Art in Real Life: Addressing the Sustainability Challenge | Tate Talks

Art in Real Life: Addressing the Sustainability Challenge | Tate Talks

Good evening. You’re very welcome to this
evening’s event entitled Art in Real Life: Addressing the Sustainability
Challenge. I’m Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern and I’m delighted that we’re
hosting tonight’s debate here in the Turbine Hall at such an important
political and cultural moment, important for all of us here and for the world.
Just a few weeks ago a woman wearing a living grass coat mounted on a splendid
white horse road into the Turbine Hall at the head of a procession of artists
marking the launch of Culture Declares Emergency an initiative that calls for
individuals and organisations across the UK’s cultural sector to declare a
climate and ecological emergency and to pledge immediate action in combating the
devastation of the planet. They were welcome guests and were received with
curiosity and interest and some cheering by the audiences accustomed to strange
goings-on at Tate Modern. Tate has a long history of climate emergency awareness
and I could take up a lot of your time detailing the many initiatives we have
taken to reduce our impact from water fountains to solar panels to beehives on
our rooftops. But just as recent legislation to achieve net zero as a
nation by 2050 feels too far off and too marginal to impact on the world so too
our institutional commitment to sustainability needs recalibrating
energising and activating. Maintaining large public buildings for millions of visitors, protecting the national heritage and shipping artworks around
the world presents us at Tate with enormous challenges in terms of sustainability and we can’t meet those challenges on our own so
tonight’s event is really important to us. Quite simply it brings together
practitioners, activists and campaigners to explore the potential of artists and
art institutions to address global sustainability challenges and inspire – I
hope – change. This evening also launches the public programme for our upcoming Olafur Eliasson exhibition which opens here this week on the 11th of July and runs
until the 5th of January. Shared social experience lies at the heart of Olafur’s work as well as creating sculptures paintings, photographs, films and
installations, he goes beyond the gallery to engage in wider society, creating
architectural projects, interventions in civic spaces, arts education and
policymaking especially around issues of sustainability and climate change. Eliasson
has a long relationship with Tate Modern Many of you may remember The Weather
Project commissioned in 2003 It not only drew more than 2 million people
to this very Turbine Hall lit by a glowing sun at the Hall’s eastern end but it
fundamentally changed the way we at Tate felt about this space and in
retrospect it’s possible to see how it began a shift in which the ownership of
this space began to transition from the institution to the public, a public now
welcome to arrived on horseback. In 2012 we hosted the launch of Olafur’s Little Sun which brings solar-powered light to parts of the world without easy access
to electricity and most recently Ice Watch in December of last year used 24
blocks of melting glacial ice to draw attention to global warming. This was a collaboration between Olafur Elisson and geologist Minik
Rosing And the short film you would have seen
on arrival showed dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and company Wayne McGregor
engaging with Ice Watch Paris in 2015 where it was installed on the
occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This evening’s event
is also part of the inaugural London Climate Action Week hosted by the Mayor
of London and Greater London Authority in partnership with E3G which has been
running over the past seven days It’s been a hugely significant initiative,
global in scope but mobilising London-based organisations and local
communities in support of London’s Net Zero goal as well as stimulating new
conversations and collaborations particularly with London’s cultural
organisations. We’re very pleased to be part of that programme that has included
the City of London Green Finance Summit The Economist’s Climate Risk Conference,
the Climate Innovation Forum, the Ashton Awards on Sustainable Energy and the
Supreme Court event on climate justice and alongside those hugely significant
initiatives and alongside our meeting our own sustainability targets, Tate can
also act as a platform for wider discussions, hosting the conversations we
need about the global climate emergency and working out how cultural and
artistic communities can play their part That’s why we’re here tonight and it’s a
conversation we hope to continue this week with a meeting at Tate Modern for
artists hosted jointly with Climate Declares and then at the weekend in Tate
Exchange, Plan B and 198 Contemporary Arts will work with Tate Exchange to
present All Rise for the Planet where we the establishment will be put on trial
for our complicity in climate breakdown Art has always helped us see the world
in new ways and generate new ideas to think and act differently and that is
more urgent now than ever before and I can’t think of a more appropriate
exhibition than Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life to help us frame those thoughts and
actions over the coming weeks and months I’d like to take this opportunity to
make a huge thank you to the Public Programmes team for organising this event, for Niki, Marianne, Hannah and Sandra, our collaborator and programme
contributor Malini Mehra, the Olafur Eliasson studio team as well as the AV
team here, Gerry and Dan, and all the other collaborators across Tate who
have helped to make this event possible Thank you. Before I hand over to our
event’s chair I just need to say a few words with regards to housekeeping and
the format of this event. The event will take the form of an informal discussion
for about 50 minutes followed by a Q&A at around 20.40 concluding at 9 o’clock. At 9 we’ll be opening the main doors behind you for you to use as an exit but if
you’d like to leave before then please use the cafe entrance on level 1 and I
would like to introduce the moderator of this event. We’re delighted to be joined
by Bidisha broadcaster, journalist and artist
working mainly in film and photography as I’m sure you all know she covers the
campaigns on social justice, global human rights and the arts for BBC TV and radio
Channel 4 News and Sky News and undertakes cultural diplomacy and political
analysis tying these interests together usually for the British Council. She’s on
the board of numerous arts organisations in the UK including the Booker Prize
Foundation and the Forward Arts Foundation. Away from work she does
outreach work with asylum seekers and refugees as well as women prisoners and
ex-offenders. As a director and performer her first film An Impossible Poison
premiered in Berlin in 2017. It has been hugely critically-acclaimed and made the official selection of numerous film
festivals internationally so please join me in welcoming welcoming Bidisha to
introduce our speakers and the event’s main themes. Thank you so much for coming Thank you very much for that extremely
generous biog which I wrote myself I don’t know how informal this is because
it feels pretty majestic to me but let us welcome you to this sold-out
discussion with Olafur Eliasson Clare Farrell, Malini Mehra and Mary Robinson who I’ll introduce more fully in just a moment. Tonight we have time as a panel
to discuss creativity and sustainability climate change, environmental emergency
and the role of artists in a world which feels like it’s at its tipping point. At
8.40 we would love to hear from you, hear your questions. Please keep them very
brief. Please do frame them as questions and please wait for the microphone to
come around. We’re recording this event so we want to preserve your voice and as
you can hear, the sound is travelling up and down. as Frances said
this discussion is the first event in the Tate’s public programme to coincide
with Olafur Eliasson’s new exhibition here and is also one of the last of the
events in the London Climate Action Week programme. Without further ado let me
introduce the panel. Olafur Eliasson is an international artist whose
Berlin-based studio founded in 1995 comprises more than a hundred members
including craftsmen, architects and art historians to realize his works which
span sculpture, painting, photography, film and installation and intervene in
civic space to prompt consideration and conversation. Mary Robinson is the former
President of Ireland and then a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and is the
recipient of numerous honours including a little old thing called the
Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to her by Barack Obama.
She’s now Adjunct Professor of Climate Justice at Trinity College Dublin and
the author of Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience and the Fight for a
Sustainable Future. Malini Mehra is a commissioner to the Mayor on sustainable
development and a UN advisor, a political scientist and gender specialist by
training She has three decades – actually, more than
three decades of experience on sustainability including leading
campaigns in Beijing, Seattle, Copenhagen and Paris and founding an award-winning
Indian climate NGO. She has co-written the UN’s human development reports and
advised the secretary-general on UN reform. Claire Farrell trained as a
fashion designer and is also dedicated to creative approaches to social and
environmental issues as a co-founding arts coordinator with the Extinction
Rebellion campaigning group Clare has been on hunger strike, been arrested,
occupied buildings and blocked roads. While also acting as a prominent
spokesperson on the ways to use creative protest to raise consciousness around
climate change. So, welcome all and let’s get right into it.
