Taking Climate Experts out of the Box: Part 4 - Climate Lab Day 2:
|Image: Tanya Syed|
Today builds inevitably towards the sharing of the creative responses from Emily Hinshelwood, Marega Palser, and Tanya Syed. They have been busy since we were last together, collating information, digesting impressions, and responding to what emerged from Part One of the Climate Lab. I’ve been busy reflecting and designing Part Two.
Although today is a new beginning, we are in the latter half of Joanna Macy’s spiral: ‘Seeing with New Eyes’ and preparing for ‘Going Forth.’ Our immediate focus is to ‘re-build the container’. This involves re-grouping, re-connecting with one another and sharing what’s come up and where we have been since last time. The reverberations from our last day together are still apparent. We re-connect to the group intention of exploring how we see and feel about the climate work each person is involved in.
Re-call what made you want to do the work you are now doing. What emotions do you commonly feel when you are deeply connected to the heart of your work?
We offer 123 different possible emotions as listed in an online ‘PeriodicTable of Emotions’ which we use as the basis for one of our activities.
Tick All that Apply.
Circle your Top 10.
Write out your Top 3.
What is the Number 1 Emotion (you most commonly feel in response to the climate work you are involved in)?
We hear them - someone later remarks at how amazed they are that so many positive emotions are named…
One person spots that the words they want are not present in our very comprehensive list. Though perhaps not classified as simple ‘Emotions’, where are the words, they ask, which speak to ‘Rebellion’ and ‘Activism’?
We invite the group for a walk and talk in the park. We ask, “what surprised you most about this process?” Each has five minutes of uninterrupted speaking and listening. They are then asked to open and share with their partner the contents of a small brown envelope each is given upon exiting the room, containing a ‘message from the universe’. The words are all from Vaclav Havel, someone who knew a thing or two about rebellion and activism.
“Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”
“There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.”
“None of us knows all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events.”
Whilst the group are outside, we prepare the space and the ground for the unveiling of the first iteration of each artist’s individual response. After today, there will be another opportunity for Tanya, Emily, and Marega to re-turn to their work, incorporating ideas and impressions from Part Two of the Climate Lab. Next month the process will be complete, though with the possibility of taking the work elsewhere or to a different level in future.
One by one each artist takes the space. In taking the space, they offer it back to us. Together, we move out of the literal and into the imaginal.
Tanya has been returning to the sea again and again since we were last together, conducting a series of experiments. She is an attuned watcher and listener. She has a gift for connecting to the rhythms of the body and of the turning tides. Hers is a meditation on time. Eight and a half minutes to be precise. We immerse ourselves in her film. She brings the sea, sand, and wind into our carpeted, glass-walled, fish-tank of a room. She foregrounds an over-sized hourglass containing the sands of time. We see it as a drop of water, a teardrop, as well as being an archetypal symbol of time. The tide is rapidly coming in towards us and the camera, splashes of surf spatter the lens. We watch the inevitability of it, unable or unwilling to remove our gaze. Many thoughts come and go watching the tick of time as the grains of sand disappear into the lower portion of the hourglass. The waves come in, the waves go out. Nothing happens. The sand keeps pouring away. We are transfixed, hypnotised, lost in the cycle. There is still some time left though we don’t know how much. There is a residue of sand at the top of the hourglass as the whole thing is engulfed by the incoming tide. It topples over unceremoniously, and rolls around helplessly in the surf, devoid of dignity. Tanya mentioned she wanted to create something to talk about sea-level rise with children. She presents a simple but powerful image with countless outcomes. There is an uncertainty principle at its heart. We may have our hunches, but we do not yet know precisely how the story will end.
|Image: Tanya Syed|
Emily speaks about her process as both art and science. She speaks about her methodology, about pressure, about time, about uncertainty, about fear. Hers is a process of adaptability, assiduousness, busyness, experimentation and iteration. Everything she sees is potential material. She talks about her ‘tools’. She decided to buy nothing but to re-use, recycle and literally ‘forage’ for her materials. She makes pencils and paintbrushes with found bits and pieces, discarded implements, dog hair, sheep wool. Emily is a wordsmith, grower, animator, maker. She develops an obsession with the colour blue. She makes a ‘blueprint’ – a cyanotype. The images of the new maps of Wales, the changing shorelines and rising sea levels mixed with words ‘foraged’ from the group.
