… ClimateCultures

Editor Mark Goldthorpe introduces our site and, on the following pages, the issues that ClimateCultures explores and the members of our growing network of artists, curators and researchers.

Welcome to ClimateCultures!

I launched ClimateCultures in 2017 as an online space for creative minds to share responses to our ecological and climate predicaments. It’s a network of artists, curators and researchers working across many practices, venues and disciplines. It’s an approach to building creative conversations between and beyond different appreciations of what these predicaments mean, and of what they offer us as ways forward. It’s a beginning. It’s also a continuation of some of my encounters when working with the charity TippingPoint a few years back, where I helped bring artists and scientists together for creative climate change events. I’d always been interested in artistic responses to the problems but this was my first deep exposure to such a number and range of perspectives, enquiries and works-in-progress. Those events left a strong impression — with me, and with the artists and scientists who took part. ClimateCultures builds on this legacy, exploring the power of an environmental imagination to help us develop a sense of agency in challenging times, as I discuss in a short article I wrote in February 2019.

A growing network and thriving resource

Over the years, ClimateCultures has grown to more than 200 members — novelists, short story writers, performers, poets, playwrights, painters, composers, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, sculptors, designers, digital artists, landscape artists, gallery owners, online curators, creative producers, cultural activists, historians, biologists, archaeologists, geographers, environmental technologists, climate researchers and more. We have members across the UK and in other parts of Europe, as well as in North America, Australia, India… You can find all of them in the ClimateCultures Directory, where they introduce themselves, their work and their interests, with links to find out more. 

Many of our members have already written for the ClimateCultures blog — sharing specific ideas and areas of creative practice and enquiry, reviews of books, films, events and other cultural responses to ecological and climate issues, or their own contributions to our series of creative enquiries. And there’s new content every month, from returning or first-time authors. With our library growing all the time (over 180 posts so far), ClimateCultures offers rich insights into how creative minds are tackling perilous times, as we find our way into the age that’s known as the Anthropocene.

Our content reflects the fact that ClimateCultures is a network rather than an organisation. There’s no fixed position, just plenty of common ground and many individual trackways into more personal landscapes. You’ll find different ways of understanding the issues we discuss; diversity has been an important motivation in creating this space. Rather than pushing one point of view on the problems we face or promoting a preferred set of solutions (or even assuming there is a consensus out there to be made or won) I hope that ClimateCultures offers opportunities to understand diversity as a source of creativity, and creative conversation as a means to build hopeful action in the face of uncertainty.

A changing look for ClimateCultures

The site has grown and, as we approached our fourth year, I felt it needed a new visual identity. Back in 2017, I’d cobbled together a logo — something to do with the separate but linked realities of ‘climate’ and ‘culture’ — as a temporary stamp. I then put that into a header image, alongside elements of my encounter with one of the great public artworks that helped awaken me to these intimate connections: Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project. Like thousands of others, I saw this spectacle of a new Sun in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, London in 2003, and enjoyed the experience of fellow humans running around in its eery, misty light, gazing up at their mirrored selves on the ceiling high above, or just lying down beneath it, ‘sunbathing’. It was as if we were all at some science-fictional picnic. And one of the photographs I took that day captured the moment that a single person stood out from the crowd and faced this Sun with raised arms, as if in an ancient ritual. For what purpose? Meeting the future? Calling up the past? Maybe celebrating the inexorable power of change? Marking the need to let go in order to hold on?

ClimateCultures - a moment in our development
‘A New Sun’ – Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Weather Project’ at Tate Modern, 2003
Photographer: Mark Goldthorpe © 2003 markgoldthorpe.net

A couple of years on, I encountered climate scientist Ed Hawkins’s series of Warming Stripes images through the public call to #ShowYourStripes. These graphics — drawn from the global data on rising temperatures but freed of numbers and labels — are “designed to be as simple as possible, and to start conversations about our warming world and the risks of climate change … with minimal scientific knowledge required to understand their meaning”. It’s an abstract image that helps us make sense of climate change, and we’re invited to use and adapt the stripes in ways that might assist or provoke the conversation.

Warming Stripes: global annual average temperatures for the Earth from 1850-2018, using data from UK Met Office.
Image: Ed Hawkins. showyourstripes.info

Like The Weather Project and its sense of a remade Sun — or of the familiar Sun filtered through a remade atmosphere — Warming Stripes suggests an uncanny hybrid of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’: perhaps something like a barcode for humanity’s reshaping of our planet, our home, ourselves. Where once artists used to wonder at the sublime natural world — both beautiful and terrifying in its scale and grandeur — now we’re forced to confront the terror of our unplanned, unprecedented and wholly unsafe planetary experiment… And maybe acknowledge, in our weirdest dreams perhaps, some strange fascination too. That in this emerging, unearthly Earth — to appropriate WB Yeats — “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.”

The ClimateCultures version of the stripes is a distorted reflection of this abstraction of our accelerated unmaking of what was once the world’s ‘natural order’. Although always incomplete, imperfect and dancing with uncertainty, the data of climate change are sound, unmistakable and deafening for those who are ready to hear. Sourcing, filtering and representing the data, however, are always acts of abstraction. Unavoidably: we’re reducing and packaging the enormity of the living, changing world and its life support systems into numbers, patterns, trends and outliers. No one ever experiences an average, let alone a global one. Obviously, the data represented in Warming Stripes cannot capture all the meanings of our changing climate, let alone all the disruption and breakdown and reshaping that the wider ecological crisis brings.

A global pattern of stripes certainly can’t speak for the experiences in every part of the planet, or of the most vulnerable places, people, species or habitats. Some of us are feeling the wake of disruptions that have already happened and continue to grow, others are just now experiencing the advancing bow wave of change, while others have yet to feel anything — and yet, it is coming. So the ClimateCultures stripes are more ambiguous than the original graphic, more variegated, more churned up across time and space. The picture has shifted: blurred through whorls and eddies, either advancing or holding back the trend in places, mixing the rising tide into breakers across the shifting shores. 

A changing landscape

Since 2017, of course, much more has changed in the world of ‘climate change and culture’ than the arrival of ClimateCultures. Much more art, activism and awareness-raising, for a start: triggering more conversations, engaging more people in the work. Global Climate Strikes, Extinction Rebellion, Culture Declares Emergency — these are new and powerful. The growing resonance of voices calling out an ecological, social and cultural collapse challenge and complicate the more optimistic strands of thought and mobilisation towards technological and economic solutions or those reclaiming more indigenous, inner wellbeing or spiritual approaches. Within ClimateCultures, you will find all of these perspectives and more. Although seeking to point out the truth of their different directions, each of these established or emerging traditions is part of a growth in action and, with that, an appreciation of how the arts and creative enquiry of all kinds can work with knowledge from a broad front of research and experience.

ClimateCultures celebrates these voices and what they offer — individually, together and sometimes in opposition to each other. They are part of finding out what we feel and think about the changing world and the significance of our place within it, and of imagining our way into what we are about and what we can do differently. And ClimateCultures has a small but important part in this work: to provide a space for the individual artist, curator or researcher to share their ideas and work and questions, and offer an invitation to join the creative conversation. Culture — interpreted very broadly and in all sorts of very particular ways — plays a massive part in how and why we care about nature and our place within it, and how we understand and can act on the predicaments we face.