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Screenshot Vimeo livestream: Performance by Jan van Eyck residents Arvid&Marie and Manjot Kaur

The problem is known and the message is clear, we only have to get going. At the Jan van Eyck a wide group of guests discussed how to start counteracting climate change with all the complexities it entails. And the need to imagine change before it can really happen.

The second Urgency Intensive conference organized by the Jan van Eyck Academy chooses to work out a long-term vision for art, cultural workers and the climate crisis. The three day online program is curated by Inga Lāce and Bruno Alves de Almeida, and utilizes the Japanese ‘Future Design’-model to structure an imaginative endeavor and exercise. In Future Design two groups are formed: one speaking from the present, the other from the future, in this case 140 years ahead in time, which makes it possible to offer possible answers for the issues of today. The goal of this edition of Urgency Intensive is to look into the possibilities of setting up an Intergovernmental Panel on Art and Climate Change (IPACC). It refers to an already existing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their work in disseminating greater knowledge about the climate changes caused by humans and the ways to counteract them.

After introducing the speakers, Hicham Khalidi, director of the Jan van Eyck Academy and moderator of the Urgency Intensive, introduces the exercise to the audience by stating that we need to take the Corona crisis as a prelude for times ahead and see it as a warning we should speed up our thinking of designing another world. He asks the participants to put culture and art at the heart of what they will envision. They can help to create other knowledge systems that enhance plurality.

During the three days Lāce, Alves de Almeida and Khalidi do their best to engage the audience in the discussions between the speakers and nourish a real dialogue with the audience, which however seemed to be even more difficult on Zoom and livestream as it normally at physically attended conferences already is. There are some playful moments throughout the days though, as for example the various performances by current Jan van Eyck residents Arvid & Marie, Manjot Kaur and The Soft Protest Digest, and the collective dance session at the very end. The Future group’s performative way of speaking and greeting rituals added lightness, and while they framed themselves as we-beings they stuck to the format of taking turns to present individually, rather than speaking as many we-beings together.

The urgency of our time

On the first day the urgency of the exercise is emphasize by three presentations, each of which introdudes the complexity of the issue that was being tackled during the three days. First, the Vice-Chairs of the IPCC, Thelma Krug and Youba Sokona, introduced the work of the IPCC. The organization collects knowledge and science on climate change, and options for counteracting it. With this information they pressure governments for urgent actions, as for example in the Paris Agreement, to move the threshold in rise of temperatures from 2 to 1,5 degrees. They emphasizes that the actual shift away from carbon has to be implemented by the governments themselves first of all. Still Krug and Sokona see art as an important contributor in changing opinions, because it offers a different kind of knowledge in imagery and non-academic language that can reach anyone in the world. It is at this point that the audience in the Zoom, Youtube and Vimeo chats starts raising their voices. They object to the instrumentalization of art. Krug and Sokona seem to forget that art could also be a partner in developing different strategies to incite systemic change.

Sreenshot Vimeo livestream: presentation slide Roman Krznaric

The second presentation by philosopher Roman Krznaric stresses the need for a shift to long-term thinking. He argues that we treat the future as a colony, as if it is nobody’s time. He compares it to the English Empire treating Australia as nobody’s land forgetting about the Aboriginal traditions and agency. Krznaric too sees a specific role for the arts, namely to develop a time-horizon for ‘a longer now’, by for example enacting rituals of maintenance. He is convinced these kinds of rituals can pose a start to rethink our business as usual and short-term achievements’ mentality, but without partners willing to push for action art remains in the realm of gestures and representative performances of what is at stake.

This also becomes apparent in the third presentation of the evening by artist Carolina Caycedo. With her long-term research project Be Dammed she brings another extractivist practice to the table: energy colonization. While most dam projects in the Northern parts of the world are cancelled and/or get removed, most new dams are planned in the Southern parts of the world with great consequences for the usually indigenous communities living in those areas. Her project cannot stop the dams from being built, but she hopes to contribute to a visual memory of the cultures whose embodied knowledge, sense for community and geo-choreographies are being threatened and maybe eventually lost.

