Art, climate and community

On the Danish Island of Bornholm, a community of women, artists and activists were invited to join forces as a part of The Climate Crucible – a two week artist residency at BIRCA (Bækkelund International Residency Center for Artists) supported by the Danish Arts Council, involving artists from Mexico, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Malta and Paraguay. The following text is a diary by in-house artist Madeleine Kate McGowan, who was one of the Danish participants.

Filmmaker Amanda Tonna, in interaction with coal.

Poet and author Ocean Vuong writes: “How do we live a life worthy of our breath?”. One way of exploring an answer to this question could be – through strengthening community.

Being alive at the moment calls for strong communities. For our emotional, spiritual and physical survival – as a part of living on a damaged planet. According to one of my favourite contemporary voices, Naomi Klein, strengthening community is one of the core tasks and skills of today. And not merely human communities, but also making kin and thus bridging into our other-than-human communities.

Some of The Climate Crucible artists in action. From left: Amanda Tonna, Ana Baumann, Josie Dale-Jones, Tanya Montan Rydell and Linh Le. Photo: Madeleine Kate McGowan

At the moment I am finding my community on the Danish Island of Bornholm, where a circle of women, artists, dancers, filmmakers, protectors, activists – all dealing actively with issues related to the climate crisis, are gathered on an old farm. It is a farm which is not functioning as a farm anymore, but where the stables have been turned into artist living quarters; studios and ateliers for the creation os experimental art. The place is called BIRCA (Bækkenlund International Residency Center for Artists) and the residency is called The Climate Crucible. Through the artistic explorations here, we are actively engaging ourselves in our multi-species-communities. Becoming grass, moving with air, scratching coal, setting on fire.

Madeleine Kate McGowan at BIRCA, Bornholm.

While being here on this magical Island, I am deepening my process with a video installation titled Holding our Breath, which I have been working on for several months now. Through this filmmaking process, I am seeking to activate a heightened sensitivity towards the element of Air, both in me and in the people participating in the film. I do this through movement, through dialogues, collective writing, singing, breath-work and how I edit the film. With the process I am exploring how I can use the artistic process as a method for bridging the human and the other-than-human? — so it doesn’t merely become the art product that potentially opens a sensitivity towards the other-than-human, but also the creation of the film. 

Dancers, Josie Dale-Jones and Tanya Montan Rydell, exploring movements on the fertile soil of Bornholm. Photo a still from video-work by Madeleine Kate McGowan.

I have travelled all over Denmark, meeting people in dialogue about their reflections on air and inviting people to sing together and breathe together. As a central inspiration to my song, camera and breath work, is the Juliana Spahr poem This Connection of Everyone with Lungs:

“…as everyone with lungs breathes the space between the hands

and the space around the hands and the space of the room and

the space of the building that surrounds the room and the space

of the neighbourhoods nearby and the space of the cities and the

space of the regions and the space of the nations and the space

of the continents and islands and the space of the oceans and

the space of the troposphere and the space of the stratosphere

and the space of the mesosphere in and out.

In this everything turning and small being breathed in and out

by everyone with lungs during all the moments.”

This poem takes me through a dynamic journey of words, where the writing establishes a rhythm and movement that becomes like the route of air through landscapes, spaces, and bodies. Floating and always touching something, repeatedly. The text describes air as always traveling and connecting all living beings, filling us and opening dynamics throughout landscapes. For all of us with lungs. 

The garden at BIRCA, Bornholm.

The past days it has been easy for me to film air, as it is making itself visible as wind. It is fiercely moving, touching leaves and branches. When filming I imagine that I am traveling the streams of air, circulating, wavy, touching, moving into portals and out again. It is as if I am becoming air when filming. The filming becomes this awkward choreography for me, which seen from afar probably looks very silly. I am playing with the idea of creating a wind-catching device, that I can wear while filming, so that I can feel the movements of air around me.

Dancer and performer in Becoming Species, Linh Le, investigating the relationship to grass in her performance Becoming Grass.

The work with Holding our Breath is supported by The Danish Arts Council and The Safina Center.

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