Culture and
Climate Change

We convene workshops and events that invite contributions from leading researchers, artists, producers, journalists and policymakers. These are often shared as podcasts and generate material for our publications. We want this work to support a more dynamic and plural public conversation around climate change.

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Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios

In December 2015, Culture and Climate Change launched the Scenarios project in Paris during COP21. This programme of work includes three artists' residencies within key climate change networks and institutions; Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios. Each residency includes an award of £10,000.

When the artists' opportunity closed in February 2016, we had received 270 applications. We are currently in the process of assessing these applications before appointing the artists in April 2016. The year-long residencies will begin in June 2016.

The residency programme will test the idea of 'networked residencies'. Climate research has long relied on networked collaborations rather than individual, geographically-located centres. Through these residencies, the artists will be able to research issues around climate change scenarios and spend time exploring and developing their own artistic practice. We hope this project will encourage cultural depth in public conversations around future scenarios.

The Scenarios project is generously supported by The Ashden Trust, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, The Open University and the University of Sheffield

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Applications now closed.

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Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios focuses on the imagining and representation of climate change scenarios.

Climate scenarios are ultimately collective acts of imagination about possible futures in human-natural-hybrid systems. Scenarios play a prominent role in climate research, policy and communication. However they tend to be dominated by natural science and economics, and there is little cultural depth to them.

In December 2015 at COP21, we launched the Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios networked residency programme, to catalyse new creative work that will encourage more open and imaginative, but also more purposeful, responses to the challenges of climate change in the present. We received over 270 applications from visuals artists, musicians, poets, writers, theatre-makers, choreographers and creatives from across film and digital media to the residency programme.

Three artist residencies will begin in July 2016 and each residency includes an award of £10,000. We will announce our appointed artists on 23 May 2016 at an award ceremony at Jerwood Space and online on this website.

This project is an experiment which pilots a new residency model — that of a ‘networked residency’. Climate research has long relied on networked collaborations rather than individual, geographically-located centres and the design of this Future Scenarios residency programme deliberately responds to and mirrors the distributed networks of climate change research

Rather than a traditional residency based in one institution, this networked residency engages with a community of people across institutions and disciplines whose work, individually and collectively, informs the development of climate scenarios. Through these residencies, the artists will be able to research issues around climate change scenarios and spend time exploring and developing their own artistic practice. We also hope that the programme will inform the way in which researchers from a wide range of disciplines think about the relationship of their work to wider cultural work on climate scenarios.

This website will host monthly updates from the artists as well as information on past and future events. It will act as a live archive of the residency programme and will seed future activity for the Culture and Climate Change programme and for those who engage with it.

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Image Credit: Emma Critchley

Emma Critchley

Being immersed in water is a powerful scenario that resonates not only with me as an artist but unites us all; it is something we have all experienced. Yet the shifts that occur when our bodies are in this space necessitate both a physical and mental realignment, which alters our basic structure of being and allows exploration into the human condition itself. For me scenarios provide the opportunity to distill the complex and multi-faceted research involved in climate change and create imagined environments that allow space to stop, reflect and invite challenge and debate from an experiential position.

I am aware of the challenges involved in working with such a deeply layered and complex subject area and look forward to developing sustained discussions with researchers from a network of disciplines that will enable me to draw out some of these tensions as well as make meaningful, integral connections. I look forward to exploring the philosophical shifts we are experiencing, where scientific research is impacting on our way of being on a seismic scale. Complexity is inherent to engaging with environmental change and emotion is a core tenet of how people engage with complex and abstract problems. This is an opportunity to use art as a point of encounter in which to engage with the nuances, complexities and intersectionalities of the current and future climate change landscapes.

My ambitions for the residency are:

Bringing scientists, media and those involved in policy making together to explore how science attributes meaning within research and how this information is disseminated to the wider public.

Generating scientific and cultural collaborations in order to explore the psychological, social and political implications of the transgressions occurring through climate change across the body & environment, land & water.

‘In a sense, we can expect human egos to be pock-marked with traces of hyperobjects. We are all burnt by ultraviolet rays. We all contain water in about the same ratio as the Earth does, and salt water in the same ratio as the oceans do. We are poems of the hyperobject Earth.’ Timothy Morton

Sound as a mobilizing force. An invisible yet omnipresent indicator of environmental change. The ocean; a reflective membrane to the Earth. I am fascinated by the way sound gives identity to the spaces we live in and how our sonic landscape shapes us. Underwater, sound operates in an entirely different way and is perceived through vibrations in the bone and thus becomes a corporeal experience.

‘(T)he soundscape of the world is changing. Modern humanity is beginning to inhabit a world with an acoustic environment radically different from any hitherto known ... what is the relationship between humanity and the sounds of its environment and what happens when those sounds change?’ Murray Schafer

Monitoring the Earth from space. Exploring the depths of the ocean from the depths of outer space. The rhythms of the Earth, atmospheric shifts, tectonic plate movement. A means of gaining perspective. Vast expansions of timescales. The sound of a climate disaster.