Hers is an outpouring, outflowing, overflowing, a tumbling from a sluice-gate shut too long – she reveals a series of maps, sketches, prints and even a handmade book. So much done in so little time. She conjures up linear and cyclical time in her making. Her combination of words and images stop our breath.
Image: Emily Hinshelwood
Marega invokes time and space in her work. She deposits a whole world at our feet. She treads lightly for she treads on our future coastline - maps upon maps. She has annotated, added to, blotted and scribed the length and breadth of this uncharted territory. There is a perfect order, everything has a place. She has gathered much. She creates connections. She is a curator. Dead, washed-up objects become living in her hands. Rubbish becomes relic. The sole of an old shoe found on the beach with a feather for a sail becomes a vessel for two tiny figures waving mid-ocean on her maritime maps. There are lists and labels, meticulous crafting. A series of luggage labels proclaim “I have these 3 attributes, I feel these 3 things, I communicate with these 3 words”. The words spoken by us all have been returned to us by the deep current of her meticulous care. We witness something like the laying out of a body – the arranging, washing and tending. The greater body, this island earth which is all of us. We see ourselves, a population entire listed, named, included. Her body confident, precise with deft movements and gestures. There is repetition, there is ritual, there is an honouring of these people and the work that they do. A spoken-word soundtrack kicks in, an incantation, a litany of re-claimed words from a pilgrimage to the shoreline. I see, I notice, I feel… An echo of what went before but now presented again in story time - a time that always is and never was.
|Image: Marega Palser|
Tanya, Emily, and Marega have participated in, attended to, ingested, incubated reflected upon and responded to the content of the Climate Lab. They have each given us back a part of ourselves. The part which represents beauty, mystery, tenderness and humanity. This makes all the difference.
Everything in these artworks has a story, everything has an origin, everything speaks to and of us. We can relate and connect to it all. It is art which has been made from and for us, we are the material, we are the inspiration, we find ourselves witnessed and are mirrored back to ourselves in the process.
The group wanders around silently, marvelling, examining up-close, touching and becoming more deeply touched by all of the exhibits. There is power in this beyond words.
But there are words that are ready to be spoken. We invite, not the traditional ‘Q&A’ of the artworld or symposium, but return to ‘Council’ and a more profound speaking and listening from the heart. We hear from the three distinct groups within the Lab in turn – the artists, the commissioning team, and finally the scientists and engineers. Though time is pressing and lunch is calling, we again step out of linear time and into the timeless. This Council represents a sacred pause. There is a time for ‘going forth’ but it is not quite yet. First, we must take a moment to gather ourselves. Without apology, without embellishment. We speak - the system has a chance to ‘see itself.’ And what does this ‘system’ want to say at this point in the proceedings?
How do we dare to do this? How do we dare not to do this? I feel grateful. Privileged. The situation is hopeless but I’m not hopeless. It’s so important to have a space to slow down and voice these feelings. I’m humbled by the energy, commitment and passion people have brought to this process. I didn’t think I had that many emotions in me. I’m interested in framing activism. I feel a deep bond and understanding with those who went through the process. I was looking for a solution. There is no solution, but there is a message. It’s been like childbirth. You are the midwives holding a wise, caring space. We have been guided safely through something hard and transformative. It’s lovely to feel moved and not be ashamed of being moved. It’s been therapeutic. I’ve seen the similarities between the process of science and art. It’s been so valuable being immersed in the process and the problem. There has been time for emotions and feelings. This is an important space for emotions on these difficult issues. The art and time creates that space. It made such a difference to see other scientists feeling too.
Appreciation of connecting to myself and to others. We all feel this way and we are doing something, that gives me hope. Our Grief needs witnessing. You provided it.
|Image: Tanya Syed|
After lunch, the energy shifts again. Our thoughts turn toward the future. We speak of what makes us resilient and helps keep us going.
‘What music or song supports you in going forward?’
