Stormy Weather

Ecological artist Laura Donkers shares Stormy Weather, a short film that conveys collective collusion in climate change through a combination of verbal message, moving film image, and soundscapes of storm, bird song and dance music that pulls the viewer into the personal and collective experience of Cyclone Gabrielle in Aotearoa New Zealand in February 2023.



Stormy Weather (MP4 4:07min) is a film poem conveying the domestic experience of an extreme weather event on 14th February 2023, as Cyclone Gabrielle tracked across North Island, New Zealand. A pause to reflect on human behaviour and our interactions with nature and weather at a time of climate change.

Laura Donkers is an ecological artist and researcher connecting people with ecology through community projects and outdoor art workshops to inform more creative and sustainable ways to live.

 

After enduring Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023, which was classed as an extreme weather event in Aotearoa New Zealand, I wanted to create a short film that subtly conveys the theme of collective collusion on climate change. But rather than a climate-disaster thriller, my short film would offer a sensitive portrayal of the impact that an extreme weather event has on everyday lives by combining filming of the actual storm with recordings of public warnings by politicians and subsequent citizen testimony recounting the impact of landslides and flooding.

I created Stormy Weather to be a film [as] poem to express both my personal encounter with the cyclone and as collective experience via the harrowing public testimony that emerged in newsreels after the event. The film poem genre combines three main elements: a verbal message, the moving film image, and a soundscape of diegetic sounds, such as the storm, bird song and dance music, which pull the viewer into the world of the video. This approach presents a compelling illusion to trigger personal associations in the viewer towards their own thought processes and experiences. But rather than imagined, the imagery, sound and text relate to a real, recent happening that further resonates with the audience’s own lived experience.

In the opening scene we can hear the voice of the NZ Prime Minister responding to reporters’ questions about extreme weather events and climate change. A recording of the 1933 sentimental love song ‘Stormy Weather’ (written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler) begins to play. Reflected in the darkening windows via shadowy rhythmic movements and silhouetted figures, we witness a couple dancing. At first, their swaying movements are matched by the fern trees outside. As the storm activity builds the trees’ animation becomes more extreme and acoustic tension rises in the audio recording. The dance sequence ends, and the music continues but gets drowned out by the storm’s growing intensity.

At the start, the closed windows shut out the weather, nature and climate change. Yet, the illuminated darkness forces us to observe the wildness taking place outside while the shadows and reflections of the interior action show in some way the bizarre continuation of everyday lives in the face of such powerful forces: a subtle dig at our lack of willingness to face up to climate reality (dancing while the land is sliding).

The sound makes the drama and violence of the storm hit home, which helps us consider the noises we ‘drown out’ with the ones we create for ourselves. By decreasing the volume of the news reports the usual anthropocentric hierarchy is reordered with human voices assigned the ambient sound role to subtly shift the focus onto nature’s sounds.

Eventually, the storm ends, and morning arrives. The sound track transitions into a cacophony of cicada and bird calls. We see that the house is still standing, and the sun is shining. The windows are open, causing the fern trees to occupy the liminal space between house and environment. Peace has returned. Yet in the background we hear a report that others have not been so fortunate: the reporter states that 35,000 residents have been displaced as a result of unprecedented rainfall causing widespread flooding and landslips.

With the windows open a threshold is created that accommodates our appreciation and desire for nature but only in certain conditions. Here the sounds and images provide space for reflection in contrast to the earlier dramatic scenes. Yet the gentleness of these lies in stark contrast to the horror expressed in the selected texts that appear randomly across the screen. The final extract stays with the viewer as the film ends.

Stormy Weather brings a different perspective to discussions around climate change towards a more truthful and helpful direction through its use of a domestic setting and domestic actions which contrast with the world ‘outside’. It reflects back to us some of our behaviours and interactions with nature and climate in a way that makes us pause, think and create space for conversation.

This film poem presents Cyclone Gabrielle as a transformative phenomenon that changes how the climate crisis is viewed by the people directly affected, as well as those looking on. Its domestic proximity evokes a state of suspense that develops into an awesome (and for some) life-changing experience, revealing a world where climate change is acknowledged as present and real, thus concentrating our attention and altering our perceptions towards behaviour change. A pivotal ‘happening’ that will alter the destiny of our current situation.


You can find Laura’s film here on her website, with more of her work. Laura has written two posts for ClimateCultures about her work with the embodied knowledge of communities: Eco-social Art — Engaging Climate Literacy and ‘What You Need Will Come to You’.