‘(T)he heaviness of the stillness that comes before the storm’ Yves Lomax

Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

We are Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping an artist collaboration working with conceptual documentary photography and artist film. Since 2012 we have been working on self-initiated projects relating to Climate Change and the Anthropocene, most of which have focused upon the so called “Third Pole” or, as it is geographically known, The Tibetan Plateau.

Our ongoing work has examined the climatic and geopolitical importance of this region highlighting the relationships between glacial recession, desertification, development, the economy, human rights and global climatic systems. In our most recent body of work entitled Feedback Loops, we have created sequences of images and captions that depict these phenomena with the intention of creating a visual interpretation of the mechanism of feedback. By doing so we intend the idea of feedback to imply that every action humanity takes has consequences that return to shape the future in a way we cannot foresee.

Over the course of the Future scenarios Networked residency we will be working with the Anthropocene and Climate Change as a cultural paradigm of our time that shapes the way in which we imagine our future. To do so we intend to utilise our indexical representation of current climate, environmental, geological, economic and socio-political phenomena to illustrate the visceral reality of different hypothetical future scenarios. Through images of our present we will suggest a palatable imagining of difficult and improving futures.

We are going to continue to work with complexity and the scientific methodologies used to represent complex systems. To do so we will encompass a multitude of issues and subject matter in a large body of work that will reflect on the broad spectrum of researched disciplines that contribute to our knowledge of Climate Change. This is intended to make visible the contradictions which are at the heart of the scientific and ethical challenges that humanity is facing.

Throughout the residency we will continue to focus on phenomena we have already identified within our previous work. We will also explore the possibility of representing: climate induced migration, future cities, overpopulation, drowning islands, the psychological pressure of climate change and the prognosis of a difficult future scenario, among other subjects.

We also plan to document the process of environmental policy making, intergovernmental climate change summits, conferences, seminars and climate change research facilities and methodologies, with the intention of increasing the visibility of the scientific investigation and legislating of Climate Change further clarifying the relationship between environmental and socio- political issues, Climate Change and human rights.

One of our key intentions is to re-examine the place of humanity within nature through a discourse on beauty. We would like to consider how to represent human-natural-hybrid systems and to rethink and demystify the human-natural divide in the Anthropocene.

Above all we would like to discover, whilst engaging with researchers and their work, potential strategies to enable greater understanding of the Climate Change discourse through culture.

The year-long networked residency will allow us time to learn, grow and experiment. Our projects require duration, dedication and commitment to access the knowledge and the locations. With great enthusiasm we look forward to match-made collaboration with researchers and scientists, something that we see as an essential step in the development of our inquiry and something that we have struggled to facilitate alone.

But if there is one thing we hope to achieve in the next year, it is that we want to empower people through the knowledge that being informed about the climate discourse is doing something about Climate Change, and by admitting that we too often feel confused, daunted and powerless to stop it.

Zoë Svendsen

Although this is officially only the first month of the residency, my thoughts have been bubbling from the start of the year. They have come in many kinds: the initial thoughts that went into the application, through the ruminating about how to share those ideas for the launch, and then the efforts of starting the research process now that the residency is live. As this is about a network, there has been no physical change of location or state. But I’ve noticed a fundamental shift in my attention – for my radar for the climate and the future-related has been (re)sensitised.

Further, two weeks before officially starting, the relationship of British culture to the future underwent a seismic shift: a vote took place for a kind of ‘no future’. I don’t mean by that that the vote to leave the European Union was a kind of cry of despair (although some have perceived it that way), but that whilst the vote was about the future, no one had made a plan for that future. What resulted therefore was a kind of minor implosion across the political spectrum. Whilst the Department for Energy and Climate Change has vanished in the Brexit fallout, and climate change recedes in visibility as a political and social concern, never has it been clearer that our ability to survive, resist and thrive depends on our capacities to imagine our future.

Artistic practice is partly about defamiliarising, and then reconsidering, our habits, norms, and the unthinking acceptance of the status quo. Brexit has done this to politics – with great risk of tipping us into short-termist xenophobic inwardness – but also with potential for a recalibration of what matters. Art can also construct, envisaging alternative ways of doing things, enlarging our capacity to imagine, stepping into the breach where there is no plan. Never has the need for such imagining been so acute – and therefore so political. Yet thrust into the maelstrom of urgency, the kinds of short-cut to efficacy that is often willed for artworks, could reduce the capacity of the work to resonate differently. How to make works that address these acutely urgent political questions of our future – whilst retaining an autonomy that invites a different and more profound form of engagement and thought?

