How culture is starting conversations on climate

Spiral Jetty

The complicated relationship between humans and the natural world has always been a rich source of material for artists, musicians and filmmakers. In turn, their work can ask us to look at things from new perspectives. Such is the case with several events and performances in Victoria this year, which have used our changing climate as a backdrop to tell surprisingly personal stories.

The annual Environmental Film Festival at ACMI recently put a human face to global warming with a special screening of a new film about the Pacific nation of Kirabati. Directed by Matthieu Rytz, Anote’s Ark follows the country’s former president Anote Tong on his mission to spur global climate action. For the Kirabati people, the threat of rising sea levels is both real and immediate – on current projections, their islands will disappear underwater in the next 60 years.

Back in April, local musical ensemble Ad Lib Collective presented an immersive concert called Music for a Changing Climate at the Melbourne Recital Centre. In her review of the performance, the centre’s writer-in-residence, Adalya Nash-Hussein, described how musicians evoked the sound of melting icecaps using frozen sculptures, and recited lyrics inspired by letters from some of Australia’s leading climate researchers.

An exhibition at the Monash University Museum of Art of works by the late American artist Robert Smithson, who helped pioneer the land art movement of the 1960s and 70s, was notable for another reason. Smithson might be one of the few artists whose most famous work is being directly impacted by climate change. Situated in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Spiral Jetty was intended to be partially submerged but has become stranded on the shore as the effects of prolonged drought, together with unsustainable water use, take hold.

Coming up at the Bendigo Showgrounds from 11-15 December is Demolish, a theatrical work billed as one the highlights for the 2018 Regional Centre for Culture (RCC). Jo Porter, who co-produced the inaugural RCC program, told ArtsHub that the show was created in response to climate change and colonialism, drawing on the experience of two local women – one a fifth-generation farmer and the other a descendant of the Dja Dja Wurrung people.

FLOATDecember will also see the official launch of FLOAT in Lake Tyers Beach in East Gippsland. This sustainable floating studio was developed as part of Regional Arts Victoria’s Small Town Transformations project. It is a place for artists, scientists and environmentalists to collaborate and explore the unique environment, history and culture of the area.

While it’s great to see works dealing with climate change on our theatre stages or gallery walls, it is just as inspiring when our cultural institutions commit to reducing their own carbon footprints. Organisations that have signed up to TAKE2 include Footscray Community Arts Centre, Arts Centre Melbourne, Climarte, and McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery.

You can help encourage the people in your life to act on climate change by sharing your TAKE2 actions on social media. Together, we can help Victoria become carbon neutral by 2050.