When art is said to be a reflection of society and times, how can artists, filmmakers, and theatre practitioners remain indifferent to the burning subject of global warming?
The impact of climate change is a growing concern globally. The Earth's climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, with severe consequences for humans and the natural world. Art, in all its forms, has long been a tool to raise awareness about social issues. In recent years, artists, filmmakers, and performers have turned their attention to climate change, using their work to mainstream the issue and bring it to the forefront of public consciousness.
The most recent initiative in this direction is FutureFantastic, an Indian TechArt festival that uses artificial intelligence and art to initiate a conversation on climate change. Immersive AI-enabled artworks, performances, and workshops aim to raise awareness of environmental issues among the public. The festival is on at Bengaluru International Centre till March 26.
Exploring the effects of climate change through AI and art, the festival, which has been conceptualised by BeFantastic in collaboration with FutureEverything (UK), inspires action towards a sustainable future.
Theatre practitioner Gaurav Singh Nijjer says art, technology come together in a very playful manner to create a discourse around the subject. It is interactive, engaging and devoid of heavy-duty jargon. Climateprov, the play he is staging along with five other performers from Brazil and UK is an interactive theatre performance that combines improvised theatre and artificial intelligence to create fresh perspectives on climate change in urban settings. “The improvisation part is that the play will take shape right on the spot based on the interaction with the audience. The AI will act as another performer and will generate images. Suppose an audience says something about the vanishing lakes of Bangalore, we will prompt the machine which will add to conversation,” says Berlin-based Nijjer.
“When we staged the play in Ranga Shankara recently, we were amazed by the suggestions the audience was giving us. We asked the audience to think of a hypothetical situation in 2050 and someone said, we will run out of oxygen so then we go to Mars and bring a plant from there to earth, to release Oxygen, and sustain life. Someone mentioned plastic consumption. So, it’s highly imaginative and speculative.” The play will be performed on March 26 at BIC as part of FutureFantastic.
Not just FutureFantastic, the creative community is engaging with nature and climate change much more enthusiastically. One notable example is the film "The Elephant Whisperers" which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2023. Produced by Guneet Monga and directed by Kartiki Gonsalves the 40 minute documentary follows an indigenous couple Bomman and Bellie taking care of an orphaned elephant calf Raghu in Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu. Focusing on the bond between the human and the animal, the film in a subtle way, makes one reflect on the issues of interdependence, co-existence and the effect of climate change on nature. Similarly, director Rajani Mani's film "Colonies in Conflict" explores the complex relationship between bees and humans. The film highlights the critical role that bees play in our ecosystem and the devastating impact that climate change is having on their survival. Mani's work is a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of all living things and the urgent need to address the global climate crisis.
Sustainability was at the core of several designs showcased at this year’s edition of India Design ID 2023 as well.
These works are just a few examples of the many ways that artists, filmmakers, and performers are using their work to raise awareness about climate change. From stage plays to music festivals, art is being used to educate and inspire people to take action.
In 2015 began Climate Change Theatre Action, an international series of readings and performances of quick plays about climate change that are held every two years in conjunction with the UN COP meetings.
Every second year, 50 renowned playwrights are asked to write five-minute plays about a specific element of the climate problem based on a prompt. The writers represent all inhabited continents, a variety of civilizations, and Indigenous countries.
The content is then made available to producing partners who can present them as private readings, public performances, radio programmes, podcasts, and film adaptations.
Music festivals have also become a platform for artists to raise awareness about climate change. In 2019, the Glastonbury Festival’s Green Fields HQ ran entirely on solar power for the duration of the festival, underlining the festival's commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. Other festivals have followed suit, using their platform to promote sustainable practices and raise awareness about climate change.
Visual artists like Vibha Galhotra, Thukral and Tagra, environmentalist-photographer Ravi Agarwal, Prabhakar Pachpute and many more often probe the subject of climate change through their creative pursuits. Prabhakar, who grew up in the coal-mining community of Sasti in Maharashtra, looks at issues of land, labour rights, government, and ecology through the context of mining, in his canvases. Last year, artist duo Thukral & Tagra, came up with a card game called "2030 Net Zero, 2022," which allows players to conserve resources and maintain a stable world temperature by playing specific cards.
In 2022, the Mumbai Urban Art Festival (MUAF) included a light installation made of plastic bags by the anonymous Madrid-based art collective Luzinterruptus.
The group created the illusion that the plastic was overflowing the structure by using more than 8000 bags to fill in the large gaps in the exterior of the Evelyn Guest House.
Although it was a light installation, it could also be enjoyed during the day. Its unhealthy appearance stood in shrill contrast with the magnificent luxurious facades of the Colaba district, something that really caught the eye of passers-by. At night, as they were illuminated from the inside, the windows looked as if they had been covered by a strange fluorescent toxic plastic vegetation,” states the collective.
The artists add, “We wanted to graphically show the excess of plastic that is around us, a recurring issue in our work and in life, since almost everything we consume is made of it or wrapped in it or we eat it in the tiny particles found in meat and fish, not to mention the fact that it is also in the air we breathe.”
The role of art in addressing climate change cannot be overstated. Art has the power to inspire and motivate people to take action, and the work of filmmakers, artists, and performers is helping to mainstream the issue of climate change and bring it to the forefront of public consciousness.