Olafur Eliasson, I think the first question has to come to you as the star
artist. There’s now generally a global consensus on the reality of
environmental challenges but how can individual artists address these changes.
Thank you and thank you everyone and thank you for
putting me on the spot first. Well as I don’t think as an individual artist, I
think the first question is what can one do as an individual and every one of us
work within our fields and what can we do within our field. As an artist I am
interested in to address this topic through the art I make, that is one way. I
don’t think that being an artist you have to do it, by definition you can make
any art you please, but for me this has become very interesting. I was always
working with natural phenomena, perception of nature, the perception of
atmosphere and environment so it was a natural thing for me to get more and
more involved with it. I also think that me as a private personal part of civic
society, as a co-producer of the world in which we live has a responsibility. I as
an artist have a studio I need to see that the studio is sort of progressing
in the right direction. I have a lot of responsibilities with regards to how do
we gradually make a plan step by step, how do we contribute to achieving the
1.5 goal that the governments all subscribe to in Paris, right. So I
feel there is a thing that I need to there and the last thing is maybe as I
am a relatively exposed artist or very exposed artist today and tomorrow but I
carry an extra responsibility in this case because I can speak on behalf of
the necessity to also instrumentalise the cultural sector towards being more
climate efficient, climate awareness building be more progressive on to
addressing these things and so on so so I understand that I have I have some
power and I can use this power to inflict on the collaborators I have,
logistics collaborators everyone I’m in contact with I can say that, well, I’m not
gonna send my artwork with you unless you offer me so-and-so offer with
regards to the green and the sustainable so so being should I say exposed also
comes with an added responsibility as I see it I want to throw this over to Clare because you
also are combining the idea of responsibility with the idea of
creativity so before we move on to the political dimension I wondered how you
see the role of the artist in raising consciousness and about stepping up to a
sense of responsibility even though we’re not saying that that’s mandatory
for every artist Thank you. Well I think that we were just talking before
we came out to take the stage about how we have really left the work of
observing climate and ecological breakdown to the scientists and that
perhaps en masse that’s that’s rather a mistake because they are not tasked with
particularly creatively visioning the future or trying to imagine how things
may be better, they’re tasked with assessing data and looking what
they can find in trends and attempting to project but they don’t actually have
to try to imagine a better world and I think the role of the artist is
sometimes seen as to reflect society back to it.
Some people describe it as holding that position and I think that you know
actually at a at a time like now it’s very much apparent that it is the
role of art to enable new things to be seen and to be imagined and for somewhere new to appear to be possible you can open up brand new spaces when
you act in a way that nobody ever has done before and I hope that the the work
of movements and Extinction Rebellion and the youth strikes and all the people
who are doing things that are unprecedented at a time where it’s
absolutely crucial that we do things that have never been done before
where we were in such a high-risk situation you know it is a requirement
for everybody to use every piece of creativity they’ve got so if we have
world renowned creative minds not working on this issue then I think that
actually they are failing the society Let’s bring Mary Robinson and Malini
Mehra in here. Mary Robinson should artists and creative thinkers engage
with these issues? Absolutely and you know what a wonderful space to be
talking in and I was just looking at this audience of course everybody seems
young to me these days but this is a wonderfully young audience which is
great you know. I came late to the issue of climate change – and I know
talk about climate justice or climate emergency not climate crisis not climate
change as such – and I’ve realised that the world of art and culture has to help
us enormously, it’s incredibly important for exactly the reason that has been
talked about, imagining this world that we need to hurry towards. I mean it’s
going to be a much healthier world because we’d be free of the fumes of fossil fuel
and the water pollution but we also need to see it as a fairer world, a world that
is part of what the negotiators in the UN talked about in
September 2015 and the sustainable development goals the 2030
agenda I mean I wear this badge first of all it’s the
only badge of the UN that I really like They’ve never produced a badge before that I
wear but it symbolises the way in which we need to learn to live
sustainably and leave no one behind and that means get clean energy to the 1
billion people who never switch a switch for electricity or the 2.3
billion who still cook on charcoal or wood or animal dung and I mean when we
say 2.3 billion its 2000 million you know we need to think in millions to
talk about billions because we we roll these statistics off it’s a very big
proportion of our world. Our world is 7.7 billion more or less.
This is a big proportion, the inequality of our world, the way we have not managed
to have a fairer more equal world and now that we’re in a crisis it’s also an
opportunity to somehow convert in the urgency we’re in I mean when the
scientists last October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change reported on what’s the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees and
how do we get to two degrees they warned us the difference between 1.5 and 2
degrees of warming of you know 2 degrees Celsius is very very dangerous
that’s when bad things happen when the coral reefs disappear when the Arctic
ice disappears and when the permafrost melts in a way that sends up not just
carbon but methane even more dangerous and they said we have 12 years that was
then we now have 11 years now we’re in July
and they said it is doable if we have the political will. That’s the good news
and we have to reduce by 45%
our carbon emissions and last year they went up. This year they’re bound to go up.
