Thursday 30 April 2009

mating mood

A video of two Galapagos tortoises mating ('imagine one sack of coal trying to climb onto the back of another sack of coal') is one of nine exhibits at the Baltic, Gateshead, that convinces art critic Waldemar Januszczak that art can bring something to the Darwin celebrations ('a mood, not a calculation; a spirit, not a result') that eludes science. more ...

Wednesday 29 April 2009

fund of misinformation

No Impact Man follows up Andy Revkin's New York Times article about the so-called Global Climate Coalition, a pressure group that aggressively campaigned against the science of climate change.

Revkin writes that a document filed in a federal lawsuit now shows that, even as the Global Climate Coalition was campaigning against climate change science, its

'own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.'

NIM also links to SourceWatch, which provides a list of the companies that supported the Global Climate Coalition.

That list includes some very significant funders of the arts. See yesterday's post about undiscussed subjects in the arts. more ...

Tuesday 28 April 2009

some culture matters (but only some)

A panel at Queen Mary's, London, opened Arts Week with a discussion on Does Culture Matter? Chaired by Paul Heritage, professor of drama, it featured arts impresario Stella Hall, the 'spectacularist' Keith Khan, the business academic Stefano Harney, and Artangel administrator Cressida Hubbard.

They spoke in front of an audience largely composed of their peers. It was unlikely, in that context, that anyone was going to say 'no' to the proposition or that, with two such all-purpose terms ('culture' and 'matters'), the best points would be other than anecdotal.

Stella Hall stressed the importance of long-term strategies and the identity of interest between business and the arts in the regeneration of cities.

Keith Khan discussed how tribal London is, in terms of its audience attending arts events, and how rapidly the 'consuming of culture' is changing. 'Where people think it's going, it will never go'.

Stefano Harney drew attention to the cultural aspects of major news stories. With the credit crunch, the subprime mortgages came from 'blemished borrowers', people who had previously been 'red-lined' - excluded - mainly blacks and Latinos. He predicted the story of swine flu would become the story of Mexican migrants.

Cressida Hubbard discussed Artangel's work with Rachel Whiteread, Jeremy Deller, Antony Gormley and others. 'Trust is the essential part.'

The questions that followed focussed on 'measurability', the methods by which it might be shown that culture delivers benefits. Some resisted this instrumentalist approach.

Interestingly, the idea that behind the credit crunch lay far deeper issues (climate change, biodiversity), and that artists that address these concerns might find themselves at odds with the economic activities that provide investment and funding for the arts, was not raised. more ...

Monday 27 April 2009

cover to cover

I argue here that the IPCC's 2001 Assessment has done for the 21st century what Darwin's Origin of Species did for the 19th: changed the way we think about the world.

William Shaw blogs that artist Amy Balkin is recruiting other artists to help her read out loud the IPCC's 2007 report. The event will take place at Futuresonic in Manchester over three days in May. There will be 72 slots of 20-minutes each. more ...

complete fiction

The Independent on Sunday celebrated its 1000th edition yesterday and its literary editor Katy Guest wrote that the paper's first lead review, of The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, had been written by Martin Amis.

'He fitted in a bit of environmental outrage, then, in between publishing
London Fields (1989) and Time's Arrow (1991).'

Over the weekend, Amis was again touching on an environmental theme when he wrote that the question J. G. Ballard (who died last week) had kept asking was:

'what effect does the modern setting have on our psyches - the motion sculpture of the highways, the airport architecture, the culture of the shopping mall, pornography and technology? The answer to that question is a perversity that takes various mental forms, all of them extreme.'

The master himself, J. G. Ballard, was quoted (in this Sunday's Observer) as saying:

'The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction.'

pic: Christian Bale as the young J. G. Ballard in Empire of the Sun more ...

Friday 24 April 2009

weighty issues

In case you missed any of these: Hillary Clinton compares the challenge of fighting climate change with her own battle to lose weight; Michelle Obama sends a shiver down the spine of Big Agriculture by going organic; and a version of the auroch returns to Devon, thanks to the Nazis (our faunal rewilding columnist, playwright Samantha Ellis, loves the headlines.) more ...

Thursday 23 April 2009

birthday music

To celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this morning - if indeed it is his birthday today - Radio 3 plays the scherzo from Mendelssohn's 'Midsummer Night’s Dream' and Arne's 'When Daisies Pied', sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

The song is another addition to cuckoo music (blogged here) and the verse from Love's Labour's Lost is one of the many references to the natural world in Shakespeare that sounds increasingly elegiac. more ...

Wednesday 22 April 2009

mountains of the mind

Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine are launching the Dark Mountain Project. Kingsnorth writes:

'A civilisation is built not on oil, steel or bullets, but on stories; on the myths that shore it up and the tales it tells itself about its origins and destiny. We believe that we have herded ourselves to the edge of a precipice with the stories we have told ourselves about who we are: the stories of 'progress', of the conquest of 'nature', of the centrality and supremacy of the human species. I believe it is time for new stories, and it seems I am not the only one.'