1.8

1.8 takes a critical view on the approximately 706 million gallons of waste oil that enter the ocean every year”. Katrin Spranger‘s piece powerfully uses performance with oil itself to bring home the global impact of pollution and waste on our oceans and wildlife, visually depicting how much crude oil we consume and release daily.


Juxtaposing beauty and ugliness, the physical properties of oil and the marks being left on canvas create a metaphor for humanity’s struggle and highlights the tragic awareness of our inability to control the effects of environmental destruction. Whilst some marks quite literally depict a ‘carbon’ footprint, most other marks witness traces of a fight with a slippery liquid material that could not be controlled.

Katrin Spranger is a visual artist working on the intersection of sculpture, jewellery, and performance, exploring dystopian narratives that engage with environmental issues including the depletion of natural resources.

 

Formed millions of years ago, yet only used for around 200 years, fossil fuel reserves are emptying very quickly. With current and expected future levels of usage, oil reserves are in decline and cannot meet our population’s needs in the long term.

Global consumption of crude oil, based on the 2021 world population breaks it down to 1.8 litres per capita per day with the forecast of an increase.

1.8 takes a critical view on the approximately 706 million gallons of waste oil that enter the ocean every year. With over half coming from land drainage and waste disposal; for example, from the improper disposal of used motor oil, the other remaining parts come from offshore drilling, production operations and spills or leaks from ships or tankers.

Oil spills present enormous harm to deep ocean and coastal fishing. Oil spills at sea can kill large numbers of seabirds and have the potential to wipe out entire populations where these are small or localised. Oil can stick to birds’ feathers, making them lose their water-proofing and potentially leading to hypothermia. When birds try to clean their feathers they ingest oil and are likely to become poisoned. Birds can be cleaned, but this is laborious and expensive. To rehabilitate a single bird takes up to 45 minutes.

Apart from the problems of offshore oil drilling, mining and oil spills, an additional tragedy is that, unfortunately, much of the world’s plastic has ended up in the ocean, where, dispersed by currents, it becomes virtually irretrievable, especially once it has fragmented into microplastics. Computer models suggest that seas hold as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles. Some are the product of larger pieces breaking apart; others, like microbeads added to toothpaste or face scrubs, were designed to be tiny.

To take the viewer on a rigorous journey to visually depict how much crude oil in the form of plastic products and carbon emissions we consume and release on a daily basis, the protagonist of the 1.8 performance wears a feathered jewellery piece with the exact amount of 1.8 litres of oil hidden under their wings. Their performance follows a trajectory, starting from a beautiful, immaculate state of being with slow, majestic movements, onto more struggling gestures and emotions of reluctance to accept loss, to an eventually uncontrollable mess, leading to the inevitable, horrific death. Juxtaposing beauty and ugliness, the physical properties of oil and the marks being left on canvas create a metaphor for humanity’s struggle and it highlights the tragic awareness of our inability to control the effects of environmental destruction. Whilst some marks quite literally depict a ‘carbon’ footprint, most other marks witness traces of a fight with a slippery liquid material that could not be controlled.

1.8 aims to assess and rethink our daily oil consumption in the form of trying to consume fewer plastic products and packaging materials, and ultimately reducing our environmental footprint at scale when traveling and commuting on a daily basis.

Art direction and jewellery: Katrin Spranger
Performance artist: O.K. Norris
Styling and costume: lambdog 1066
Videographer: Louis Thornton


You can explore more of Katrin’s work at her site — and look out for details of the 1.8 Recycle Workshop Series:

“Of all plastics used, worldwide just about 9 % is recycled. As a matter of fact, even when trying to cut down on packaging materials, consumers not always have a choice when shopping, as items usually come wrapped and packaged in non-recyclable materials. Whenever it is not possible to reduce consumption, we may consider re-using and transforming such materials to reduce waste.

“Following my 1.8 performance piece commenting on crude oil consumption, I am going to run a series of workshops in 2023 that inspire action and provide practical solutions to dealing with ‘waste’ products. Each participant will be asked to collect and bring 1.8 kg of plastic and crude oil waste products to the workshop where we’re going to assess and explore those materials. During the workshop we will recycle and transform the materials using various processes including heating, melting, pressing, cutting (for example heating plastic bottle caps) in order to co-create new artworks such as jewellery pieces or objects. The aim is to create work that does not resemble the materials that it was made of.”

There are a limited number of workshop places, so if you would like to take part, please email spranger.katrin@gmail.com to express your interest.