The way we’re going a lot to do Thank you for that context which really lays
it out for us all undeniably right at the top. Malini Mehra you’ve been very
patient, you’ve heard everyone’s thoughts given what we now know and given that
there is clearly cultural and scientific impetus and will how could we link
together artistry and creativity in your experience with your expertise in trying
to provoke change, not just being on a gorgeous stage talking about it? Thank you very much, it’s an absolute privilege to be here and to be sitting in these
really comfortable seats up here so I feel slightly guilty that you’re all
sitting cross-legged I hope that you’re as comfortable as we are. Look we’re in
the Turbine Hall and this is an extraordinary place, this used
to be you know a place that used to power this side of London, Bankside Power
Station and if you spoke to people 60 years ago they complain about the fact
that the sulfurous fumes from the Turbine Hall would make holes in women’s
tights in their nylons outside and yet it’s been transformed
so it’s undergone an incredible structural transformation where it went
from being a key energy provider based on oil to a place which is generating
creativity literally. That transformation from energy into arts and I would say
that none of this is new none of this is new it’s wonderful to be able to
celebrate the incredible work of artists such as Olafur but this has been a
history part of the history of the human species that we have sought creativity
to express our feelings emotions political ambitions. About a year and a
half ago I came to the Tate to visit an exhibition I really didn’t know very
much about but it was absolutely eye-opening. It was one of those exhibitions that really kind of changes your life and it was called
Red Star over Russia. Hands up how many of you know of it. A few, okay. It was one
of those exhibitions where actually it made that connection that
we’re making today between arts and political ambition, art and social and
political and cultural reform because it was all about how after the October
Revolution, so 100 more than 100 years back,
that the Bolshevik state as it was emerging decided to enlist their
creative talents of the population and created the unique artistic culture in
which the artists themselves using a variety of media everything from
magazines and news prints to street theatre to movies in moving trains and
wagons actually created a very visual identity of what the new Soviet Union
was going to be. They created a vision of hope, of heroes,
of leaders of the collective ambitions of labourers and I think that that’s what
we need to do today, we need to make to express a better world. About 22 years
ago now we did something similar so I used to be a campaigner with Friends of
the Earth and we had an exhibition outside the United Nations. It was in
1997 it was called Melt and we didn’t do this heroic transportation that Olafur has done where the ice blocks but we wanted to be outside the UN and
actually talk to the impacts that climate change was happening and this
was a conference that was five years after Rio and it was very cheerily
called UNGASS remember UNGASS Mary, the UN General Assembly
Special Session which was to review Agenda 21 and so we had these humanoid
figures outside of the UN in the sun in the May searing heat of New York and
they melted within two days and I think we were able to communicate through that
visual power and the storytelling a message that’s lost on the wider public
because they’re not interested in what the policy is, what the evidence base but
they understand a story and an image I’ll pick you up on some of your points
in in a moment but I want to pick up Olafur on something Mary Robinson
said which is the idea of coming to an issue late. So we are talking about this
with urgency now we’re pulling together scientists and artists and activists and
thought leaders and all the rest of it why weren’t we talking about it with so
much urgency ten years ago? It was interesting the Weather Project was
was here it wasn’t about the climate but it was about
the atmospheric conditions, whether one could artificially construct nature,
whether nature was in fact constructed anyway, or the way we see
nature, is the human impact on nature such that it does not make sense to talk
about nature and we know now that this has become common knowledge and there’s
a lovely critical or urgent critical debate about well if nature is now by
definition gone and the Anthropocene is a bit you know that’s the word we’re
using currently but it doesn’t really cover because it’s not all Anthropocene
meaning mankind or all men all people in the world the truth is really only
the Western world, it’s the capitalist it’s the people who’ve been colonising, slavery
and the whole thing, so Anthropocene doesn’t really cover it. Still I
think we have been growing into this sense of well here is a topic climate
emergency it hasn’t been articulated really well
yet it starts at the way the
politicians talk we look at these data sheets and we go my god what does that
have to do with me I’m just like so difficult to understand and culture I
think it’s just one of many ways where you can make it tangible you can make it
touchable and you say oh this is what the ice in Greenland actually looks like
it actually is quite nice to look at it’s beautiful it is a beautiful future
imaginary but still what I am so impressed with the
Extinction Rebellion stuff because they somehow successfully gave voice to an
emotional need. Everybody had a feeling and suddenly somebody went in with a
language and a form or sort of an activity that gave language to what I
think was obviously already a kind of emotional or should I say a void or deficit and
just to touch on your point Mary the idea that one in seven of us has no
access to energy I’ve been very interested in this because I was
fortunate to spend some time in East Africa in Ethiopia and there I
discovered that with very little effort one could make a competible in terms of
price alternative a sustainable alternative to the use of kerosene and
petroleum and biomass and I actually brought five sustainable small
power stations and while you can keep talking
just gonna say one in seven right that’s like they may be only the two rows here
if you are now powerless out of the so-called
a power grid I’ll pass on a solar lantern and you can send them back up as
you keep talking. In fact you talked about Extinction Rebellion and Clare
you’ve been quiet and I want to hear more from you. I wondered if you could
talk us through that journey of the general not ignorance but as we spread
sunshine up and down the hall the general denialism of climate
change and climate action up to this point when Extinction Rebellion are
having a huge massive impact so I would love to hear you map out the journey as
an activist in prompting these conversations where now we’re suddenly
feeling a sense of urgency Personally? Yes absolutely.
Well it’s it’s with a
deep sorrow that I undertake the work that we’re doing now and and that is
because it didn’t seem possible to do something like this until we were in
such a terrible situation and I don’t have complete faith that things will be
okay I’ve been lecturing on sustainability issues and trying to work
towards a better future within my own industry for well over a decade and I’ve
noticed that as all of my colleagues Extinction Rebellion and I think would
agree that the political leaders the business leaders the people who are
working in finance the people who really hold the majority of the power in
our society have had no interest in doing the right thing in my lifetime
at all and for all of the work that people have tried to put in to improving
the way that they work in various sectors and all of the campaigning that
people have done in good faith and all of the hard work that people have done
in movement-building we find ourselves pretty much on a cliff edge as a species
and so when I was sort of probably just coming out of the other
side of quite a dark time where I thought well it’s done so
now I just have to spend the rest of my life watching the world fall apart
around me and then eventually I’ll die and that’ll be a relief I I spotted my now friend and colleague
Roger Hallam on hunger strike over a divestment at King’s College University
and I thought shit that’s appropriate so so I went to meet him and I engaged in
lots of sort of iterative campaign tactics with him in London whilst other
people were working in other parts of the UK as well as part of a network called rising up which is what kind of gave birth to the
rebellion and I found that through undertaking that sort of sacrificial
process work that there is a great catharsis in that and if you feel
that you live in a society and as the social conditions are so utterly immoral
which they are that you can’t bear it then it’s actually excellent to
become a peaceful lawbreaker and sort of convert your actions
towards virtue kind of direction in your life and so I think it doesn’t really
matter to me anymore whether we win but it does matter to me very greatly that
I’ve met people who want to live together in a way which makes it more
bearable Thank you I just want to give a pause
there and thank you so much for those words, very well said and in fact your
journey leads me on to to address Mary Robinson here because I think that
you’re making up karmically for coming to this a little bit late because you’re
now Adjunct Professor for Climate Justice and I wanted to ask what do you
mean by climate justice it implies that crime has been committed
so who or what are the perpetrators who were the victims and what’s the
punishment? First of all like Olafur I admire Rebellion Extinction because
for some it has got to that as you said and that’s the step you take and I’m
also Chair of the Elders brought together by Nelson Mandela we have to
bring hope so I’m on the side of bringing that hope and that was what
brought me into climate justice I was late again you know I really was
in linking climate change and human rights I never made any speech when I
was President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 about climate when I became High
Commissioner for Human Rights in 1997 to 2002 the other part of the UN’s dealing
with it I was in my silo it was a big silo very important but I
never really made the link and then I had a small organisation called
Realizing Rights working on the rights that I wanted to promote more the very
important rights if you don’t have them rights to food and safe water health
education working in African countries and I was also honorary president of Oxfam
at the time and everywhere I went people said things are so much worse and it was
the sort of complete unpredictability so many women said to me is God punishing us
what’s happening ? This is outside our experience, I don’t understand.