(H-t. GoS, again.) more ...

Tuesday 21 April 2009

risking it

In the New York Times magazine's 'Green Issue', Jon Gertner asks Why Isn’t the Brain Green? The way humans process various types of risk is key.
(H-t. GoS.) more ...

Monday 20 April 2009

cartesian challenge

In Samuel Beckett's Letters (blogged here), we see how his intense encounter with psychotherapy presented him with a direct challenge to the rationalism of Descartes.

J. M. Coetzee writes that Wilfrid Bion, Beckett's therapist at the Tavistock Clinic, offered 'an analytic deconstruction of the Cartesian model of thinking' and challenged 'the notion of a private, inviolable, nonphysical mental realm'. more ...

Thursday 16 April 2009

bush bill

A double bill of plays at the Bush takes on climate change. more ...

Sunday 12 April 2009

theatre in 25 years

American Theatre's 25th anniversary issue asked 25 practitioners how they imagined theatre in 25 years time. Here are 10 of their ideas about the future.

1. Theatre will mix both local and virtual communities.
2. Ways of producing will flourish that have less impact on the planet.
3. Social settings (clubs, bars, living rooms), site-specific locations, galleries, black boxes, parks, community centers - will become the new normal.
4. Artists will band together in small communities rather than living as travelling mercenaries.
5. Movies and TV will be quaint nostalgia, as will laptops, iPods, PlayStation and other gadgets.
6. No space will be safe from theatre. It will happen anywhere.
7. The sector will realize that all theatre is local.
8. American theatre will dramatize a changing America, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, region by region.
9. A regional theatre will present a five-play season that only features one show from a European-centered perspective.
10. You'll bring your own text (SMS), your own soundtrack (iPod), light your own show (LED), and use onstage toilets. more ...

Friday 10 April 2009

new luxury

Le Monde reports that London has adopted la "green attitude".

Its survey of green shops and hotels includes the Rough Luxe Hotel which, the paper says, is nothing less than 'une nouvelle philosophie du luxe'.

See also: ascetic aesthetics and unsold. more ...

not entirely bad

In his In Our Time newsletter, Melvyn Bragg develops the idea in this week's programme (blogged here) that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is as much utopia as dystopia.

'The notion of a life without physical pain, the notion of death made painless, the notion of being employed in an area where you were secure even though you were confined to that area, the notion that pleasure of certain sorts was always readily available. For many I think that would not be considered an entirely bad deal.' more ...

Thursday 9 April 2009

poll of polls

There's a nice touch of absurdism on playwright Fin Kennedy's blog. He's put up a readers' poll with this question: 'Ooh, I've just discovered this poll function. Should I bother to use it?'

('Yes' has 75% of the vote and 'depends' has 25%. Votes so far: 4. Days left to vote: 11.) more ...

allergic reactions

When the Guardian reviews Amazonia at the Young Vic, the critic says the play's eco-piety makes her want to go out and lop down a tree.

When the New York Times reviews Wild Blessings: A Celebration of Wendell Berry, at a festival of new American plays, the critic says he is 'more than ready to hop on an environment-trashing jet plane and return to the soulless city'. more ...

from debt to drought

The novelist Margaret Atwood was raised in Canadian woods - often without electricity - by 'two environmentally-aware biologists, back when that was a pretty moony thing to be.'

Her most recent book Payback is about debt. Her next book Year of the Flood, out this September, is about a catastrophic drought. more ...

no money in nature

In Our Time today discusses Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and considers it as much a utopia as a dystopia.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests touch on the wide range of topical references in this famously prescient novel: from Henry Ford, Maynard Keynes and Pavlov, to the Wall Street Crash, the emerging psychology of advertising, and the New Deal.

In Huxley's hedonistic society, there's no money in people liking nature, what's wanted is for people to get out and consume things. 'Ending is better than mending.'

(Leonardo di Caprio is going to star in Ridley Scott's movie of Brave New World.) more ...

definite article

Spain is moving to grant basic legal rights to apes. American law schools are offering courses on animal rights. In California it will be illegal to keep a calf, pregnant hog or egg-laying hen in a pen or cage in which the animal can't stretch or turn round.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that these attitudinal shifts stem from the 'deep intellectual ferment' that began with one article by Peter Singer that was published in 1973 in the New York Review of Books. more ...

bright green twist

The playwright Samantha Ellis, who wrote the Wolves Journal for us, emails me that last week's post on Cloudcuckooland (pic), currently playing at the Liverpool Everyman, focussed too heavily on the production's offsets and carbon emissions:

'It seemed like what was green about the show was the offsetting etc. whereas in fact the content was the key thing. It's a great retelling of The Birds from an environmental point of view (the birds want revenge on humans for destroying the earth) and has probably raised the environmental consciousness of hundreds (maybe even's been on tour for ages) of children.'

Incidentally, the playwright Stephen Sharkey, who's responsible for giving Aristophanes' original this bright green twist, has his own blog. more ...

