Over the past six months I’ve held ‘research-in-public’ events every few weeks – and the final one will be on 5thJuly (details below), when I’ll be launching my ‘manifesto for research in public’. These conversation have provided extraordinary pulses of energy through the residency – with every event I’ve asked the same initial question, and then my interviewee has taken me and those who have gathered to listen and question – I hesitate to say audience, because the people who have gathered at these events have been a group gathered to a short spurt of collective co-thinking. I have been enlightened and excited by questions emerging that I wouldn’t have thought to ask, and that through the process of these events being small-scale public (ranging in size from around 6 people to around 50), each has built a mini-network of its own.
Each discussion produced a rich network of thoughts that influences my response to the next set of questions, and in the past months have more directly fed into the development of a performance work that will be produced by Artsadmin at the Barbican in September 2018. Entitled WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE, it will gather the expertise encountered in these conversations to coproduce a vision of what it might feel like to live in an alternative economic structure – in response to, and under conditions of, climate change.
The feeling that time is running out has only intensified over the course of the residency – a rollercoaster of hope and despair, as the present vied with the future for the prize for utter uncertainty. How to make a project exploring future scenarios when the present is so full of variability? The rollercoaster of entwined strands of political events shifting the social, economic and climate territories kept changing the lens. There was the backbeat of the ratification of the Paris Agreement by almost every signatory, only for Trump to renege, only for corporations and whole US states to declare their aim to comply regardless – implying there might be a route to carbon reduction that is beyond the national. Nevertheless the English/Welsh vote to leave the European Union has put in jeopardy social and environmental rights, whilst Trump’s ascendancy to the White House has brought a number of significant climate deniers to the forefront of power. Throughout 2016 global climate temperature records were broken, again, whilst the Arctic melt accelerated beyond all expectation – in November, perhaps weeping at Trump, the ice actually started to remelt – whilst the Global Seed Vault, designed to preserve seeds of every kind forever in completely secure surroundings, in deep rock in the Arctic, was flooded thanks to never-envisaged permafrost melt. You couldn’t make it up. It is a condition of being an artist in a time of seismic change – nothing we can imagine is as bizarre, telling or frightening as what is actually happening.
Perhaps this is what it really means to make art now: we need it as a source of connection, to make us feel as though we are doing something (when witnessing might be all that is possible). In despair at the incapacity of the political mainstream to act in accordance with human reason, the artists have to come out and make what should be the concern of policy makers and politicians apparent on the cultural map. But then another change took place – just a few weeks ago, a surge in support for Labour in the UK, thanks to an extraordinary manifesto that recognised that social justice and responses to climate change go hand in hand. The conditions are changed again. If this support for social justice, a rebalancing of values away from the accumulation of capital and towards the fostering of care – between people, communities and the environment – actually produces a government that enacts these values in the social and economic structure, then the challenge of WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE MAY BE will also alter… It may become less a cry in the dark and more an effort towards an actually possible future. But what conditions will the work actually take place under, by September 2018? Who knows?
What I do know is that it has been a complete pleasure to work with everyone involved in the residency – at once enabling the artists to be collaborative and autonomous, the ‘networked’ nature of the residency has been a spirited source of unconditional support and intellectual refreshment. Thus in the spirit of this project of picking up and entwining multiple strands of thought towards a rehearsal of the future, I will finish with a by quoting a fragment of a quotation (from my most recent interviewee Andrew Simms quoting Rebecca Solnit in Cancel the Apocalypse):
To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.
CODA: WHERE FROM HERE?
On the 5th July, at Hot Numbers Café on Gwydir Street, Cambridge, I will be in conversation with Stephen Peake, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Technologies at the Open University. I will be presenting a sketch of a future scenario derived from all the previous café conversations and asking Stephen Peake to act as ‘respondent’ to the scenario – together we will imagine what it might be to live in that world with both intended and unintended consequences.
I hope to continue holding such conversations in public in throughout the future creation of this work – please follow @metisprojects or sign up to METIS here to follow – and perhaps even share in – the journey from here.