And it was undermining their food security the ability to have food. The
drought meant women had to go further for firewood further for water and you
know I just realised this is happening now I had been learning about climate
change and it was something of the future
you know something glaciers might melt polar bears are at risk that was it was
projected and I was seeing the reality in people’s lives and I really
understood this was about justice but when I talked over the years including
you know coming to various conferences on climate I tended to talk about small
island states that would go under about indigenous peoples very vulnerable to
climate change about the poorest countries and even poor communities in
rich countries and then the children made it much more mainstream because
they talked about intergenerational injustice and I was so grateful to Greta
Thunberg and all of those children who have their Fridays for Future and the
young people and Extinction Rebellion I’m so grateful that you’re making it an
issue but people have to take seriously now in the parts of the world that
aren’t yet fully feeling the impact in the way that we look what happened in
Mozambique and Malawi and Zimbabwe recently devastating cyclone utterly
destroying lives this is so serious Your comments lead me directly on to the
person best place to to speak to them Malini Mehra if we take an
international human rights influenced view the victims of climate change of
course are not equal people in the global south particularly rural women
are affected the most and the earliest and the knowledge of that is only now
becoming sort of mainstream is this only a crisis when it reaches Western cities
and disrupts people’s lifestyle? In one respect yes but this is not just an
issue that has escaped the headlines of the Western press it’s an issue that has
too long been neglected by the mainstream press absolutely everywhere we’ve known about this for decades so there are absolutely no
excuses you know 20 years ago in 1999 in India there was a super cyclone
absolutely horrendous and it was one of those watershed moments 4.5 billion
dollars in loss the entire state of Odisha was set back in terms of
development terms 20, 30 years, 10,000 lives lost. Just a few months ago in
India in the same parts of India we have another cyclone similar intensity but it
wasn’t a super cyclone because it didn’t kill that many people and it was
extraordinary that cyclone Fani was so well anticipated because we had 10 years
in which we had the resilience which was built up the adaptation which was built
up communities were given early warning communities were taken care of
we had two million people evacuated in matter of days and the state government
stepped in and did remarkably well because we know we’ve known for a very
long time the people who are going to be most impacted are the most vulnerable
the poor women children the disabled the elderly those who are displaced already
it’s not rocket science so that’s why right now the full focus of the UN
disaster risk reduction institution that I’m an advisor to is absolutely on
making sure that we don’t just focus on mitigation important as it is but we
focus on climate adaptation and resilience because we know that surprise
is the new normal so let me give you another example because we have to fight
this misconception that this is an issue that’s not affecting us. You remember
reading about Paradise being lost in November last year, Paradise is a small
town in California, 26,000 people it burnt to a cinder in 12 hours with the
loss of 85 lives this is California this is just a few months ago and this is a
city that had known of fire risk but they had not known of the scale of fire
risk and they had not invested in some really basic infrastructure adaptation
because when the call came okay the fire is here we’re going to be
burnt to a crisp what do people do they pack the bags they got in their cars and
they drove out of their driveways and down roads, roads which were too narrow
which were too full because they hadn’t invested in wide enough roads to
evacuate the whole city so these are the things that are happening around us and
we really have to be, to dispel this mythology, London is vulnerable, how many
people here in the audience know about London’s three primary climate risks?
Hardly any. Massive massive investment in basic education is needed
for this.
Could you expand on those the point about London just briefly?
OK how depressed do you want to get? Shall I talk about 1.5 degrees?
We want to get really depressed.
OK no depression does not help okay you have to be realistic about
the risks that we face so that was the whole purpose of London Climate Action
Week because we wanted people to realise that yes you know London faces risk we
are also massively globally interconnected so for example through
the city of London 15% of carbon finance climate finance goes through the
city of London we are massively exposed in terms of our physical risk is
threefold So, flooding not because the Thames is
suddenly going to engulf the Tate but because we have we’re preparing
primarily at risk of surface flooding because for too many decades we’ve
allowed our ground to be concreted over so when the rain comes which we rely on
for water to drink in London it goes nowhere because it’s not allowed to seep
back into the groundwater so we have flooding. Droughts are a big
big big problem for London. Heat overheating is a huge problem 4,000
schools were closed by Macron’s government just last week. We will
increasingly have schools which are closed in London because our public
infrastructure is not equipped with a level of heat that we’re going to expect
and we don’t have a city of London that’s actually whether it’s in the GLA
or whether it’s in our school governors or those who are running our hospitals
we don’t have that urgent mindset that we need to do something to adapt in
London also Olafur Eliasson I have to pay you some attention now
bring the art back into this as well we’ve heard worst-case scenarios. How can
artists become engaged in this movement this moment fruitfully and
constructively without accusations of tokenism or cliche or trivialization or
just making a pretty picture to gloss over the reality of what is going on?
Not that I’m accusing you of having done that First of all I want say I thought
of it isn’t it a saying you say justice is institutionalised love, this is a good
way of saying it so I mean I think artists obviously can work together and
this is very much a part of our being a part of a system and it is very much as
we heard about redesigning system re-engineering the future and what
is I think happening and I think this actually speaks to all of us, we live at a
time where we see a shift where we are going from being guided by the past to
being guided by the future suddenly standing on the shoulders of everything
we know the successes of yesterday the things we have achieved doesn’t apply to
what are we gonna take as our next step so it’s very interesting that means we
are looking to the future and it’s not just a few it’s like everyone like the
way we talk and say we need to create a future narrative that simply is better
than the one we had yesterday and this I think is one of which culture as such
an artist and so on could contribute to It’s not possible alone I think but
essentially it has to do with dreaming up imaginary that hosts the possibility
for hope. Gerhard Richter the painter said “Art is the highest form of hope” and
in that sense the issue here is to somehow show to people yes there
is a doom and gloom there is a doom element and it’s fair enough because it
is so unbelievably urgent but also about saying well yes
heard the term doom and gloom and we do need to have some sort of sense of where
this is the direction this is how we’re gonna go these are the institutions we
are not gonna vote on or support these are the private sector companies we’re
not gonna buy the products off we need to take as civic society a clear sort of
position in this and understand that from the immediate micro civic
individual person there is actually a way to impact on the macro on the
legislative on the private sector and the companies it’s only a question of
actually organising ourselves in the in movements but also having the
self-confidence to say well I matter and that is maybe the last
thing what I think particularly art is capable of is unlike a politician unlike
a pair of sneakers I can say this is an option this is a possibility and you as
a visitor to the Tate Modern you say I know that feeling in
that painting or in that dance in that book in that theatre this is how I feel
this is somebody giving my feelings language. Leaving Tate Modern you might
have the impression wow I actually went to the Tate and I was listened to,
I was seen I didn’t go to see a work of art I came here to be seen and if you
think about politics and so on where are we being seen? The reason why there’s so
much populism is because there are so many people who say well nobody’s
listening to me I’m just gonna go for this short-termism and the immediacy
of populism so what art I think more sort of fundamentally on a deeper level
is capable of is to create a space a safe space for difficult conversations
where people can leave and say I was allowed to express myself I am probably
good enough I’m gonna vote I’m not gonna buy the sneakers I’m gonna do so and so on.
And do you think it’s actually unfair for people to say okay well you know you
are elite artists you’re successful you’re well known why do you
think you can cure climate change I mean nobody else is asking anyone else to
cure climate change that way I mean is that just more of the populism that you’re
talking about the cynicism about elites Oh that’s a very fair question somebody
should ask me that it’s only fair it’s also a fair question and it would be
wrong to say that the typical moral high-ground that the art institutions
and myself claim to sit on that’s as a good friend, a dear friend of mine says
that’s expensive real estate because that’s a it’s very difficult to maintain
so what do we do obviously at the cultural institutions need to look into
themselves get their boards gender balanced not all these white
haired old men and all of that there’s lots to do in the in the moral compass
of culture as well as much as an artist but still it just so happens that I
think culture enjoys something quite rare it is civic trust that’s not
necessarily me doesn’t matter whether you are famous or not I think every
local area has a poetry club a little music… a Musikverein in German
they are like a theatre so culture has its feet
on its ground I might not that’s fair enough and I’ll
take that critique for sure but essentially people say I’m a part of
this poetry or this cultural event I’m a part of civic society. I just
think it’s interesting as a culture ecosystem there’s something quite rare
which ties people together and actually offers things that are things
that are hard to find increasingly hard to find in politics and and in commerce.
You mentioned how you’ve been trying to tally up your your ethics and beliefs
and your creativity in your industry for 10 years so how do you consciously
combine the two without feeling that you’re somehow bridging different worlds
or you’re losing your creativity or you’re losing your ethics?