The questions that drive my research for this residency revolve around two intersecting areas, both relating to how we understand ourselves as human subjects. I am fascinated (and disturbed) by the largely non-transparent interconnectedness of our current financial, social and environmental situation. I plan to investigate the economics of climate change, and in particular, the implications of alternative economic models for how we conceive of ourselves socially and culturally. I’m curious about our embroilment in these systems – in how we are beneficiaries of some of the very financial structures that counteract the values and actions that we undertake elsewhere in our lives. The representation of human agency that drives drama implies we are individuals separate from our situation – but are we really? With that in mind, I’m interested in exploring experts’ future scenarios – coming from geographers, scientific modellers, sociologists, and economists. What I want to work out is this: how would we live within those scenarios? What would our relationships to one another look like? What would our challenges and conflicts be? Do we need to alter our perception of what it means to have agency?

Politically, I can imagine an outcome to Brexit that would address the deep underlying economic inequalities, the loss of a sense of identity [see here], and which would present a decisive shift for British society and culture. If economic stimulus were structured towards creating a green, de-carbonised economy – if the country were put on an emergency footing to design, manufacture and install or implement the technologies and social practices that would mitigate climate change – we might find the purpose we are seeking, with tangible effects and concomitantly a renewed sense of how we might connect to the global picture. Somehow, although this seems eminently sensible to me, it appears unimaginable to the mainstream. And I wonder if it comes down to how we conceive of ourselves as (successful) humans? World Factory [see here] suggested to its audiences that it was ‘up to you what it means to win’ – and perhaps that is now what is at stake on all fronts. At what scale do we want to win? At an individual level, or collectively? The question is urgent. How might we imagine success differently – and with that, our relationship to the planet and each other?

Photo: Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping, A disaster fueled by a cretaceous catastrophe, (2016)

Emma Critchley

Tuning in

‘The land is silent and the sea speaks. The ocean is a voice. It speaks to distant galaxies, responds to their movements in its grave and solemn language. It speaks to the Earth, to the shore, with a moving tone, in harmony with their echoes; plaintive, menacing by turns, it growls or sighs. It speaks to humanity above all.’

Jules Verne 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I was commissioned to do an underwater portrait for the Financial Times magazine this month, of an entrepreneur from California who invented underwater chess. As we chatted at the end of the shoot he tells me that amongst other things, he set up the publishing company Tenderbooks. A couple of days later, out of the blue, I received through the post a gift from a colleague and friend - Memo for Nemo by William Firebrace. Published by Tenderbooks.

This month I have been intensely filming, recording and editing a new piece of work commissioned for b-side festival in September that is inspired by the hundreds of wrecks that lie dormant on the seabed that surrounds Portland. The work started back in February on a residency in Barbados (Freshmilk), where I spent a month exploring the wrecks around this island. It's been recorded that Carlisle Bay alone has lost approximately 200 ships since the 17th Century primarily due to storms. Portland is a similarly perilous place due to a combination of ‘The Race’, a convergence of no less than 7 tides coming together and the ‘Dead line’ to the west of the isle that has a 10 knot undercurrent. Treacherous indeed.

These wrecks in Portland particularly, have tuned me in to activities happening all around the isle, both above and below the waters surface; of searching, unearthing, monitoring, watching, listening, responding … Throwing out light to the star-lit sky, sounding the fog horn when sight becomes redundant, sending out sonar waves and listening for returning echoes … Resonating, reciprocating, relational … human, vessel, landscape, tides …

My research filters down to a deeper level; in his book Sonic Warfare Steve Goodman describes an ontology of vibrational force that ‘delves below a philosophy of sound and the physics of acoustics towards the basic process of entities affecting other entities.’ He goes on to say that ‘vibrational ontology begins with some simple premises. If we subtract human perception, everything moves. Anything static is only so at the level of perceptibility. At the molecular or quantum level, everything is in motion, is vibrating.’

As I read the first chapter of my new book, Firebrace quotes Jules Verne, ‘The Ocean is a voice … It speaks to humanity above all’. I love this. I then discover that novelist Margaret Drabble argues that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea anticipated the ecology movement. Firebrace writes; ‘During the 1960’s the undersea, along with space, was considered as the next step for exploration and inhabitation.’ He goes on to say ‘in a period of climatic change, our view of the undersea is increasingly complex. It is seen as a threat due to rising sea-levels, as a location for minerals and resources, as a militarized zone, as a location for fantasies, as a paradise apparently lost almost before it could be found.’ I couldn’t agree more – as someone who has spent over a decade exploring our human relationship with water, I’m fascinated by the layers of complexity that climate change is adding to the way we perceive and relate to water and the oceans. The physical and psychological boundaries between land and sea, body and environment are continually being challenged in new ways with the increase in flooding, tsunamis and sea levels rising. Yet it is still a place we know so little about.

