The 12 Years Lab was an residency hosted by Metal Liverpool that gathered a slice of the UK artistic community to explore our relationship to climate change. What I imagined was going to be quite a practical building workshop of 4 days turned into a collectively formed, deep reflection pool that sometimes feels like a dream. On Sunday, after some of the ripples had settled and I found myself lounging on the edge of the water, my brain toes caressing this idea or that as it gently bubbled to the surface, I ask my husband ‘when I am discouraged or depressed, remind me of this feeling, this feeling of ‘Together’, and that so much is possible because of it.’
The space, the people…
Metal offered a supportive, home like space, full of shared meals and flurries of caffeine fueled, deep diving expeditions into creatively. Mornings were often my favourite time, getting off the train and literally walking in off the platform through big yellow doors, being greeted by warmth and possibility in the various states of awakeness in each of us at 10am. (Metal Liverpool is one of the oldest train station houses, now reinvented and refurbished, located right on the Edge Hill Station platform.) In the sharing of breakfast in that space and time, I felt the gentle complexity of our place in it all, a sense of the long game that has been and will be played as humans continue our attempt to live in balance within our surroundings. By lunchtime on the first day, I would be deeply inspired by everyone as we shared our work with each other. By lunchtime on the second day, I was deeply troubled and felt like we were losing ourselves in the tide of information and subsequent grief, anger and disconnect. With lunch warm in my belly on the third day, I found myself trying to make sense of it all over the phone with Haeweon and ideas of a playful experiment for our final sharing day slowly emerged.
The team of artists that Metal assembled is phenomenal. It would take a long time to go over all the work they do. You can see us all featured on Metal’s website, along with their in house team!
The days were filled with guest speakers and group discussions, culminating in a sharing day that was loosely based on future ideas that were percolating out of the residency process. Working intensely away from Haeweon this time around, I realise how practice based I am - there was only so much discussion I was able to handle before I felt like I would burst out of my skin, wanting to do something, anything, than wallow in the overwhelming weight of the knowledge we were sharing. Knowledge that somehow becomes more concrete when exchanged between us. On the other hand, I took this as a great personal challenge - how to be in a reflective process as an artist. I feel like I do this so often on my own, it was uplifting to be able to do this with a like minded group in a physical space, even if we weren’t making work together per say. It was like a great planting of ideas seeds.
Some human moments that persist in my memory:
‘Will it be worse two weeks from now, in 3 years time, or was it getting worse in the last fifty years…’
During Hector’s presentation on his work he speaks of time: run together many strings of time based statistics and you have a prismatic poem of the sense of bewilderment and loss that climate change can evoke. We spoke a lot about the ‘change’ that is going to happen, the ‘change’ that is already happening, the change that is impossible to predict.
‘Your conscious brain is a mask for your unconscious brain’...
Everyone had a huge debate on whether subliminal messaging in cigarette ads was a viable learning point to research how to influence the public on climate issues.
Big questions and themes:
Climate Change and Climate Justice...we were a diverse group of artists, but for various reasons, I feel like we just scratched the surface of intersectionality in our debates and discussions. Lack of collective agreement on how we would talk, what frames we would use, resulted in some assumptions that caused us to go very wide, but not very deep. I feel some facilitation, particularly on the first day, could have made this wide information overload a little less overwhelming. With a clear collective focus, it may have been easier to discover relationships between these large global concepts and our own lives and art practices.
Why is it so hard to imagine positive futures? Is Dystopia attractive? Why? Should we scare people? Take a hard line? Or take a gentle approach? Is there still time for a gentle approach? How does our individual context affect how we get involved/what role we take in change making? How does our autonomous sense of ourselves as individuals interact with our collective responsibility? Who has the power to change things and how do we convince them to make change? How do we resist being co-opted by ecologically harmful structures and oppressive ideologies and forge positive alternatives?
A light bulb for me was how the white western world often uses the future tense when speaking about climate change ‘its going to be x amount of bad’ in contrast to other groups, particularly in the Global South. My Canadian home town is already plagued with record breaking droughts and beaches unswimmable for the first time in living memory, highlighting our disconnect and ability to acknowledge what is happening right under our noses.
The ‘Results’/ Sharing back
Everything we had discussed somehow through osmosis began to appear in the great ideas and future movements we all proposed on the final day:
Selina saw new angles for her Climate and Loneliness project
Steven began thinking of the heritage links between two of his communities, Barbados and the UK, through sharing of coastal memory
Jonathan spoke of his show in development with Greener China, the ‘show that will scare them’.
Hector continues to expand his project ‘You are invited to the Death of a Turtle’
Hwa Young wants to focus on playful interventions for policy makers ‘I’m more for a honey than vinegar approach’
I needed to respond to what had happened to us these past 4 days, in typical Blooming Ludus fashion - make the difficult powerlessness physical. So after that 90min phone call with Haeweon, I made Yoga For Human Plants - a 10min ‘Yoga Class’ that questions the connection between our individual and collective selves in a current ecology.
Satire - yes. I put on my amazing, over the top, white North American success story accent. The frame? To start with yoga both questions the root and rise of ‘wellbeing’ in climate chaos and invites people into a context/scenario they are already familiar with; perfect for a short interactive piece where I just want people to dive in. It was also a way to get our group to CONNECT with each other in a physical way, to reimagine the space we were in and the plethora of ideas we had shared. Smoke was coming out of our ears and we needed to ground it all. We ran up the stairs of progress to the dance studio, breathed in and out ‘4 Hiroshimas of Heat energy’ (wordplay with a statistic from ‘The Memory We Could Be’ - a fantastic book by Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik), and found an ‘oasis just for you’. We raised our arms in exultation with the mantra ‘everything is going to be okay!’ and dropped our bodies low to the cry ‘everything is NOT going to be okay!’. We drove the vehicles of success: BMW’s, bicycles, the tube...and then we were all together and had to do a series of collective tasks that ended with Steven being held by the whole group to reach up and touch the center beam of the room. As we breathed together from our exersions, I asked ‘Turn to the person next to you, listen to their breathing - how do you see them? How does this affect the way you act in the world?’
And how did the group respond?….’You make difficult conversations fun’
‘Thank you so much for doing this’
‘I was glad to be uncomfortable!’
I felt warm. I had brought the group together in a way that was indicative of Blooming Ludus and true to my personal practice. There are many answers growing, but there are so many questions. I am an artist - I get people to ask questions so we can grow answers together.
Bravely our now becomes the future…
Re-balancing our climate is a complex, multi-pronged issue that will take multiple voices and measures to keep the planet below 3 degrees of warming in the next 11 year and 8 months. Of course it is, it is at the heart of how we live, our ecology. And we, like our ecology, are complex. Nevertheless, participating in 12 Years Lab gave me a sense of ‘Togetherness’ that encompasses our grief, anger, despair, and all the courage and possibility that is growing...if we are brave enough.