Climate change, a clarion call for the arts

September 26 2014

Nadyat El Gawley

In a week when thousands marched across the globe calling for action ahead of the UN Climate Summit, Australian artists were asking how will we live?

As part of the fifth Sydney Fringe Festival, 14 artists and architects have collaborated to explore domestic spaces in an era of environmental destruction. The work is presented by Branch3D in the Sydney suburb of Forest Lodge, and is set in a private home with a difference: there’s a shop front entrance.

Sarah Nolan, who lives in the house and is director of Branch3D, has been using the shop front window as a gallery. Passers by have enjoyed the art, and the festival has drawn a wider audience. People are “intrigued about a show of artworks throughout a … private house,” said Nolan.

The site-specific work, Bunkered, takes visitors through the impact on domestic life when the outside world becomes hostile.

“I like the idea that a bunker can mean so many things… hiding yourself or disguising yourself,” says one of the participating artists, Lisa Andrew. Her work, Droom, is an exploration of what she calls the “make do” future possible in a world ravaged by climate change.

Andrew’s work is installed in a bedroom. It is a fabric construction surrounding a bed with inkjet images of wood, brick and cardboard. A place to hide or shelter in, as Bunkered’s catalogue essayist Yvette Hamilton writes.

But it’s the dramatic text stamped on the installation the visitor first notices: “Australia told to feed region or face invasion.” It’s a screen shot from an ABC news report two years ago when it reported a speech by the head of the Australian Agricultural Company.

Detail: Droom by Lisa Andrew. Photo: N. El Gawley

Detail: Droom by Lisa Andrew.
Photo: N. El Gawley

“When I first took the photograph it seemed so out there,” says Andrew. “I was gleaning from surfaces around us to construct this incubating space that would almost be kind of camouflaged that you could exist in another way within it and not be noticed. So in a way I was playing a lot more on the actual idea of the word bunker.”

Droom is located alongside a video installation titled Emergency News Broadcast. It’s a live news report going wrong, with the anchor and reporters unable to connect, adding to the anxiety in the space.

Emergency Broadcast, Kuba Dorabiaski Photo: N. El Gawley

Emergency Broadcast, Kuba Dorabiaski
Photo: N. El Gawley

In an observation on how instant news is incapable of giving audiences context in crises, artist Kuba Dorabiaski shows us what happens when “Everything has collapsed.”  In her artist statement, she asks: “ What do they report when everything is news and nothing is anything anymore?”

“To me it’s about things not working. They can’t hear each other, they can’t communicate to the public because things are shutting down,” said Sarah Nolan.

Climate change is an issue Australian artists are increasingly addressing. Writing in the Guardian last year, lecturer and art critic Andrew Frost said concerns around climate change are shaping new Australian art. ‘’The return of landscape and nature as major themes is undeniable,’’ he said.

Climarte, a Melbourne based organisation working with artists on climate change joined the thousands strong march in Victoria Saturday September 20 as part of the global protests on the issue.

On the group’s Facebook page, they say artists need to make a choice.

“This is an invitation to join others who work, live and play in the arts in taking a stand. It is time for us to come together, as representatives of all that is creative, imaginative and hopeful in humanity.”

Climarte at Melbourne’s march for climate action. Source: Facebook

Climarte at Melbourne’s march for climate action.
Source: Facebook

The organisation has run forums and engaged with thinkers on the issue. Next year, in collaboration with arts institutions, it will hold the ‘Arts+Climate=Change 2015’ festival to make climate change a focus for the arts and its audiences.

Back at Forest Lodge, Lisa Andrew points out how the artworks connect with the house.

“A lot of the work is site specific,” she said. “These were lodged into the space to bring attention to the architecture and the living environment.”

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