Inevitably however, it feels like this won’t be for long. I have been researching some large-scale sonar mapping projects happening beneath the ocean’s surface, defining the outer limits of various nations’ extended continental shelves. Projects that not only add another layer to our relentless need to colonize but are claimed to be both in the name of environmental protection and in search of minerals; surely a contradiction in terms?

In this week’s New Scientist Nemo is there again, in an article titled Into the blue with Nomad and Nemo, about the Baseline Explorer research vessel, which for the last month has circled Bermuda releasing submersibles that dive 200 metres deep in the Sargasso Sea as part of the Nekton Mission, a global campaign to capture ‘what life is like in the ocean’s depths.’ Here the article tells us ‘We have better maps of Mars and the moon than we have of our own seabed’. One and a half centuries of exponential exploration and discovery after the tales of Captain Nemo and some 95% of the oceans remain unexplored. Part of me wishes it would stay that way.

Perhaps this is what has drawn me to these chambers that lie on the seabed, covered with silt, corals, sponges, inhabited by fish; colonized by nature. Unlike these open carcasses that lay splayed out on the ocean floor, the large windows in Captain Nemo’s submarine Nautilus’s provided both an opening and a barrier between his somewhat elaborate salon spaces and the underwater environment; a place where he can observe another world from the comfort of his own arm chair. As I edit the footage, through the camera’s eye I watch myself swim through the now redundant doorways and windows of various vessels and realize that whilst I was filming and thinking (in my human-centric way) of myself as voyeur in this other world, it was in fact the fish that were watching me, following me.


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

The second month of our residency has been an intense period of research, experimentation, organisation and planning.

During this time we have become acutely aware of the challenges associated with our intention to work with a broad scope of subject matter and a multitude of locations, to which we have responded by investigating a number of methodologies. It is our believe that to adequately represent the multiplicity of climate change we should not focus upon case specific subjects, but instead try to represent a complex entanglement of issues manifesting as loops of causality or feedback. Therefore we are tasked with considering how to represent complexity itself.

To initiate our inquiry we have devised a series of exercises and experiments to help us identify some of the conceptual and practical devices that we could utilise to consider complexity and to learn about the subject itself.

Our research dossier currently contains: a folder of hypothetical project proposals/scenarios, research collages, a body of preliminary photographic and moving image works and the summary of our first interview conducted with a scientist (Professor Rupert Ormond).

Project Proposals/Scenarios - Exploring Frontiers:

We have drawn up a number of hypothetical project proposals for research trips. The act of researching: locations, intentions, possible subjects, logistical means, philosophical shifts and cultural references is a fundamental part of our collaborative process. We find that this very considered and rigorous activity, one not always associated with artists, allows us to gradually accumulate and build upon initial ideas and develop them into more substantial and complex forms.

In the first few proposals we used the locus (place) based approach, concentrating on specific case studies that illustrated climate change symptoms. What we have discovered is that this approach greatly narrowed the possibility of revealing complex networks of interconnected incidents, phenomena, actions and reactions that cross multiple frontiers. This is largely due to the fact that phenomena relating to climate change transgress numerous boundaries which therefore renders the study of one place meaningless. Phenomena cross: political borders, different ecosystems, atmospheric spheres and all denominations of scale (from sub atomic to planetary) and time (geological to anthropocentric). They are also massively distributed in these spaces in many forms that are present for different reasons, each one an object (hyperobject) exerting a different effect. (1)

Furthermore, most natural resources (or ecosystem services), apart from land to build on or extract from, are commonly shared but not commonly owned (the atmosphere, groundwater, the oceans etc.). This is reflected in the problematics of implicating “global action” something that has resulted in natural resources becoming political entities.

Equipped with this new information, we have identified that humanity has habitually hemmed in these massive phenomena into the shape of countries and into the structure of their economies, creating boundaries on top of the existing geophysical frontiers. As a result the geophysical frontiers are obscured by political lines which make it harder to identify when climatic, social and political events simultaneously take place upon or within the constraints of a geophysical frontier.

One very striking example of a frontier that exemplifies this relationship is the aridity line as identified by Eyall Weizman in his book The Conflict Shoreline. Aridity lines surround areas that receive a maximum of 200mm annual precipitation; this terrain is called arid terrain and it is typical to find desert there. But the aridity lines themselves outline the fringes of deserts where agriculture is still possible which are areas adversely affected by drought when slight climatic changes occur.

The majority of arid terrain is found in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. In the north the aridity line goes right through the city of Daraa Daraa in Syrian where a huge numbers of farmers were displaced in the years leading to the 2011 uprising which took place in Daraa Daraa, an event that marks the beginning of the Syrian civil war.(2)

“The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”(2)

Here political and military action clearly aligns with aridity lines, yet this is largely hidden by the political demarcation of borders and a focus upon country specific conflicts.