Each has brought with them their ‘Desert Island Disc’, the piece of music they would save from the waves as the sea rushes in. The group scatters to various ‘listening posts’ within and outside the room to share their own music and hear one another’s.
Faure’s ‘Requiem’; Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’; Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’; Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’…
What message does this song have for me as I pursue my work? What is it I need to hear and what essential ‘medicine’ does each song provide?
Collective Power / Epic / All together / Deep / Friends / Intimate…Happiness / Nature / Connection /Soul / Hope…Connection / Independence / Tearing down Barriers / Emotion / Tenderness / Strength - Strength of Connection…Poetic / Thought provoking / Beautiful… The Power of Family… Joy and Peace… of Connection…Unstoppable…De-stress / Affirmation…Joyful / Resilience…Activism.
We identify personal goals, projects, and resources, and share individual and collective ideas concerning our next steps. We reflect on what we already have and what we might need in order to do this.
There is a palpable charge in the atmosphere as we move towards action, an identifiable crackle in the air which accompanies ‘Going Forth’. There is a lot we want to do in the time remaining.
Each person is given two postcards as a memento of the Climate Lab. The first shows a Periodic Table of Emotions superimposed onto the Swansea Bay area of the Flood Map of Wales. The second: a juxtaposition of beach and houses at Borth, a mid-Wales sea-side village whose inhabitants have often found the waves lapping at the back door and exiting via the front. Each postcard represents another artwork by Marega.
Answer on the back of the postcard to be sent to yourself:
What do I need to hear when things get difficult?
And, to my designated ‘Buddy’ in the group, (the one with whom I would share air on a deep dive when my oxygen tank is empty), I write on the back of the other postcard:
What words can I offer to you when things get difficult?
And finally, we remember Mathilda – her poem, her words. ‘Some might not listen… but then, some do’. Each has responded by writing her a ‘seaside postcard’ (handmade and water-marked by Marega).
All three cards are deposited in a post-box at the centre of our circle to be delivered in the days to come.
We finish with each in turn sharing an ‘appreciation’ and ‘one thing I shall do’. We all know that this is not an ending. This is another beginning.
We give the last words again to Vaclav Havel, former poet, dissident and politician.
“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.”
This is not an ending. This is another beginning.
Looking back on the process of co-designing and facilitating the Climate Lab, and in writing this article, I am even more convinced that we are not sole agents of any process we are involved in. If I am able to surrender to the inevitable and unfolding process wanting to work through me, there are always hidden hands available to help at any opportunity. This is not to say that the process is easy or straight-forward. The dead-end, the challenge, the brick wall, the uncertainty, the fear are all in the mix too. I cannot know beforehand if it will all work out as planned. In Alchemy, we begin with the ‘Prima Materia’ and go through seven distinct stages in order to end up with the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. Perhaps the most disturbing and necessary is ‘Calcination’ where it looks like everything is intentionally destroyed. But this, alchemists believe, is where ‘The Great Work’ must begin.
There follows a distinct and ordered process with an intended but uncertain outcome. If facilitation is alchemy, I must continually make space for the unknown and unpredictable. The space for the emergent. What is enough input and direction at any one moment and what is too much? Too much structure or too much fluidity is detrimental to the process and compromises the end result. When to fill and when to make space? There needs to be a flow and a breathing space in between things. We weave back and forth, like the tide between the conscious and the unconscious, the literal and the metaphorical. We hold the opposites at every moment, not in opposition, but in balance.
I have been awed, deeply touched, and transformed by my involvement in the Climate Lab and the individuals I encountered on it. I have witnessed a depth of humanity, care and vulnerability in all the participants which has humbled and inspired me. I feel blessed to have been offered the opportunity to facilitate this process and enormous respect for the people who gave themselves over to it. Together, we have felt gratitude, honoured grief and pain, witnessed beauty, oriented to health, and opened to creativity. It is the Great Work of our time to develop the scientist, the artist, the activist, the poet, the human being not just in some but within each of us in the service of a life-sustaining future for all.
Fern Smith, Easter 2022.
Fern is a Ritual Artist and Craniosacral Therapist.
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