I don’t really feel like I can anymore I don’t think I don’t think that I’ve seen
anything like the kind of response that means that it’s really worth my while to
apply myself to working within my industry so I do so
really in order to make some money but not because I actually want to, I
don’t think that it’s I don’t feel that it’s going anywhere
fast enough you know when you know the context and and I just have to say to
make sure that I do say this before we run out of time that whilst Olafur’s ice
was sitting outside the Tate we had some very serious conversations in our office
because we actually many of us agreed that we really wanted to come down and
set them on fire and that would speak
I hope on many levels but as far as kind of provocation to the cultural sector
to the arts and to artists you know if this is an emergency of the scale that
humanity has never experienced before and we’ll never have the chance to
experience again unless something very serious is done then and we recognize
that that separation and elitism is a very big piece of this picture
which has brought us here like how radical are people willing to be when
they reconsider what art does, what is it for, what is an institution like this for
at what point do people say well this Hall has become a more public space, when
does it become a completely publicly owned space, when do we give all of
this space back to Londoners that we can possibly find so that they can have the
conversations that they need to have so that they can start to organise so that
we can talk about resilience in terms of our emotional experience right
because the floods will come the droughts will come the food shortages
will come and at the moment I look at London which is very separated very
divided, people who don’t know their neighbours, people who don’t know how to
care for one another and I think there is a huge piece of very very
radical work to be done that perhaps is naive of me to say that our art and
cultural spaces could do pretty radical stuff Before I bring in Malini
and Mary talking about the role of institutions and civic society which I
will do in just a moment I just want to briefly pick up on something you said
which is this very haunting note of loss of faith. You trained as a designer in
fashion, you presumably love that and do respond to it and find that
energising and motivating and yet these are worlds – art, fashion, design, film,
creativity – which are typically seen as progressive and open and interested in
transformation. Are you saying that even these worlds seemingly so liberal are
not really willing to make a change when it comes to these particular issues?
Well I think liberalism and progress are both not our friends
right now so we need to think about something new that its
radical that we can do which doesn’t necessarily fulfill any of our
old kind of paradigms. I mean it’s like my good friend Gayle says you know we
need to reboot humanity and the entire operating system that we use so the
coercion and the exploitation and the violence and the domination is
like it’s the old story that’s the old thing it’s gone it’s over like it’s
gonna go away eventually but how quickly can we move on to like the compassion
the love the forgiveness all of the things that we surely need to
find our way through something which you know is not gonna be easy and we’re not
going back to the benevolent planetary experience that gave us all of this
industry and all of this product and all of this sort of money you know we will
never go back there because we’ve affected this climate now and in a way
which will last for thousands of years and the biodiversity crisis is
actually even more frightening although everybody only really talks a lot about
carbon atoms I mean we face a future where there is very much less life on
planet and if we’re the only thing that we think is gonna survive well we better
start liking each other a bit more and do things quite differently I think.
Malini let me bring you in here before the reboot and humanity 10.0 if
we look at the world as it is in front of us how can institutions and
government and civil society organisations actually walk their talk
and participate in this reckoning that we’re going through?
Let me begin with something which is more biteable okay so there’s a wonderful quote by
Jean Monnet one of the founders of the European
Union which he said (paraphrase) “To make change you need people, to sustain change
you need institutions” so let’s just start with where we are right now so the
Tate has become an institution the Tate is a public good it’s not an
elite institution it’s a prestigious institution but it’s an institution that
I lay claim to as a Londoner because it’s open to all of us. I brought my kids
here first of all before kids I came and saw the Weather Project here. This is a
place where art enriches life and art sparks creativity and you begin thinking about things differently so very practically speaking what have we
done in London to bring some of those institutions together and reshape the
conversation so three quick examples the first is that we had an absolutely
magical partnership with the English National Opera outreach program called
ENO Bayliss English National Opera just last week opened up first production for
after many years I think of Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood and we use that
as an opportunity to talk about flood risk it wasn’t taking place at the ENO
Coliseum which is the home of the ENO in Covent Garden but actually taking place
in Theatre Royal in Stratford Stratford is in the lowest lying part of
the Thames so we had an engagement program we went and spoke with
schoolchildren and the parents and many of these school children their
background is Bangladeshi origin so it’s a really
wonderful combination of talking to children about what this mythical story
means yeah everybody’s familiar with Noah’s Flood what that tells us about
that contemporary predicament what it means for us as people living in London
and what it means for us for our relatives who are living overseas
because London is quite unique I mean one in three Londoners is born overseas
so when you have this conversation with Londoners you immediately tap in to the
backward and forward linkages so that was one beautiful thing. The second thing
that we did is we supported and there are colleagues here from Culture
Declares we supported their idea and their efforts to have a whole day
exploring these issues at the Roundhouse The third quick thing that we did and
again it’s all about young people it’s about how they are going to be inspired
by this we had a wonderful partnership with a street contempory street artist
called Bambi she’s often referred to as the female Banksy but I think that’s
quite dismissive she produced a couple of beautiful artworks quite
recently she’s inspired by Greta Thunberg she built a little Greta box
which was an image of Greta Thunberg behind a perspex screen with a hammer thatyou know strike here for an emergency we took that image and we brought it in
Parliament where we had a discussion with parliamentarians on last Monday we
took it to the Creative Green Awards and we took it to a school in
South London where they were having an exhibition of their artwork their
students’ artwork we had back there because it provides a perfect back-drop
to talk about these issues to feel some of the grief that there is that you’re
expressing really powerfully but also to talk about what it inspires them to do
differently in their future that’s I think what the power of art and culture
is. I’m gonna pick you up on that on next steps but really Mary Robinson
thank you for your patience to come back to that question you’ve worked at a very
very high level as you mentioned and you also referenced the sort of great
behemothic size of the UN where you know there’s
another entire department dealing with the planet and you deal with the other
bit of it so how can institutions governments and civil society
organisations actually walk their talk or have they been and it’s all happening
under the radar? Well let me start with the importance of
culture in this which I think is very significant I want to both
empathise with you Claire and also necessarily because I’m charged by Nelson Mandela on behalf of the Elders we have to have hope where there’s despair we have to and hope energises you know whereas
if you paint it black all the energy goes out so I think it’s important. I
first became aware of Olafur in Paris when I saw the ice melting at the Paris
climate agreement everybody everybody was talking about it
it had a huge impact on these boring delegates who you know were very
technical and very you know they really were impacted and the Little Sun was the
other one that impacted and our three our two grandchildren two youngest
grandchildren now have three Little Suns and they put them out on a balcony and you
know the right-side up to get the sun and you know but I saw the future last
November when I had the privilege of going to the architectural Biennale in
Venice the reason I was there was that it was being curated by two women
architect friends of mine from Ireland Irish architects they work as Grafton
architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley Mcnamara. Terrific woman they make
wonderful buildings, strictly universities around the world but they’re very
practical and very simple and very ordinary in a sense but they’re not
ordinary really because they chose the earth as their client and they invited
architects from around the world to respond to that and as i walked through
this huge space I mean it reminds me a little bit of this wonderful space I’m
in Venice at the Biennale Yvonne and Shelley would point to the various
projects I saw the circular economy I saw not just electric vehicles for
electric mobile together vehicles I saw saris from Bangladesh that had
been thrown away by women but it was clawed there that could
be brought back to high fashion you know I like the slow fashion the