“…certain patterns have become quite clear: first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.” (2)

Throughout our previous work which focused upon the Third Pole we were in fact already working within the confines of an invisible demarcation line that signifies the extent to which the environmental, climatic and geopolitical influence of The Third Pole reaches. The so called Third Pole is the third largest source of freshwater on Earth and a geological feature that influences the climate. As a geographic area it is easily defined by a change in relief yet the sphere of its influence is much larger; potential global and as a result much harder to define.

Therefore we have decided to investigate the idea of the frontier, and structure our future field trips around an exploration of these multifaceted visible and invisible lines. We will consider not just one line but many and how they converge with the intention of revealing their relationship to hydro-politics, population growth, rural-urban migration and agriculture.

Thus by exploring the frontier that marks the extent to which the effects of glacial recession reach or the trajectory of a river, one simultaneously explores the frontier of human struggle, economy, conflict and history.

We hope that our focus upon the dichotomy of the geophysical frontier could illustrate how lines both hide and reveal interconnected issues as superimposition and crisscrossing takes place concealing and mystifying, revealing and rethinking.

Research collages:

We have found it very useful colliding together images from the Internet and other sources in themed collages. These image collections serve several purposes:

To estimate what kind of representation has been created, collected and entrenched in visual culture.

To unpick how largely invisible abstract objects such as climate are being represented by symbols through semiotic systems of keywords.

To work with an associative process (image search engines) when researching, that somewhat mirrors the feedback mechanism or the identification of components in a feedback loop. The structure of the cluster reflecting the process of associative keyword image search but also the way one phenomena relates to the other in a non-progressive, nonlinear way.

To consider ways of presenting images that reveal hidden relationships.

We do not use these image search exercises to repeat an established mode of representation or to identify subject to photograph or film. We do so because we are in the process of developing our own set of symbols and indexes. Therefore we decode the already existing visual language associated with climate change to study how climate change has been represented and how do we relate to some of the images (symbols) associated with it. Such as: a picture of the sun, an engine, a leaf, or an iceberg.

The next thing we must think about is how we can create alternative representations or how to reinterpret or expand the meaning of well-known imagery. This is intended to increase understanding and questioning the relationship we have with established symbols. As part of the process we intend to access as many of the archives associated with the residency as possible.

Representing disaster:

For us to work with future scenarios means to consider the idea of the disaster, this is because we believe that to address the degree of urgency associated with climate change, art and culture are required to produce works which “scream with intelligence”.(3)

The presence of disaster is of course nothing new, as ever since the rise of environmental consciousness the impending ecological disaster has been its accompanying narrative. Previously in our work we have been trying to some extend to visualise the Anthropocene and therefore we have been focusing on human agency. The human force of the Anthropocene is now being compared to the collision of an asteroid with the earth, in this way equating their geophysical impacts.

Historically and culturally asteroids, comets or falling stars were perceived as dysfunctional (as they do not stay in the sky, they fall) and therefor they are called dis-astron: a fallen, dysfunctional dangerous or evil star that is an omen or harbinger of trouble to come. (4)

But there is a difference between the disaster and the apocalypse, the same way as there is a representational and ontological discontinuity between the event and its sign (smoke is a sign of fire but it does not resemble the fire, just as smoke does not reveal the extent of damage being done by the fire). Therefor we will be considering the idea of the disaster as an apocalypse, a disaster in the making.

We will be working with the meaning of Apocalypse in its original Latin derivative “apokalyptein” which means to uncover, disclose or reveal a meaning that was lost in the 14th century when it became connected to the catholic idea of “revelation”.

When approaching this subject one main thing needs to be realized: that the end of the world has already happened. It has happened at least once at Trinity, Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or with the invention of the steam engine. These meaningful events also mark the end of history and perhaps even the end of nature and the beginning of the geostory (Geo-history). (5)

The end of the world then is an indexical marker, such as a layer in an ice core or a sharp spike in CO2 levels on a graph, or traces of lead-207 in the strata. But the end of the world is also represented by an invisible spectrum of signs and marks that are reflected in the experiences of those who are there as it happened. This is what we as artists can hope to reveal through collaboration with scientists and through our field trips.

First interview: Professor Rupert Ormond

This month we conducted our first interview with a scientist.

We spoke to Professor Rupert Ormond, who is a tropical marine ecologist and biologist with a broad range of interests and particular expertise in the behaviour and ecology of sharks and other coral reef fish, and in the monitoring and management of marine protected areas.

In our conversation with Professor Ormond we discussed: The importance of Coral Reefs and the devastating impact climate change is having upon them. Ocean challenges, from micro-plastics to ocean acidification and warming. We also talked about researching, policy making and campaigning. The Middle East. The public not engaging with the facts and what culture can do. And what culture he thought was successfully communicating the urgent need to act.

