On the recent confirmation of Sniffer’s participation in the CreaTures project (more on that below) our Communications Manager, John Robertson shares his thoughts on how creative practice can affect culture and in turn help provide the solutions to the climate emergency.

You could say that climate change is the plastic form of a culture that sees growth (economic, not ecological) as the measure of success, financial wealth over happiness as an objective and as Satish Kumar described in his book Earth pilgrims, being a ‘tourist’ rather than a ‘pilgrim’. The distinction here is one of care and of a connection with the world around us, and to leave it in the same way we found it.

So if it's our culture that has created the climate emergency (the conditions for it as well as the label) then surely a change in culture is required to fix it. So how do we change our culture to one that has a long term view of our place on this planet?

Governments, media and big business are keen to set the narrative of our lives. The ticking clock keeping time with our movements, taking us to work, telling us when to buy new products and telling us what is legal and what is not. Just look at the Extinction Rebellion. Who could argue that the end does not justify the means, however these protesters are treated as criminals.

So where else can the narrative come from? Art. Books. Theatre and Film. Creative practices. This is not just about creative outputs though, it’s the way that artists think and look at the world. A fresh perspective so to speak. Creativity has the potential to step in and help change our culture. Our culture has created the emergency so let’s mould it into something that exists in harmony with the planet.

Twenty odd years ago I studied Art History, and the period that interested me most was the early 20th Century. For me art is a mirror to the time in which it was created, but in that particular period the art and literature of the time was not only full of portent, coming at a time of global emergency, but it also helped shape the culture we live in today. A culture of dualism.

Dualism – a creative narrative setting the tone for the modern age

In the early 1900s, it could be said the machine age had truly taken flight. War was being waged for the first time from the air as well as land and sea, and the motor car was beginning to change the pace of life for more that the wealthy few. Artists were mixed in their reaction – the Italian Futurists and the Vorticists in England celebrated the aesthetics, speed and dynamism of modernity, but others saw in it the death of a way of life.

Dynamism of a car - Luigi Russolo

Dynamism of a car, by Luigi Russolo (1910)

Culture, or creativity created a narrative. You were either a modern person, or someone rooted in the past. You either saw the mills of the north as satanic or as a saviour.

This dualism is a central device of EM Forster’s Howards End. His famous epigraph containing “Only connect” sets out a vision where the modern age despite its new tools for transportation and communication, will cause the isolation of the human soul.

Science fiction writers like HG Wells (War of the Worlds), Yevgeny Zamyatin (We) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) also responded to the machine age and gave birth to the idea of the Dystopia. The books that had a more upbeat vision of the future have not survived so well, so perhaps there was something in us that knew deep down that technology for all its benefits was somehow at odds with nature.

Ultimately this dualism is only a narrative which simplifies our cultural reaction into something we can easily grasp. Deep down we feel an affinity with one side, however in our actual behaviour and thoughts we take the bits from both sides that appeal to us. We are however in a climate emergency, so sitting on the fence cannot be an option if we are serious about fixing this.

A new narrative for the age of climate emergency

There is a growing movement of creative practitioners who want to help end our contribution to global warming, and to create happier, more resilient societies. Creativity can help not just through setting out the narratives that appeal to us, but by lending their way of thinking to help solve the problems we face. Science is providing the evidence (and its own creativity), business can help with the innovation, and creative practice can provide yet another way of thinking.

This leads me to mention a research project CreaTures which aims to further the sustainability agenda with creativity. It will identify and examine ways of achieving sustainable, resilient and cohesive societies and peaceful co-existence at a time of rapid change. It will help identify the creative interventions that have the most impact on our culture, and Sniffer will be playing a key role in helping pull all this together for evaluation purposes.

This three year research project is coordinated by Aalto University Department of Design in Finland and is in collaboration with 11 partners from five European member states in the project, bringing together several universities associated with creative approaches to transformation and sustainability.

It is hoped that this project will clearly display the transformational potential of creative practice, and give a framework for helping set out the agenda for more mitigation and greater urgency on adaptation.

In other words. Change the thought, change the action, change the future.

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