Creativity and Cop26: Can Art Really Make a Difference? By Lois Freeman
The Colour of the Climate Crisis: Fábio Setti and Tamara dos Santos: Raiz do Mundo (photographic series)
Image description: A group of women carrying baskets of fresh produce, symbolising ‘female organisation, knowledge, self-sustainability and community’
In a world where politicians deliver empty commitments to solving the climate crisis, does creativity have the power to ignite change? Within the mouths of world leaders at the COP26 Climate Change Conference exists a recurring sentiment of words without action. We need to demand change from large corporations and we need a rising, united voice to shout loud enough. Art offers collectivity, a powerful tool in cultivating communal support to fight the crisis we face.
Ecological artworks can capture our childlike awe, wide-eyed and mesmerised by the beautiful animals of our earth. They can also soothe us from technology, mirroring the grounding presence of the natural world. Creatives can harness these feelings to help rekindle a universal feeling of environmental care within earth’s inhabitants. Rosier argues that although “environmental artwork in its own right [doesn’t] necessarily make ‘a difference’, this movement is cultivating a culture of environmental care and awareness that [they] do think shapes public sentiment, and helps create the political context required for action”.
Artists across the country have already begun setting these ecological narratives into motion. Bamber Hawes’ huge 10ft polar bear sculpture, set amid the hilly Glaswegian landscape, invokes this sense of wonder. The animal, usually concealed by geographical distance, reminds local people of the non-human victims of the climate crisis, just in time for COP26.
Bamber Hawes’ polar bear sculpture, from bamberhawes/Instagram
Image description: Artist Bamber Hawes’ 10 foot-tall polar bear sculpture made from bamboo, willow and layers of white tissue paper.
Across social media, people can get involved in the #ShowYourStripes campaign by creating and posting an individualised abstract image of local temperature warming to raise awareness in a creative and accessible way. In the same vein, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson will be presenting a film with activist Kumi Naidoo at the conference on how ‘the worlds of art and activism can help each other curb the climate crisis.’
Image description: Vertical stripes in shades of blue and red symbolising the gradual rising in temperature in England from 1884-2020.
Art is political, and artist and activist Ai Weiwei has spoken out to join other artists traversing in the environmental arena. In Circa Art’s most recent project, a stirring visual manifesto asks ‘Where do we go from now?’, engaging with the inevitability of forward motion despite the uncertainty of its direction. The question looks up at those standing at the altar of COP26, those who have real power to effect change, and asks them to take the lead. We have to make the right decision. We have to ‘clean up or die’, as the manifesto states.
Matthew Rosier’s ‘City of Trees’relocates us from the busy London metropolis to the calming walls of the forest with huge video image projections of Epping Forest trees, accompanied by a rousing soundscape and a felled oak tree seat. Both Rosier and Hawes harness how the materiality of art can offer much more than 2D images alone; it can invade and overpower our sensual environment. Art gives us something tangible in place of conceptual warnings of future catastrophe.
Ensuring all voices are heard, the Colour of the Climate Crisis exhibition in Glasgow is showcasing the work of 24 Black and other artists of colour as a reminder of the disproportionate environmental consequences faced by minority ethnic and indigenous people. Images tell stories of farming villages in India, environmental poverty in the Niger Delta, and humanity's symbiotic relationship with nature in Mexico to provide a creative and poignant contrast to the imagery of COP26’s wealthy elite — those who are most affected are not in the room.
Artist Erin Espelie added that art spaces bring ‘people together outside political affiliation and into a different environment that allows for more empathy.’ As people become more and more dissociated with politics, important issues wane into abstraction too. People need something, or someone, to hold on to. Artists can help to propel the status and accessibility of ecological icons and connect the bridge between science and emotion. For example, Jenny Holzer’s light projection piece ‘Hurt Earth’ is moving to Scotland for COP26, to broadcast the words of climate activist Greta Thunberg to those who need to hear them.
With the help of young creatives, the world can become an unavoidable audio-visual landscape, plastered at every turn with reminders of both the potential of catastrophe and the promise of hope. Maybe, It will be enough for our leaders to finally listen.