To explore some of the issues Katrin addresses in her work, see:

Sustainable Stand Up – Tackling Climate Change with Humour

At times it can feel frivolous, or even treacherous, to keep laughing. But let’s not let the bastards get us down in the mouth, eh? Humour is forever a massive asset in the quest to maintain sanity and joy, and to speak truth to power.”

With her improv background and a course from the Sustainable Stand Up initiative, writer and editor Sally Moss created an online comedy routine with insights for how we can communicate climate change with humour and compassion.

“Even something as passive as watching TV can use loads of electricity … When I bought a TV, I made sure I bought the smallest one I could get. I feel really virtuous, but my film nights are screwed. Never mind Jaws, even Titanic needs a bigger boat…”

Sally Moss is a writer, editor and researcher exploring creative ways to encourage regenerative living.

 

 

I love comedy, intentional and otherwise. For those of us with a keen sense of humour, it’s vital we find the fun and trumpet the absurd in life.

This surely applies more than ever right now?

True, current times might best be described as an almighty car crash of converging social and environmental disasters. At times it can feel frivolous, or even treacherous, to keep laughing.

But let’s not let the bastards get us down in the mouth, eh? Humour is forever a massive asset in the quest to maintain sanity and joy, and to speak truth to power.

Humour formed a core strand of the Zero Carbon Improv pilot project I co-delivered in community contexts in Liverpool a few years back. Participants learned to improvise, in pursuit of…

Acceptance / realism 
- Accept where we are and work from there. Or rather, here. (‘Yes, and...’)

Imagination / inventiveness
- Find new possibilities, grounded in the new reality. (‘Yes, and...’)

Present-moment quality of life
- As a result, increase spontaneity, reciprocity, reward, fun.

And recently, I decided to go further: to (try to) write stand-up material that examines sustainability without making mass extinction feel like the better option. Or, as Belina Raffy puts it, ‘tackle ideas that matter with humour and compassion’.

Belina is the founder of Sustainable Stand Up, and she led the online course I opted for.

How was it? Great – high standards, but very accessible, and with huge amounts of encouragement. Yes, you could do it too!

The end result for me was just over five minutes of much-redrafted stand-up, delivered online to a supportive audience of course participants’ friends, course alumni and fans.

In brief, here’s what I learned from my first attempt at sustainable stand-up: 

  • Notice what’s delightful
 
  • Keep it personal
 
  • Don’t waste words
 
  • Don’t skimp on the set-up 
  • Find what connects us all. 

These insights transfer well to many other forms of climate communication (and just as often to our personal lives).

I’ll continue to look for ways to fulfil these comedy commandments in my work and play, and to connect with others keen to do the same.

You can watch my set on YouTube


You can find out more at Sustainable Stand Up, and about Sally’s work at Sally Moss Editorial – including the Zero Carbon Improv project. 

Standing Tall, 2022

“We decided that what we could do was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone … in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.”

With composite photography and video, Jennifer Leach — Director of Outrider Anthems, and supported by eco-scenographer Andrea Carr, Outrider Anthems Associate — documents and witnesses creative community resistance to the corporate felling of 112 trees and the sacrifice of a city’s green lung for more concrete.

‘They say that in time we will forget. We will become accustomed to the new environment. No. We learn to endure. We do not forget.’ An Outrider Anthems community intervention on Reading Golf Course, where 112 numbered trees, and countless smaller others, are to be felled to make way for a profit-motivated housing estate. We gently bound each doomed tree with a tie of white muslin, thus making visible what the developers and Reading Borough Council wish to keep invisible: a mutual community of powerful trees and all their interconnected ecosystems, earmarked for destruction. Our human community, having had our record number of planning protests ignored, stand in solidarity with the trees.

Jennifer LeachJennifer Leach is a poet, writer, performer and storyteller whose wild work, forged in the fantastical reaches of deep imagination, brings to life new stories for our strange times.

 

This intervention began with a community desperately trying to safeguard its health, three times resisting a merciless building on one of urban Reading’s few green lungs. It was once agricultural land, then a golf course — until the golfing members handed it over to developers for a princely and undisclosed sum. In almost every way it is an inappropriate development, and yet on the third time of presenting it to Reading Borough Council, and with barely an alteration to the previous two applications, it was suddenly supported and passed. The community had objected with a borough-wide record number of objections, and our distress at the Council meeting was in itself distressing.

