From Goya to Morris, Beuys and The Yes Men, artists have played a role in movements of social change. But as the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen fast approaches, what can art do faced with the mega-challenge of climate change?
This weekend I went along to the opening of a new season of work at Bristol’s prestigious Arnolfini Contemporary Arts Centre where this question will occupy the gleaming white spaces for the next two months. C Words: Carbon, Climate, Capital, Culture opened with a discussion on the role of art in achieving change and will close with a workshop on how to use bicycle sculptures to protest in Copenhagen; it will include an ‘auction of late-capitalist artefacts’, a design competition to rebrand RBS as the Royal Bank of Sustainability and the creation of a homemade activist cell by a family of five for the half term holiday. This is clearly not going to be art as we commonly know it: introspective and in a frame. Messy, political, participatory: this is art which sees no reason for boundaries with education or activism; which cannot be boxed into silent galleries but must instead run out onto the streets and into the whirl of ideas.
I encourage everyone who can to get along to Bristol before the season ends on 29 November. If you can take a sapling to add to Ackroyd and Harvey's The Walking Forest all the better. The world needs to engage in a very important conversation over the next two months. The Arnolfini suddenly looks like a pretty great place to take part in it.