Screenshot Vimeo livestream: presentation slide Carolina Caycedo

Future Design Exercise

On the second day of the Urgency Intensive the question of what art is, and could transform into, now and in the future, comes to the foreground. The Present (2021) group, represented by Taru Elfving, Fernando García-Dory, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Suzanne Dhaliwal, agrees that art is not about imagining futures anymore, it is about pushing for possibilities on how to implement changes in how to live together. Transforming all art spaces into laboratory spaces might be a way to undo things that come top down from a governmental level. Once changed they could be of influence to the larger world forming relationships based on mutual understanding. Such a systemic shift is only possible if the art world is prepared to face its replication of neo-liberal and elitist structures, suppression and white supremacy, and do away with the false believe that societal problems can be outsourced to art.

Speaking from a potential future, The Future (2161) group, represented by Prem Krishnamurthy, Ama Josephine Budge, Julieta Aranda and Pauliina Feodoroff, brings everyone participating in the Zoom call together by having them switch on their microphones and make a humming sound together. This exercise reinforces the idea of the future we-beings who describe art in their time as a form of communication and being together, while in the present ego-minded practices still dominate. Having said that, they nevertheless immediately afterwards fall back into the format of individual presentations and so miss the opportunity to introduce everybody to the inclusive potential of the we-being who speak, imagine and discuss the future together as many in a true all embracing dialogue.

In their presentation The Future-group explains that there is no future to colonize, that there is not one answer, but many contradictory, complex and interwoven futures, and that all The Present has to do is listen: the trees speak for themselves. The Future’s we-beings do not have anything new to share, because they too draw from old intergenerational knowledge that already existed before The Present’s world, but they emphasize the existential need to learn to pass it on and cherish it.

The humming together reinforces the idea of the future we-beings who describe art in their time as a form of communication and being together, while in the present ego-minded practices still dominate

[figure urgencies3]

Bringing the Present and the Future together

The last day focusses on reflecting on the thoughts and ideas the discussions have sparked, and what The Present has learned from talking to The Future. Thereby, coming back to the question how art could contribute to the IPCC brings forward another issue: Before having a conversation about climate change is even possible the colonized ideas and structures in each of our own minds and bodies need to be addressed. These urgencies are deeply interwoven and it is right to emphasize that climate change cannot be solved without acknowledging and doing away with the extractivist and colonizing practices that bring about asymmetric violence. It is necessary to start having these conversations without agendas, and without sacrificing more racialized people and more of the ecology: anyone who feels attacked by phrases as the ‘white gaze’ is far from ready to talk about climate change. The only way to get to the point to have these conversations self-critically and learn from them is not to shy away when somebody points out one’s shortcomings. It is worthwhile that in their own conclusions Khalidi and Alves de Almeida admit that there is still a lot to uncover and learn before finding ways to have a more generative conversation without implementing rigid formats and to examine the structures of the institutions they are part of, as for example the Jan van Eyck itself.

Screenshot of the Zoom chat: list of demands by Ama Josephine Budge and Pauliina Feodoroff

The Urgency Intensive succeed in uncovering structural and systemic problems that need to be resisted and examined in order to work together on reversing them to start counteracting climate change with all the complexities it entails. It also makes clear how much attentive work we have to do to become we-beings. We need to work on how we treat and relate to one another and the earth, learning to have exchanges without agendas and honouring knowledge-carriers, rather than merely extracting from them. We need to acknowledge our own privilege, as for example living in Europe as a white person. Budge stresses that there could be a lot of power in knowing and honouring the colonies of the country one lives in and in performing caring actions connected to it, rather than sticking to symbolic exchanges and performances. In the end, the Urgency Intensive shed light on the only way to set up an organization as the IPACC and to arrive at the possibility of different futures, which is to nourish mutual learning and to change the temporality of our engagements with each other into long-term and sustained collaborations.

Urgency Intensive: Intergovernmental Panel on Art and Climate Change, Curated by Bruno Alves de Almeida & Inga Lāce
25 – 27 Feb 2021 – See all sessions HERE

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