slow food and all of that all of that movement and you know it really brought
home to me the importance of culture now stepping in rapidly with science to tell
us where we need to be and when I’m talking to a captive audience and this
is a captive audience if I’m a three steps three minutes not not even three
minutes the first step I think everybody has to take now is to make climate
change personal in your life called climate emergency personal in your life
and do something yourself don’t count on others do something yourself and do
something to reduce your own demand your own emissions your own you know way of
adding to this problem and I’ve become a pescetarian I’ve given up meat and it’s
a small thing others have done much further but anyway I’m an elder and the
second thing is yeah you’ve had a lifetime of eating meat so anyway I’m
not cheating that’s gone but the second thing is to get angry and get active and
that’s where Claire is at the moment very angry I mean I can sense it and
you’re right get angry with all of those who have much more responsibility that’s
government’s right across the board and it’s the fossil fuel industry the
agribusiness industry all of these industries and those who are trying to
promote consumption consumption to solve our economic problems it’s all wrong and
you know there’s something crazy about her we must get out of that and get
active as part of the second step support extinction rebellion support
Greta tunberg and her students support those who are working in conservation
those who are bringing energy to an off-grid to the developing world and the
third thing and this is the most important and this is where culture
really comes in we have to imagine this world that we need to be rushing towards
and we need to be rushing towards it because they don’t have much time to
do that and and this is what we’ve neglected and this is why I’m so glad
we’ve had this climate week this is the herd event that I’ve been involved and I
was involved in the green finance summit and I was involved in the Ashton Awards
both really good this is probably the most important because it’s about
culture in itself giving the leadership stepping up talking you know creating an
imagination for us I think that’s the most important thing I really do more
important that any of these institutional things that gives me the
perfect prompt for my final question just as the audience gathers their
thoughts before we open up we would like last words from the rest of you Melanie
Oliver and Clare taking on Mary Robinson’s key words of anger action and
our time saving the two artists for last so Melanie if you could come in briefly
the question that always comes up in the audience after events like this is
you’ve left me with all these thoughts this despair this hope what can I do
and so briefly something small even initiating a conversation what advice
would you give I mean the first you know you’re here so you obviously care about
these issues and it’s not for me to advise you and what you should be doing
in terms of changing your lifestyle eating more plant-based they’re having
more of a plant-based diet you know thinking about how you’re traveling
around those are just some of the practical things but one of the things
that’s really important to me is to recognize that when we talk about
emergencies and urgencies that the typical political response to that is
not measured the typical political response is a highly authoritarian
response so my biggest fear is that we will already see a diminishing of
democratic political space around the world and that’s the reality I have an
Indian passport if I went and got myself in trouble with the authorities here it
would affect my immigration status I would be on the quickest plane out of
this country that for me is a real practical
pediment – doing some of the things that I might be inspired to do because I have
kids who were born here right if you did these kind of process in countries such
as India or Egypt or China you’d be whisked behind bars in China
you would be like happen to prevent a way where you would be disappeared for
years that is the political reality when I was very young my god my country there
was a political emergency called by Indira Gandhi who was 1975 who was a
prime minister at that time she called an emergency which immediately led to
the suspension of elections the suspension rights so do not think that
if you say to governments you have to do it because otherwise our way of life is
under threat they won’t act because they will not act in the public’s interest
typically they will act on the interest of the incumbents and what you could get
actually is a despotic tyrannical rule that is absolutely the opposite of what
we want to go so my message here is think about what you’re asking
make sure that your might were making the demands making political demands
democracies for institutions to make the change so simply put make sure you’re
going and talking to your local council and your local MP about how much you
care about these issues and what you want them to do brilliant thank you
excellent final words for concrete steps Oliver
something quite over seeable when I was invited to have the show here I reached
out through the team I was working with to the restaurant there called the
terrace bar the restaurant on the back he has the studio kitchen in my studio
is very climate conscious we’ve eaten vegetarian food for 15 if vegetarian
food and and so on and so forth for a long time and worked with farmers or
associations and so and so so we have made a menu where actually says the co2
amount on the menu but an average British meal without the drinks is a
1583 gram of carbon emissions right so and they and we took that we worked and
we actually worked quite hard collaborating with a great team at the
Tate on bringing that 52% down so they with the meal you will have over here
should you come and have lunch is it 839 Graham less than an average meaning that
we we are trying to just show and and and obviously I won’t say simple cooking
and so on but it is overseer but it’s a carrot soup with some nuts and I know
and and and and lemon spices and a bit of salad and a bit of this and that so
the point is it is actually within reach and have you know half of the co2
emission in food is actually quite something as the food industry as a
whole including transport and so on and so forth actually stands for one third
of all carbon emissions we use just in the sake of fairness we used the app
which is just the points that one can do this at home right the app and then so
small here it sister so you can sit here it’s a it’s a eat eternity so no so and
this is a certified app there’s a few apps out there but the point is that I
mean taking out the meat and so on and so forth and take generously said ok
we’ll just accept instead of raising the prices a little bit because it’s a class
issue as well why don’t we keep the price and I think
say it for saying okay we’ll just run this with between ten and twenty percent
less of a profit because it is simply important that that it is actually more
interesting like this and let’s keep the prices to where they were before we
started this so this is a good example of something over seeable and actually
quite easy just totally doable Clare Farrell you’ve been extremely very very
powerful speaker so I wanted to just give the very little time that we have
it’s just about 30 40 seconds to to your tips from the coalface really on final
steps that we can take things that people can do even if that’s just
opening and you opening up the new dialog and talk to your family very
seriously about the situation that we are in and please do support your local
rebels if you are not able to go and undertake the kinds of sacrificial
action that you may have seen the bold and inspiring people doing in April
there is a ton of work that needs to be done to support those people you need to
do a great job probably about 20 people per arrestee and you know the jobs are
many and varied and some of them just require you to be a human being with
compassion and with love in your heart so if you’re facing a future of scarcity
and displaced people and all of the ingredients that we know can lead to
fascism and totalitarianism then please assert your voice in the name of more
democracy because otherwise we will certainly have less thank you very much
thank you okay we have about 20 minutes a tiny bit
less there’s already someone jumping up right there so we’ll come to you first
but do wait for the microphone to come to you just because we’re recording
these conversations thank you so much can you hear me yes we can yes I’m
Johannes Willetta and I am a cross pollinator have been for many years
working between politics corporate and arts and culture bringing that
integration and just as you did today and we see how helpful it is for the for
the understanding of these narratives so my question is are you in going lis
engaged so that this is not just a touch-and-go I are you all ongoingly
engaged with cross field conversations like this in in your in your environment
and and if not yet when then I’ll be delighted to also include doing the
things that I’m doing thank you thank you very much so are you engaged in
ongoing way on these cross fielding investigations bridging art and science
and all the rest of it all if I think we can start with you in them thank you I
would like to think of having increasingly the last years experience
the necessity to go out of my comfort zone
out of the exhibition out of where I actually do work the most and meet
politicians the leaders of various arts but also science organizations or NGOs
and so on I worked with my little little son project in in in areas with no with
no economical or in energy related infrastructure but I also tried to for
instance when making a work of art I draw on knowledge from from other fields
and maybe instead of just showing the photo I did 20 years ago in I set off a