The full report from this interview will soon be presented in the research section of our websites under Future Scenarios, to find out more about Professor Ormond’s work please visit here


1. Morton, T., 2013, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 1-2.

2. Klein, N., 2016, Let Them Drown The Violence of Othering in a Warming World, Edward W. Said London Lecture, London Review of Books, Vol.38 No11,pages 11-14, Available here [accessed 30 July 2016]

3. Morton,T. , 2009, Creativity in the Face of Climate Change, University of California, UCTV, media release, Available here [accessed 10 August 2016]

4. Morton, T., Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 15.

5. Latour, B., 2013,The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe, Facing Gaia, Six Lectures on the Political Theology of Nature, Gifford Lectures, The University of Edinburgh, media release, Available here [ accessed 30 July 2016]


Zoë Svendsen

This month I’ve been thinking about future scenarios of climate change through starting to explore visions of alternative economies. Over the past five years there has been a plethora of ideas for where the economies of the world could go next, away from neoliberalism, and whilst climate change is not the overt subject matter of these works, it haunts every one of them. Whether referenced in passing or providing stimulus, fears of what climate change will bring shadows these works as a ghost from the future, an augury of what we might have to face if we do not rethink the whole structure of how we engage with one another.

These are some of the economic systems I’m thinking about – all plausible, intriguing & above all hopeful:

· Circular or closed loop economies

· Postwork economies

· Economics of ‘enough’

· Zero-growth economy

· (New) manufacturing economies – and an emphasis on the value of making

Back in the present, the background hum of the past months has been the continuous breaking climate records: with each month being the hottest ever recorded

And then further back into the past – I’ve also been returning to the basics, to remind myself what it is actually about: these visualisations are alarming, affecting, compelling

Something I’ve been developing for a while is a practice of research-in-public. When making 3rd Ring Out, we met an array of extraordinary experts: scientists and geographers, town-planners and emergency planners. The theatrical show that emerged – an emergency-planning-style ‘rehearsal’ for a climate-changed future – was an amalgamation/transformation of everything we had encountered through those discussions. The show was never designed to mediate all of the fascinating material we had encountered – and yet it seemed a shame that the sharing of research had only been with the handful of other artists on the project. So with World Factory we held ‘café conversations’ – these were where we invited the experts we wanted to engage with to talk with us in public. Not only did this mean far more people were involved in those discussions over the course of the research, but it also enabled a widening of the range of consultation and the broadening of useful questions. This mode of operating seems ideal for the networked residency, so I am now planning that my discussions with experts about economic systems – and how they could be altered - will take place in public in a variety of forms. I hope some of you will be able to join me.

Photo Credit: The Economic Invisibility of Nature by Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

Zoë Svendsen

Modes of imagining in language often reference sight – most obviously ‘vision’ or ‘to envisage’. When I think of a climate-changed future, I tend to envisage images of what it might look like. Whether I’m drawing on the general cultural appetite for the disaster spectacular, or translating green field sites in my imagination into vistas of solar or wind farms, my mental store of images of the future is already populated by how it might look. I don’t think I am alone in this: our first seminar, ‘Risk’, exploring scenarios particularly in relation to the polar regions, brought home the way that a cultural tendency to focus on the spectacular reaches an apex with the polar regions. Given that climate change is happening fastest, most acutely, and particularly visibly there, the representation of these places as remote, spectacular and other, is, as the polar oceanographer Mark Brandon pointed out, not entirely helpful. To demonstrate the reality of our interconnectedness he showed a map of where chemicals, used in our consumer plastics, turn up in the flesh of polar bears and seals in the Arctic region. I was struck by this: melting ice, that particularly potent image of climate change, is highly visible. Yet the complex and interlocking relationships relations between my local landscape of industrialised farming, busy polluted cityscapes and changeable weather and that landscape of snow, silence and apparent stasis – between climate change there and a changed environment here at home – are not visible. In theatre, the Stanislavskian system of acting enables a clear set of relations to be drawn between intentions, actions, and their effects. In a sense it is a mode of rendering visible (and therefore giving meaning to) why things happen. It is not an accident that such a theatrical system for structuring representation emerged alongside nineteenth-century science and Freudian theories – making even the unconscious narratable. But the demand for visible, knowable relations of cause-and-effect are not serving to help us accept the unquantifiable interconnectedness of our small everyday life gestures and the macro-scale of climate change influenced shifts in weather patterns.

Much of my artistic life is bound up with thinking about dramaturgy: the underlying structure that holds together – and produces the meaning – of what we see on stage. Rendering the systems of relation visible – the impetus behind the creation of World Factory, which explores our embeddedness in global consumer capitalism – is part of the project. But sight/visibility isn’t enough: the process made us realise that we do not only need to see, but to feel. In that show we invite the UK audience to imagine themselves as a participant in the system from a position that few will have direct personal experience of: running a small Chinese clothing factory. The conditions of doing so are felt because they become the means by which audiences work out what decisions to make. They are also felt in another way – through the haptic qualities of the show, through the handling of money, garments and worker ID cards, and through the proximity of others around small tables.

