate Justice, Trinity College Dublin. The talk was to mark two things; the launch of Eliasson’s exhibition ‘In Real Life’ and the end of Climate Action Week as week that was London based but had a global net reach.

As the punters walked in a video of Eliasson and Rosing’s 2018 exhibition ‘Ice Watch‘ was rolling and we knew were were in for a treat. We will write a full article on Eliasson’s works and his new exhibition when we visit in the coming weeks, but first after reflecting on the emotive evening we wanted to share our lasting thoughts 24 hours later from the panel.

What is the role of art in the climate debate?

Eliasson explained we should all be aware of how environmentally destructive our daily working lives are, consider our effects on the universe and have a responsibility, and ownership, of our contributing actions. In his space as an artist he is aware of the power his work has on people around the globe, all speaking different languages but appreciating a common exhibition, piece or emotion. And on that he urges us to reflect on our role in personal ecosystem and pocket of society and how we impact those around us.

Farrell suggested we are ought to not leave the future to the scientists to predict. They are focused on data, figures and trends. Instead we should look to the artists, the dreamers and hopeful to envision what society should be. Art for years has been a tool to reflect society on itself, this is a time where art can reinvent the future. Use emotion to connect people.

Mehra drew upon one of Tate’s previous exhibitions King’s ‘Red Star Over Russia’ as a case study to praise art’s social possibilities. ‘Red Star Over Russia’ was a collection of photographs and propaganda from a time where a new visual culture arose and transformed the fabric of everyday life. Art reformed society and shone a light on political ambition and social reform, supporting Farrell’s point above that we can reflect our desired future through art.

What are the risks we face, and who will be the first to fall victim?

Robinson was first to call the victims; the poor, vulnerable and children. Mehra supported by defining rural women as those who will be affected the most and first. Questioning, ‘is it only a crisis when it hits home? When it is a family member that is in danger?’ She urged what we need to do is develop our climate adaptation and resilience. This is an issue that is not effecting us in the western world, but we are not mobilising quickly enough.

Merha went on to explain the three primary risks London alone faces are;

  • Flooding – we have covered every square inch of ground with concrete, this stops water re-entering the ground which will lead to serious surface flooding, our drains will back up and our infrastructure is not equipped for the weight of flooding waters
  • Droughts – where floods come, droughts follow. We will need to ensure we have clean water reserves for the 8.1 million living in London. Droughts will also be a risk due to rising temperatures, overheating will lead to businesses closing. In France last week 4,000 schools closed due to heat alone this will play an enormous role in our economy’s survival.
  • Our lack of urgency – extreme weather warnings are at an all-time high, we have warning yet we are not allocating enough energy to avoid these risks. We will not have reserves, the emergency services will not be able to take the strain and our hospitals will not be well equipped to deal with extreme weather issues.

How can we do better?

Olafur started by urging the world to reengineer the future as the future is fluid. Throughout history we have looked to the past to determine our actions, plans and ambitions, but this is a new era where we can look at our future and see what we are becoming. See how we can adapt now before we get to these predicted outcomes we so rapidly approach. We have the foreknowledge as Mehra so rightly pointed out, we just need to use it to change.

Farrell supported Olafur on a more personal level, we have moved further and further away from each other. We look at our world history and it is steeped in greed, humiliation and coercion. We need to ‘reboot society’ and bring people together. Become more compassionate. We have become selfish beings who don’t see one another, so of course why would we change our habits for strangers? People fail to remember biodiversity will drop significantly, we believe we will outlive everything else, but we will not survive if we don’t join together to a common good. And if we are the only survivors, she jokingly ended, ‘we better start getting along’.

Robinson potentially had the most lasting effect on us with her response to this topic. She complimented Farrell’s point in a more optimistic style. If we bring ourselves together to join a common good for the planet we will succeed in creating a healthier world with less emissions, cleaner water, safer weather conditions. We will have a fairer world where we ‘leave no one behind’, we live sustainably rather than greedily, we find clean energy for those who don’t have a switch, clean water for those who don’t have a tap and this is an opportunity to reduce inequality throughout the world.

Robinson gave us three tips on how this can be easily started within yourself;

  • Make the climate emergency personal – jumping right back to Olufar’s first comment, you need to review your own actions. How much are you contributing to the state of the planet? How much scope do you have to help the issue? Are you in a position to influence others?
  • Get angry, and get active – lobby against those who have more power than you, speak to local MPs, cut out meat and dairy, support your local Extinction Rebellion colleagues, support Greta Thunberg and school children on strike, look into supporting charities who help those in need.
  • Imagine the world you want to live in – drawing on Farrell’s use of art in a modern society belief, we need to create the change we want by imagining the future we need. We don’t have much time, less than ten years to change the predicted outcomes. If we imagine the world we want to live in we can develop cultural change by acting and growing towards this goal.

We will leave you with the hopeful analogy Farrell left us with. We should liken humans to our central nervous system. We see that there are terrible things happening around the world, our future is in danger and we are worried about what will come for future generations. But humans are coming together now in a way likened to our immune system. We are coming together as one to tackle these issues head on, we are coming together to heal the earth. We need to start letting go of material things, greedy ambitions and focus on giving to those who need us. It is soothing for the soul and soothing for the ego to give to those in need. We should give more, to more people and give back to the world. We are coming together because we have love and want to give love, not because we are focused on what will benefit us as individuals but for the future of the earth as we know it.

We hope this extremely brief commentary of cherry-picked highlights has made you think, and hopefully inspired you. Our lasting thoughts from the Tate Talk were that we are fortunate, we are lucky and we are privileged. Here in the western world we find it hard to give up our comforts, the things we unintentionally feel we are entitled to based on where we were born. But there is so much more we can all do as individuals, and along the way as we grow and become more sustainable and environmentally conscious we are moving towards a safer, cleaner and hopeful future. And without sounding too cheesy, making extremely important and wholesome relationships along the way – both in out communities and between nations. We are all the same people, on the same planet who care and love those around us. This is a global issue and it starts with becoming inspired, speaking to people about the environment and changing our habits. Make a small effort today to change the outcomes predicted. You will not be disappointed.

Grace works for a School Improvement Partnership and is our resident ocean lover. Having worked as a scuba instructor in Indonesia she has picked up her fair share of ocean plastic. Her favourite eco product is Oliva Olive Oil Soap.

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