Wednesday 8 April 2009

print off

The Ecologist abandons print. more ...

Tuesday 7 April 2009

liberal tease

'He teases away with Socratic guile at the things that underpin the lifestyles of middle-class liberals.'

My preview of the Wallace Shawn season at the Royal Court.

(More Wallace Shawn on this blog: he wants Naomi Klein's audience here; he's unlike David Mamet here; he sums up enterprise of theatre here.) more ...

Monday 6 April 2009

the sea as w.c.

The environmentalist David de Rothschild is sailing a 60ft catamaran made of recycled plastic bottles across the Pacific Ocean. His journey will highlight (a) the amount of plastic in the sea and (b) how plastic can be recycled.

The sea itself has undergone a sea-change in our imaginations. Early in Passage To Juneau, Jonathan Raban distinguishes between the view of the sea in Genesis ('the inchoate abyss from which God had raised man') and the Renaissance image of the sea as 'pure, inviting space', for trade, exploration and conquest.

Later still, the Romantics viewed the sea as the quintessence of the Sublime: 'violent, beautiful, coldly indifferent to mankind'.
Raban argues that in the last 50 years that image has been displaced.

'By the 1960s, people were looking at the sea in a mood of chastened self-recrimination, seeing in it their own greed, improvidence and wastefulness. They had treated the sea as a toilet.' more ...

Friday 3 April 2009

take your pick

Simon Singh says you can be intelligent and deny climate change and you can be honourable and deny climate change, but you cannot be both. more ...

fruit and veg

We reported on Feast, Clare Patey's year-long project about growing food in a school, here, and the harvest festival on Southwark Bridge here.

The Sun reports on her latest project The Big Lunch here.

That's 43,000 pieces of fruit and veg. (Pic: Tim Mitchell.) more ...

Thursday 2 April 2009

satellite session

Next month there's a festival and symposium, Earth Matters on Stage, taking place in Oregon, organised by Theresa May, author of Greening Up Our Houses.

The speakers include Una Chaudhuri, author of Staging Place: the Geography of Modern Drama (whom we quote in our piece on Chekhov, the proto-environmentalist).

The Ashden Directory was keen to participate in this conference, but also keen to avoid flying to America (sorry, Kevin.)

So we're doing a satellite session from here on Friday 29th May (6pm in London, 9am in Oregon). The title is: 'What Can Be Asked? What Can Be Shown? British Theatre in the Time of Climate Instability'.

The panel includes Dan Gretton, PLATFORM, Paul Heritage, People’s Place Projects & Queen Mary's, João Andre da Rocha, producer, Clare Patey, artist, and Mojisola Adebayo, artist/theatre-maker.

We'll be blogging the conference and posting our own session online. more ...

Wednesday 1 April 2009

scudding cloudcuckooland

Cloudcuckooland (pic) is a loose adaptation of Aristophanes' The Birds. It takes the idea that there are 27 times as many birds as there are humans, so if birds revolted against humans for trashing the planet, the birds might win. The secret weapon the birds employ, as they launch attacks on major cities across the world, is bird poo. (Tour dates here.)

Last week, Cloudcuckooland's producer Helen Eastman wrote a message on the internal email for SCUDD (Standing Conference of University Drama Departments) outlining the show's environmental credentials:

'We send the cast everywhere by train rather than driving them, and we offset all our flights. The show has a lot of props, so we have to be certain that they are all kind to the environment ... We've got a brilliant cast and crew, and we always get fantastic feedback from kids and their parents. I think that's why everyone's prepared to go the extra mile to practice what the show preaches.'

This led to a good exchange. Steve Bottoms, from Leeds University, took exception to this 'self-aggrandising publicity fluff', writing back:

'The fact is that theatre -- like very much else in our everyday experience of the world -- is an inherently carbon-emitting activity, and we need to face up to this rather than pretend that "the creation of a completely sustainable touring model" is this easily achievable.'

Helen Eastman replied, saying 'fair comment, but you have to start somewhere'. Eastman went on:

'When we took this show to Edinburgh last summer, we discovered that the festival (unlike most music festivals etc) had no environmental policy on its website, no attempt to get people (audiences or companies) to share transport to get there, no policy for recycling the millions of fliers handed out in the streets.'

Franc Chamberlain, from Cork University, joined the debate:

'There are people on this list [SCUDD] who've been engaged in environmental politics and trying to be environmentally aware for over thirty years. if you're serious about raising the awareness of some festival organisers, then band together with other interested companies to force change and simply don't go if the festival organisers aren't prepared to make changes. There are plenty of other festivals that are concerned about environmental issues.'

Gareth Somers, from Portsmouth University, took the challenge to another level. Leaving aside the specifics of Cloudcuckooland, he wrote to point out that many people on the SCUDD list:

'question the value (in ecological terms) of a humanist theatre that supports anthropocentric values. In this light sustainability might be viewed as green-washing - Is a theatre that exploits the "natural world" as metaphorical resource to discuss human centered issues, in itself an ecologically positive force - whether the production be sustainable or not?' more ...