glacier and the photo I’m doing this summer and I’m gonna hang it next to the
one if if I can announce this vegetate I’ll very much would like to announce it
with some of my friends so that it is a photo that is both should I say being
used within the conventional order the comfort zone of culture you say but
maybe also photo because it shows very clearly that the glacier is literally
gone the glacier tongue is literally gone so obviously I would like to make
that photo available even though I’m not a scientist to the Arctic people that I
have little relationship with and see if it could work in them and if I could
possibly be a part of an Arctic simple ocean where it’s not about culture but
about Arctic science I would be very proud to do so hoping not to dilute the
quality of such events too much but but so I I have increasingly felt the
necessity and the inspiration of actually being outside of my seriously
my my comfort zone I guess I could call it does anyone want to else want to take
that question it’s about being engaged in an ongoing way across field projects
Mary but maybe briefly just because Oliver has mentioned coming out of your
comfort zone I’m very keen to communicate better the climate emergency
so I came out of my comfort zone recently and I have a podcast which some
may or may not know of Mothers of Invention anything listen to mothers of
invention yeah I see a few hands going up this was for me different because I’m
paired with a younger woman from Maryland she was eight years old when I
was president and she’s a successful comedian in New York and she’s half
respectful towards me but as far as the fun but the byline of our podcast is
that climate change is a man-made problem and requires a feminist solution
and may would never explain that you know she said she’s younger she’d yeah
I’ve seen the necessity to explain it and man-made is generic so it includes
all of us men had more time more power they polluted more and still do but
we’re all responsible and secondly a feminist solution definitely includes
men so I kind of move on from there but we interview the most extraordinary
mothers of invention mainly balancing north and south you know we don’t you
know we don’t prescribe we mean by a feminist solution we listen
and it comes through extraordinarily on the podcast what is a feminist solution
tackling paternalism tackling patriarchy tackling the capitalist system it’s it’s
you know it’s really really very interesting in tackling the macho
mindset that’s absolute the way to progress is to find new territory and
then bleed it dry a third thing anyone else want to take that but I
think we should okay briefly yeah yeah hello Johanna how are you nice to see
you again hi there look I think it’s really important to
have this cross fertilization of ideas and communities and that was what we’ve
done and we’re really happy with the response to it the London Climate Action
Week but I think it’s also really important to challenge ourselves it’s
very easy to have this discussion with people who think the same as you do yeah
it’s very very important to have it with people who do not think the same as you
do a few years ago I gave a talk at the annual general meeting of ONGC which is
oil and natural gas corporation of india because people forget the fundamental
facts of life which is that it’s not the privately owned oil companies which are
the big problem is the state-owned enterprises in countries such as Saudi
Arabia India China and it was a really interesting experience and I’d like to
do much more of it because we kid ourselves if we think that people who
work in the private sector or work in finance don’t care about the kids as
much as we do we have to find a way of communicating with them we have to find
the language beyond blame we have to bring everybody together to build the
political consensus that will get us out of a hellfire future okay let’s go right to the middle of my
left bank said white t-shirt I’m sorry to identify you by your clothes but it’s
sort of gloomy so I can only see clothes right now okay
thank you I just wanted to pick up on a note that you beginning which was the
role of the artist is to reflect back to society it sounds similar to the role of
the therapist which is to flip to reflect back to the individual and I was
thinking about Scott pecs when he talks about spiritual growth being imperative
for this recovery process and whether this is something that we need to
develop as a society we are the birds are great question the idea of spiritual
growth and a recovery process as being part of I guess an artistic practice
that links in with what we’re talking about Claire I think it was actually you
who made the comment about that so I’m gonna throw this on to you first yeah I think there’s there’s kind of
business move from very much I mean very financially incentivized and supported
kind of abject denialism into this position where we find
ourselves going oh my god it’s total doom and everything’s over and there’s
been no space in the middle for people to sort of get their heads around what
we’re living through and I think in terms of the sort of in this the shock
to the collective consciousness into the and and and to our spirit this is a huge
problem and and it will take a lot of emotional labor for us to be able to
move through that space particularly without pointing at the people who got
rich of telling us lies professionally to bring us to this position and and and
it requires something of us which I think we are only just beginning to try
to understand I certainly don’t have any handle I don’t think on on what exactly
this moving into the future requires of us right now but for sure I’ve been sort
of calling for the requirement of a movement like extinction rebellion that
probably needs an army of therapists and perhaps we also need armies of artists
as well I laugh what can I put this to use the link between the spiritual
growth and a recovery process but also an artistic practice and I guess also
sublimating and externalizing the kind of dread that we we feel yeah I mean to
build on that we have been we’ve been fed up with a quantifiable success
criteria and the success is only here and if it’s not measured you are a
failure and the the room for doubt on the room for negotiation or hesitation
the route for the room for being unpredictable has been doomed
unsuccessful and in that sense the notion of compassion is also to allow
for a person to be a fool right so maybe foolishness and and being unpredictable
maybe the madmen of the mad women of yesterday I actually the visionary as we
know of tomorrow and in that sense I was trying to somehow briefly mention it if
before I do think that a great you know painting 200 years old you look at it
and you you realize that flying horse over that city well that’s a hundred
years right but anybody I mean you realize I said oh I know that feeling
that’s that horse is me I know exactly what’s going on here
it was as if the painting saw me I don’t mean to make it therapeutic therapeutic
but it’s just this opportunity to actually feel that here is something
that is emotionally spiritually if you want
in a non quantifiable way this is a non mckinsey viable way or it’s a non Disney
fireable way it’s a non a decisive viable way so suddenly I’m actually
being hosted there’s an element of hospitality in this where I feel I said
I feel like a blue horse and in that moment it gives you this sense of
actually being worth something and you leave I would as I said before you leave
with a sense well I need to do something because I’m not worthless I’m not
someone who’s always being McInnes if I’d down to the sort of criteria of
yesterday I need to build another spiritual tomorrow as we heard I just
want to bring Mary Robinson in here because you’ve mentioned a couple of
times that you are one of the elders capital eaters and I wondered if in this
kind of a per tear of governance you do also consider not just what’s happening
socio-politically but also in terms of let’s just say the spiritual than mental
health of of Nations I learned a profound lesson from the
first chair of the elders Archbishop Desmond Tutu whom I loved I was on a
panel with him about eight or nine years ago in New York it was a social good
conference and the young people were there on their iPads and their iPhones
because they were creating a social media buzz buzz I think we were what’s
the word I can’t remember what the word is now when you’re get liftoff
finding trending trending and and there was an American I said first of all when
archbishop tutors in front of young people he gets so excited he expresses
his love and his arms go all over the place and it was an American journalist
moderating and she said quite sharply Archbishop Tutu why are you such an
optimist and he looked at her and he shook his head he said oh no dearie
called her dearie oh no dearie I’m not an optimist I’m a
prisoner of hope and that for me was very profound it really was because
if you’re a prisoner of hope then oops I take this class even if the glass isn’t
half full you work with what’s in it and you fight back you you you and you know
I wrote a book called climate justice hope resilience in the fight for a
sustainable future and it’s all about my heroes who are not responsible for the
situation they found themselves in but who had the hope to make a real
difference and you know I say this to you Claire in particular because I
admire hugely the guts you all have an extinction rebellion the sacrifice
you’re personally making the fact that you feel you have to do this and there
is more than space for it I know that but you also have to have hope hope
creates the energy for what you’re doing you know it’s a it’s actually really
important it’s it’s kind of it it’s it’s a difficult space to find that you have
to have the hope that you’re actually going to succeed which I believe you
will and you’re part of a disruption we need and because at the moment and
tunberg would be the first to say it you know everybody’s saying you’re
