I suppose the key things I wish to communicate are partly embodied in the principles of Climate Museum UK. One of the principles is about being “possitopian”, which is this idea of overcoming the fight between optimists and pessimists. People are getting very fixed in either very utopian or very doomy views of the future. Whereas a possitopian view is where you practice imagining many scenarios and you try to weave a path of possible and thrivable ways of being between the extremes. The cone of the future is extremely wide. It has never been as wide open as it is now. So, the bad scenarios are extremely bad, and the good scenarios have to be extremely good in order to pull us back from the bad. The braiding is like a challenge of extreme reach and extreme imagination. There is deep trauma going into the bad scenarios. So, that is one of my principles, and I try to communicate that as a basis when exploring the emergency that we are in.
I have been trying to talk about this for ten years. I have been presenting this principle at conferences. I talked about getting museums to act as agents for possitopian imagining futures. I feel like I have not articulated it very well, and it’s only now that I am articulating it. I had been skirting around, trying to express what I wanted to say about the climate emergency. But I want to be absolutely clear that our organization is about plural and democratic exploration. The science is always unfolding, and we want to be responsive to that. A lot of climate activist organizations are saying that we must always be positive and help people to feel good about the planet or themselves. We are much more about wanting to be honest and helping people to express their feelings and thoughts rather than converting them. We do not want to create climate activists. We want everybody to understand the world they live in, the crisis it is in, and to feel able to live with it. Am I being clear?
Yes, very clear. Earlier, you mentioned that one of your aims is to stir and collect creative responses to the climate emergency. We would like to ask what role you see in art and culture in this stirring and mediating the climate emergency. Is it central to your work?
Yes, it is. I am more interested in artists or creative educators, their socially engaged processes and how they interact with people, contacts, materials and ideas, rather than in art or objects. We are not collecting art. We are not aiming to create a beautiful gallery of beautiful climate art. Over the last 15 years, there have been quite a lot of conferences and inquiries about whether the role of art is to change people’s behavior, to become more climate aware or whatever. And in asking the question it contains the negative. It contains the assumption that art does not have any value. People have been saying: “Oh, we have to get together to try and articulate why do we need art in times of crisis?” I think, in a way, we cannot avoid art, because we are human. In this particular Covid-19 crisis, there has been a huge flourishing of art. It is like when we feel sad, we need to sing, cry, hug people or dance. That is what art is. It is not that complicated. We need to use tools and make things to solve problems. Art, for me, is a very demotic thing. It is actually how all people practice living in a complex world, and artists are only distinctive because they have more awareness of that. Or more practice. Or a clearer identity as an artist. Do you see what I mean? Our ability to relate to our environment and others in a creative way is repressed through our schooling and through the way we are forced into certain disciplines. “You are a lawyer; you are a doctor.” I think now, as the world becomes much more uncertain, people have to be much more hybrid and flexible. We also need to draw on our emotional and expressive registers much more. Doctors, in a situation of emergency with patients piling up, are going to need to sing with each other. I know doctors who are so frustrated with the lack of response to the climate emergency, they are taking this frustration to art. They are working with artists. They are writing poems. They are standing on trains and are giving creative lectures.