I was struck again by the power of the haptic again when to complement our first Future Scenarios seminar, we were invited to the British Antarctic Survey headquarters in Cambridge. Holding a slice of melting ice core (280 years old and drilled up from 110 metres underground in the Antarctic) to my ear, I could hear the crackle as bubbles of air trapped before the industrial revolution popped to mingle with our doubly carbon dioxide-laden contemporary air.

This then is where the power of the scenario comes in. It starts with envisaging, and draws on our powers of sight, showing how that sense is culturally and linguistically entwined with cognition and our beliefs about knowledge. But its fundamental power lies with the way in which it allows us to put ourselves in the place of others – to FEEL, not only to SEE – and therefore to DO. I have been hugely inspired by Future Scenarios Project Leader Renata Tyszczuk’s clever provocation, in the ‘Risk’ seminar, where she challenged us to reimagine the original Italian ‘scenario’ in the light of climate change. Taking us back to the origins of the word ‘scenario’, Renata introduced us to these commedia-dell-arte blueprints for improvised performances posted up at the back of the stage, indicating characters, props, entrances and exits – and only an approximate outline of what might happen. In the context of climate change, imagining future scenarios within this framework allows a concretisation of ideas that brings us much closer to how it might feel to act. As rehearsal (rather than performance), scenario-building allows us to work out how changed conditions might affect us, and who we might be under those conditions. It also opens a space for imagining the effects not only of climate change but also the proposed mitigation or adaptation strategies. As economic modeller Chris Hope pointed out, there is more work done on envisaging the climate-changed future than there is on imagining what it would be like to live in a world where successful climate action had been undertaken. Yet turning the tide on the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air requires radical changes to our social, legal, political, technological infrastructure. This is where scenarios matter. Returning to terms that are often taken as metaphorical or transposed out of theatre contexts, such as ‘plot’ / ‘actor’ / ‘script’ / ‘scenario’, is to invigorate future projections not only with envisioning, but with enacting and enabling – embodying the future to make it one that we would want to live in.


Emma Critchley

There has been a great deal of food for thought this month, most of which I’m still processing …

A thoroughly inspirational workshop in Cambridge followed by a visit to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) really got me thinking about our relationship with the frontiers of our lifetime; the poles, the deep sea, space, and the plight of the explorer. These places are only accessible to so very few people, which is inevitably why they have captured our imagination throughout history. However across the projects I’ve been researching there is a consensus for the need to properly ‘connect’ the public with these distant places if we are going to instigate change. ‘The human experience’ is one of the key missions of the deep-sea Nekton mission: ‘a vital human link that can reconnect us with the oceans.’ Indeed for me, the experience at BAS of listening to the sound of ancient atmospheric gas releasing from a small piece of 280-year-old Antarctic ice core as it slowly melted in my hand is something that will stay with me for a long time. Holding this water, so old and so cold as it morphed and created the most amazing sound was magical and there was something in this experience that in a very small way made me feel connected. The following week I spoke with a scientist at NASA who is developing a project monitoring the opening and closing pores of plants from space: a scale that blows my mind, true transportation of space and time. Whether a plant is able to transpire and lose water determines the future ecosystem and is an indicator of drought to come. These moments of interconnectivity remind me of something Timothy Morton wrote; ‘there is something quite special about the recently discovered entities, such as climate. These entities cause us to reflect on our very place on Earth and in the cosmos. Perhaps this is the most fundamental issue – hyperobjects seem to force something on us, something that affects some core ideas of what it means to exist, what Earth is, what society is.’ Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects p.15, University of Minnesota Press


Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping

This month we participated in the first Culture and Climate Change: Future Scenarios seminar at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge which explored the theme RISK. This was to be our first encounter with scientists and researchers in a seminar context.

With a focus upon the Polar Regions the seminar and our guided tour of the British Antarctic Survey successfully diminished the geographic remoteness of the Northern most and Southern most reaches of our planet. Through a combination of visual, haptic and oral presentations we were enthused with the Poles multiplicitous significance as mythological spaces, geopolitical zones, climatic components, ecosystems and to those that inhabit them as a home. We were then asked to consider what implications different future scenarios will hold for these regions and what will result globally thereafter.

In this way were made aware of the need to create a representation of these remote regions that emphasized their connection to global: climatic, environmental, economic and social phenomena and therefore to our immediate environments. It has long been our intention that our work should emphasis the relationship between a seemingly remote landscape such as a glacial landscape in the Third Pole and our daily lives in the UK.

A relationship that we hope is appreciated through the representation of the connection between the glacier and the communities, economies and ecosystems downstream, the countries in which they reside, the hydro-political and geopolitical situation within those countries and the significant climatic role that the entire geographic area plays in influencing the formation of high and low pressure systems and the reflecting of heat back into space.

