In Copenhagen, climate change is visual

December 17, 2009 at 3:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Making the complexity of climate change something people can relate to is no easy task.

But this month in Copenhagen, ‘green culture’ is everywhere you look.  Subways walls are plastered with signs urging negotiators to ‘seal the deal’, and every museum and city plaza has a special exhibit about climate change.

You can learn a lot about Denmark by how they have taken on their role as host for the climate negotiations known as COP15. With so many art and cultural activities, Denmark is recognizing that sustainability will only catch on if it is linked to social and cultural identity.

Here is an overview of the few climate art exhibits in Copenhagen this week, many of which are also online or will soon travel to a city near you.

It’s a Small World

As a world leader in design, the soul of Denmark seems to lie in the Danish Design Centre.

The exhibit “It’s Small World” offers a welcome concreteness at a time when the global stakes are so high and yet so amorphous. The exhibition is about reconsidering scale – from the small choices we make about what we buy, to big visions like widely adopted electric cards.

The worlds of public policy and design merge in an interactive video-exhibit about the future of energy in Denmark. The video features a conversation between designers and the charismatic lead negotiator of the COP15, Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy.

The participants outlines a serious vision for Denmark in 2020– where half the countries energy comes from windmills that in turn power a new generation of electric cars.  With nearly 5,000 windmills currently powering 20% of the nations energy, Denmark is working hard to position itself as a leader and future exporter of sustainable innovation.

In the basement of the center, an exhibition by young designers portrays a series of winning ‘sustainable fashion’ outfits.  There is a particular burst of creativity here at the fashion totem.

Sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, the exhibition will travel to the US and around Europe starting in February 2010.

100 places to remember before they disappear
Near the central subway station of Norreport, this outdoor photo exhibition puts a stunning human face to climate change. From archipelagos in the Pacific, to the hills of Caracas and the streets of Chicago, the pictures show 100 places on earth that are vulnerable to extreme climate change and other human influences on the environment.

While the photos are beautiful, they are also painful to look at; one can sense the vulnerability of the landscapes.  By offering pictures of the beauty that we have, the exhibit portrays a sense of wonder and value of exactly what is at stake.  One of the goals of the exhibition, sponsored by Care and CO+Life, is to put people living in poverty at the center of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The website is a great learning tool, with an interactive map. The photographs are also available in a hardbound coffee table book.


In a round dome just outside of the conference center, Greenpeace is also presenting a photo exhibit.

During the opening Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International spoke about the importance of artists in fighting climate change, comparing it to the role of artists in fighting apartheid in South Africa.

“Artists are using their skills to communicate what is happening and that is a critical component that is coming together here at COP15,” said Naidoo. “We recognize the power of the images to cut through the crap of negotiations and show the face of the frontlines of climate change.

Ranging from photos of Nenet reindeer herders in Siberia, to people in India living in the shadow of a coal disaster, all of the photos were shot within the past three months.  The exhibit was a collaborative project of ten photographers from the Dutch agency Kadir von Lohuizen with support from Greenpeace.

A slide show of the photos is available on their website.


With so many people in Copenhagen this week, the art is sure to reach many of the climate faithful, though probably not the government negotiators who are trapped behind closed doors until the late hours of the night.  Hopefully the exhibits will reach many more people as they travel the world, prompting the cultural shift necessary for change.

As one activist explained, climate change is about culture. If you listen to the speeches of negotiators from small islands like Tuvulu and Maldives, projected to disappear within a generation, they are fighting for their lives.  They are thinking about how their children will grow up not knowing their own cultures.

More climate art:

The World is Yours: Contemporary art at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Rethink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change, four large art exhibitions by Nordic and international artists

Everyday Miracles: an art installation by Presens, real-life climate solutions


Mr. Bombastic comes to COP15

December 8, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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While I knew I would run into some unexpected people here in Copenhagen, I never thought one would be Shaggy.   The Jamaican rap star, famous for singing about how his girlfriend caught him with another woman “banging on the bathroom floor” headlined the opening concert.  Suddenly all of us– uptight Nordics and tired delegates, were grinding and waving our hands in the air. It was liberating.  Shaggy and Akon (who didn’t show) were the grand finale, but before him Youssou N’dour, Angelique Kidjo and Khaled played, all of them legends in Africa.  I could not believe I was listening to original  ‘Aisha‘ that plays on repeat in sleepy tourist bars and cars across Africa.

When I told my brother about my new found admiration for Shaggy, he reminded me that ten years ago in 1999 we were at a similar concert in Seattle.   Spearhead was playing the night before the opening of the famous World Trade Organization meeting that gave a new connotation to our city’s name.  I was 19, and I remember watching the concert with my skin tingling thinking: this is why artists are so important, they come to these events and sing on behalf of the people, they can project more emotion than any protesters carrying signs in the streets. I was having a revelation about the role of artists in society.

Last night I had no such thoughts.  I reflected about the implications of public relations for the artists and the conference, that it was too bad more people had not come (we had a huge stadium to fill), how challenging it must of been to get all those artists in one place– and– how the real decision-makers, the delegates, were probably still in meetings or finally sitting down for a meal.

Shaggy did not really say why he had come to Copenhagen, I think he may have half-mumbled something like “climate change is bad”.  But that is OK.  I must admit I am still a bit baffled at people who can spew out all the acronyms necessary for this meeting.  But looking back to 1999, I have had the priviledge of  going to so many of these global meetings that my senses are dulled.  Or maybe it’s not just me, but the multilateral system too is worn; everyone knows the pattern and is burnt out.  It is so tedious to agree among nations and ultimately insufficient.   All of this is about money and power and somehow a frame of consensus is placed over it.  God help us.  Shaggy help us too.

A new breed – the climate change artists

December 7, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Oh climate crisis!  Alas, these words just don’t inspire me to jump off the couch and do something. But Franke James inspires me.  She is part of new breed– the climate change artist.  Her artistic mission is to make something green and document it.

Her website has a series of visual essays – beautiful mixed media panels that makes science personal. Scrolling through her website is like reading a children’s book online.

James seems to be haunted by the question:  what will you tell your grandchildren you did about climate change? On her website she writes, “I know I want to be able to say I did more than change a lightbulb.” And so far, she has.

She recently launched a book of her green visual essays: Bothered by My Green Conscience: How an SUV-driving, imported strawberry-eating urban dweller can go green.

This week she is at the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen known as COP15 where she will create more art, adding a welcome lightness to the aggressive activists, hardened politicians and contracted negotiations.

She seems to be in a growing company of a few climate communicators, delivering doses of science visually.   For instance, Annie Leonard of ‘Story of Stuff’ fame just recently launched ‘The Story of Cap and Trade’ .  Her simple narration illuminates a tough subject through digestible facts and stick figure cartoons.

We are sure to need artists like Franke and Annie to help to tell our stories as the issues become complicated and more and more becomes at stake.  I’m blogging from Copenhagen this week — so will be sure to post more about climate change and art.

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