The meeting, with its clearly preordained conclusion, was a brazen travesty of the democratic process. The required green links — crucial to the bare survival of species — was, the developer suggested, “hypothetical”. The development, with its 223 largely luxury housing, was going to “improve traffic in the area” and the developers, the Council openly stated “are the ones with the money and they can do what they want.”

“It’s called Capitalism.”

This space is local to me, and in the post-golfing period in which it has rewilded, it has become very special, both to myself and to many members of my community. It is so rich in nature, and in magnificence, particularly in the hundreds of specimen trees that grow in the space. 112 trees are to be felled for the building of the houses, and each tree is unique, each is glorious. They have been categorised by the Council as ‘B – of moderate quality’, ‘C – of low quality’, or ‘U – unsuitable for retention’.

The democratic process was stretched as far as it could be, and appeals were made to central government, but the housing development will go ahead.

Andrea Carr, Associate Director of Outrider Anthems, and I as Director asked ourselves what we could do at this point. Andrea brought her ecoscenographic thoughtfulness and experience to the question, and we decided that what we could do — and we felt it was exceptionally important — was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone. We knew we could and should, in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.

I had the privilege of photographing every one of the 112 trees, and each one of them shared something of their intimate selves with me; they became a gift to me. Andrea came down on the weekend of 1st May and we spent two days measuring out and cutting vast reams of plain white muslin. On 1st May — Beltane in the old Celtic calendar, and a day traditionally associated with the great celebration and honouring of nature — we met with many members of the community and, armed with white muslin and site maps, we spent the day binding each one of the 112 trees to be felled. We stood tall beside them and photographed ourselves standing tall, in solidarity with the trees.

We have conjoined the action of this day with excerpts from the Reading Borough Council planning meeting, to create a composite film entitled Standing Tall. It is currently being screened as a part of the Ecostage contribution to World Stage Design 2022 in Calgary. It hurts to watch it, and it moves. We hope it will be widely shared, and that it will contribute to a changing world in which the sacred spaces and elements of nature become honoured and respected as they once were, and in which the hubris of a capitalist economy finally crumbles under its own insatiable greed. We hope it will inspire others to bear public witness to the non-human victims of human violence, and to stand in love and solidarity with them.

Click on an image to see the full-size series of photographs Jennifer took of the 112 trees.

And you can view more of the intervention with Andrea and watch the videos Jennifer made here at the Outrider Anthems website.

Community: Still from film, Standing Tall


You can find more work at the Outrider Anthems website, and sign up to their mailing list to hear about and support their future projects. And you can explore Jennifer’s work as a writer and artist at her own website.

Art of Shading the Sun

“The project is a reflection on community and landscape and how these interact in space and within time.”

Art of Shading the Sun, a poetic film from Evgenia Emets, speaks from the perspective of the land 100 years in the future, of a community and a landscape moving from extractivist practices to more regenerative approaches.

My time is not your time
My time is wisdom
Coiled beneath the roots
My time is light
The one you know as food
My time is seed
That knows how long it’s due
My time is backwards
From the future towards you
My time is you
The fish within my stream
My time is soil
The keeper of your dream

Evgenia Emets is an artist intersecting land-art, sound and visual poetry through experiences, forests, artist books, calligraphy, performance, objects and community engagement, and whose ‘Eternal Forest’ integrates ecological thinking.

 

The film (1 hour 40 min, Portugal, 2021) was originally commissioned by Ci.CLO in Portugal as part of an art installation. The project is a reflection on community and landscape and how these interact in space and within time. The installation and film reflect on the centuries of human presence and the current efforts of the community of Mertola to help restore social and ecological balance in this area.

The film is told from the perspective of the land in 2121, a story of the future, with concrete actions in the present. From extractivist practices deeply rooted in our society to the regenerative approaches — through syntropic agriculture, reforestation, local food production, an education rooted in active participation, and the engagement of the whole community into the process.

The film, photographic prints and an installation based on the film in Portuguese and English in 10- and 14-minute video loops, was exhibited in Porto, Bienal 21 Fotografia do Porto, and the Municipalities of Évora, Figueira da Foz, Loulé, Mértola and with EDIA in Portugal, and Fotofestiwal Łódź 2021 in Poland during 2021-2022.


As well as the 14-minute English film above, with the installation poetry, and the equivalent Portuguese version, you can watch the full Art of Shading the Sun film (1 hr 14 mins) in Portuguese. And you can find more at Evgenia’s website and the site of the Eternal Forest project.