But how do we help others understand the significance of these far away locations if they have not visited them? What sort of experience do we need to create and what can art do that the satellite imagery and the data visualisation of scientific descriptions cannot? And in what ways can one utilise the other’s representation? These are some of the questions we have to ask ourselves now.

What is it that the experience of holding a piece of 250 year old ice from an Antarctic ice core (at the British Antarctic Survey) and listening to the crackling of bubbles from a past atmosphere escaping communicated better than a graph or a documentary film or a political statement and what made it an experience?

Was it that the previously trapped atmosphere contained significantly less Carbon Dioxide than our atmosphere now? Or was it because the ice melted in the hand and that the fragile beauty of the thing could be seen no longer, or was it the sense that the information contained within was lost for ever that made the experience significant?

Can we communicate in the same way?

We will list all events linked to the Future Scenarios residencies.



Future Scenarios – Surgery & Network Event

Wednesday 27 January 2016, 7:30 pm

Future Scenarios – Surgery & Network Event, Arts Admin

January 2016

This evening explored why scenarios are such a key element of climate change research and politics, and also why it is important to invite a wider range of perspectives on these themes.

Listen to an audio recording of the evening here

We are delighted to be working with Emma Critchley, Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping and Zoë Svendson on the first Future Scenarios Networked Residency Programme.

The year-long residencies begin in July 2016 and you will be able to see their progress through monthly updates. Join our mailing list to be the first to hear all the residency news.

Emma Critchley is an award-winning underwater visual artist and commercial diver working with photography, film, sound and installation to explore the human relationship with the underwater environment. Critchley will use the residency to inform and shape her ambitious ongoing work, When the Waters Recede, inspired by the Bristol Channel floods of 1607, the largest and most destructive in human history and commonly believed to have been a tsunami.

“This residency is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with a diverse reach of climate researchers, using scenarios as a way to distill the complex and multi-faceted research involved in climate change and create imagined spaces that allow room to stop, reflect and invite challenge and debate.”

Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping are a Polish-British artist collaboration working with conceptual documentary photography and artists’ moving image who have won many awards and prizes, and exhibited across Europe. During the residency they will investigate their interests in glacial recession, climate induced migration, drowning islands, the psychological pressure of climate change and the prognosis of a difficult future scenario, amongst other issues.

“We are working with the anthropocene and climate change as a cultural paradigm of our time that shapes the way in which we imagine our future. Over the course of the residency we intend to utilise current climate, environmental, geological, economic and socio-political phenomena to illustrate the visceral reality of different hypothetical future scenarios.”

Zoë Svendsen is an internationally renowned theatre director and dramaturg who creates research-driven interdisciplinary performance projects exploring contemporary political subjects. She has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Young Vic, New Wolsey Theatre, TippingPoint and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin amongst many others. Following her recent performance project, World Factory, Svendsen will use her residency to further explore the relationship between ethics and action, the economics of climate change and the tragic absence of real action against it.

“I am very excited by the residency – both by the idea of the ‘network’, and also by the chance to think more fully about the future, and the implications for human interactions that are implied in climate change scenarios, but which often are not fully fleshed out.”

The project is working with a network of individuals and institutions involved in climate research. This Scenarios network comprises a broad range of professional and disciplinary perspectives on climate change scenarios: earth systems, modelling, the insurance industry, oceanography, climate change policy, fashion and design, the built environment, philosophy, literature, theatre and visual arts. It is hoped that collectively, the Scenarios network will also benefit the wider academic research community through its engagement with novel framings of climate change responses and interdisciplinary and collaborative working methods.

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Culture and Climate Change: Narratives features six essays, 11 short stories and an edited transcript from an event held in December 2013 at the Free Word Centre. Over 20 contributors including the authors Marina Warner and Caspar Henderson, the poet Ruth Padel, the journalist Isabel Hilton and the neuroscientist Kris De Meyer address the question ‘What Sort Of Story is Climate Change?’ In the introduction the editors argue that more diverse and dynamic accounts reflect this complex topic more accurately than the simplistic insistence that ‘the science is finished’. The editors suggest that more plural and nuanced stories about climate change will lead to better understanding and more credible actions.

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In recent years, an increasing number of exhibitions, performances and publications have presented cultural responses to climate change. But is this really something new? Or are we simply reinterpreting long-established themes around human society and nature, apocalypse and utopia, hubris and nemesis? Culture and Climate Change: Recordings sought to ‘map’ new cultural work on climate change and to draw links between this new work and long-standing cultural framings. The publication features three essays and edited transcripts from four dialogues. The first dialogue is on the history of cultural responses to climate change; the second considers publics through popular culture and mass media; the third offers an anatomy of works in this area and the fourth explores the way that culture, politics and science interact as we imagine and respond to possible futures. More than 20 artists, academics, producers, broadcasters and journalists, including Professor Mike Hulme, the BBC's Roger Harrabin and The Economist's Oliver Morton, contributed to the publication.

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