wonderful and she’s saying no no that’s not that’s not what it’s about it’s all
about are we bending the curve and we’re not and we have to reduce carbon
emissions by 45 percent in the next 11 years they went up last year they go up
this year what are we about so we need all of these ideas and we need the
guidance and the spirituality of culture you know money we can hear from you or
we can take a very brief question and very brief answers so we have time for
one more I’m trying to be and we’re not gonna get to everyone so let’s go right
right up to the top I can see someone in a dark top and glasses no it’s you you
just turned to look at the back it’s you yeah right there let’s keep your hands
up can you hear me yeah my name’s Austin Emery I’m a community activist myself
making a a monument with a hundred plus people
who have carved stone for this piece of work really inspired you know with what
Oliver was saying about this sense of people not feeling empowered feeling
like they don’t really have a voice so trying to engage people trying to give
people that voice I feel is something that we as artists can do I have a real
sense of urgency about this whole thing along the lines of what Clare has been
expressing and I suppose the question to you guys would be well it’s based on the
fact that we hear amongst the top sliver of wealthiest most powerful people in
the world really consume the most we are the perpetrators arguably of this whole
situation how do we you know give up how do we inspire each other to give up what
we feel is our entitlement our comfort our extra materiality how do we inspire
that it’s like creating a suffering before it’s too late that’s actually
that’s a great question and a great closer so how do we inspire people
within the same tear to check our privilege to give up our entitlements to
make sacrifices to make changes and let’s just go on a sweep so Oliver very
briefly this is a good question I say there’s a
yes it is every time you think you have an answer the the expansion of the
urgency has overtaken that the answer it’s never enough right so this is what
is evidently increasingly happened you sort of have figured it out and then
when you’re about to say it the challenge has arose and so what is
called SCC fossa or so no but but but by all mean I I do think that there is a
sense of inclusion that is fundamental to this if people feels well it doesn’t
really matter then it’s very hard to to make a difference so I have worked a lot
with how do I feel that what one does actually gives you a sense of inclusion
and how does that sense of interdependence or interconnectivity how
can that spread how to do one feel a part of a community and and it’s I think
it’s it’s actually increasingly hard because there is so much polarization
language in in it as of itself seems to be so so polarizing so that people are
when discussing immediately finding themselves based on what they are not
rather than what they actually do believe in and and this just brings it
down to practical terms we at the studio have now set down to make a plan to fit
the 1.5 degree we need to meet the standards we are artists to do it turns
out that we actually can do a lot and the feeling of actually having this in
progress and we haven’t been able to announce it yet because also we would
like to say that we are actually doing some of the things we are talking about
has meant a lot and one of the things I can do as to the question is to keep
telling the Tate well you know I am so excited about the show this is very very
nice very exciting and I was so happy when my curator mark was sitting here
yesterday said it was interesting that the doing this show together with you
has actually made me think about Ramakrishna’s in another meeting that
was not about you so so certainly this consciousness is actually infiltrating
and this is what I made made about into the play
instead of connectivity that it actually matters not just to tell our families
actually has this trickle effect and this gives one sense of being a part of
a system which i think is so very rewarding so how can we inspire people
to give up our own privileges and entitlements with the point made by the
questioner it’s this part of the world yeah they developed where that is
historically and still very significantly responsible and very
unmindful and we need to change that we need to you know change from a throwaway
consumption society change our habits but I also feel very strongly that we
need to know that it’s not going to be all doom and gloom but actually as I
said it’s going to be much healthier Society and if we do it right if we
implement the 2030 agenda and leave no one behind then we take you know that
billion people out of the terrible poverty of heating lighting their homes
with kerosene and candles which are dangerous and similarly with the cooking
so and and what we do is we start this relationship which the 2030 agenda talks
about I mean what I like about that agenda which was negotiated by 193
countries it talks about human rights it talks about gender equality it talks
about leave no one behind and prioritize the furthest behind first all in that
approach we’re not doing it but if we can get there which we have to in order
to bend that curve as rapidly as we need to then we just have a different way of
being human and that’s what we need to do briefly okay so you’re asking me I
was raised as a Hindu about self sacrifice and renunciation and
abnegation and we have a very long tradition of how to do that not well I
was reminded by your question and I understand the spirit in which you’re
asking your question Austin which is very much how do we lighten our loads
yeah I think practically speaking in this country if you look at the average
of the UK 24% of our carbon footprint is due to energy use right so you think
about you know your modal shifts there obviously 12% is the food that we eat
right so we spoke earlier about the shifts from a meat base to a plant-based
diet but if I think about this in a you know personal a global context
look my my aunt’s was she was a visionary she set up an ashram 60 years
ago and she had a lot of people who came to her who would be satisfied with their
lives and who wanted renunciation but who wanted you know the typical
renunciation ideal is you go into a forest and then you’re never seen from
again right you see leave you Leave No Trace but her message to them was come
and do something good so over time that small ashram is called the Urbana trust
became the place which now looks after the largest slum in Delhi providing all
of their needs medical education etc so for me the big lesson of my life is that
abnegation and self self-abnegation and renunciation is for the few it’s not for
the many if actually you want to get people on a path with you then you have
to address some very basic things in life which are about hypocrisy and power
so if you think about my experience as a Hindu I was brought up in a family in
which you couldn’t eat beef okay Hindus don’t eat beef in there is the second
largest exporter of beef globally after Brazil right a big difference in between
what we say and what we do so for me it’s fundamentally about looking to
where the power needs to shift wherever you are whether it’s in your household
your community your government your globe and that’s what I try and do thank
you very much Claire Farrell um I’ve met this I
haven’t met them face to face yet but this fantastic writer and academic
through doing the work with extinction rebellion which I have to say is one of
the greatest gifts that I’ve had back from doing this work is the people that
I’ve able to meet through doing the work and I’m deeply grateful to that but
Douglas rushkoff said to to me recently that social movements which which cause
trouble are like an immune response and if you see that the society and the
planet that you live on is sick and the people come together to create some some
positive heat where some the illness can be can help to be healed where the
energy and the the blood can flow towards that place and then healing can
begin from there I think I think that’s a very beautiful and analogy and and the
way in which I would ask anybody privileged to let go of some of the
things that they don’t need would be to take them to a place where people are
being fed without question there are people doing it on the streets all the
time you can look them up and bring them along to extinction rebellion events
where people are being fed with food waste by kitchens that just appear out
of nowhere with people who step into them and say can I help you to cook can
I feed people this feels good this feels nourishing and to sort of remind
ourselves through something practical like that that it’s obviously always
better to give than to receive and I think the ego is soothed very much by
putting yourself in a position where you have to give so that that’s
that would be outing encourage you to try to get those those people to engage
in something practical thank you very much we have run over but I feel that
what we said was in itself so nourishing and so detailed and had so much context
and so much there to inspire and energize that we we ran with it before
you start rustling I think that we would like to thank you for being such an
amazing and engaged audience I have a little bit of housekeeping before I’ll
invite you to join me in thanking our speakers so the main exit behind you
will be open and if you left anything in the cloakroom don’t forget to pick it up
but before you leave please join me in thanking everyone at Tate Modern
Francis Morris ólafur Eliason Malini Mara Mary Robinson and Claire Farrell
thank you very much indeed and thank you you

2 thoughts on “Art in Real Life: Addressing the Sustainability Challenge | Tate Talks

  1. There is no such thing as climate change. Stop lying.

  2. The polar bears didn’t melt and the ice caps are still hear. More lies. Since when is Art Political?

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