Department of Music
University of York
To assist with ‘Under Her Eye’, a summit on women and climate change held at the British Library in early June this year, the arts-science charity Invisible Dust recruited fifteen young female artists, scientists, and researchers for a dedicated Fellowship programme. The two-day summit comprised a packed conference featuring some of the biggest names at the crossroads of women and climate change – Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; Hakima El Haité, COP22 host and Delegate Minister in Charge of Environment of Morocco; and award–winning writer and environmental activist Margaret Attwood.
Other brilliant presentations included Invisible Dust artist Ahilapalapa Rands, describing the paradigm shift of a successful legal battle to give human rights to the dangerously polluted Whanganui river – making it a legal entity – in the extremely deforested New Zealand; acknowledging the colonial legacy of the conference venue; and discussing the epistemological violences of colonialism in the Pacific Islands in relation to climate change. Rands warned of the risk of a neo-colonial ‘re-mining of indigenous knowledges’ by colonisers and the economic global north today in the desperate ‘scramble’ to respond to climate change (‘what do we do now?’), and stressed the vital importance of self-determination for indigenous peoples and people of colour.
Mika Minio-Paluello, an energy economist from Platform London, gave an incisive and engaging presentation; reminding us that London is an oil-based city because of its colonial history, she explained that her organization feels a subsequent responsibility to trace and promote awareness of the connections between oil and money. ‘Renegade economist’ Kate Raworth introduced her Doughnut Economics framework, outlining the upper (planetary boundaries, finite resources) and lower (human rights, quality of life, social equality) limits that should govern any conception of economic growth and stability, taking into account the unpaid care economy and other factors than gender, including but not limited to race, class, language, and ethnicity. We heard about the productive potential of making energy infrastructures more visible by drawing on the examples of Orkney, and discovered the Waste Lab’s positive project of reusing discarded materials like glass bottles to create high end products like bar furnishings for local business. Multiple parallel sessions meant we couldn’t all see everything we were interested in – overall, there was a huge number of important and very well-received presentations by Squirrel Nation, Black Lives Matter UK, Caroline Lucas, science-fiction author Tosin Coker, Mooncup, and a host of other brilliant individuals and organisations. Additional activities included a screening of Pumzi, a beautiful speculative science fiction film set in a dystopic climate-changed future by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu.
Beyond conference papers and presentations, we also took part in artist Gayle Chong Kwan’s incredible Microclimate Sensory Workshops (to which we contributed activities based on seed planting, pledge-making, sound-sculpting, and the ethical issues of the avocado industry) and her spectacular Sensory Banquet, in collaboration with chefs from the Kings Cross Skip Garden. We were also involved with Kasia Molga’s Human Sensor performance, in which dancers wore light-up costumes that changed colour according to the quality of the surrounding air (glowing red on Euston Road and white when we diverted to the ‘wellbeing walk’, a suggested commuter route to raise awareness of, and hopefully tackle repeated exposure to, harmful air pollution).
I found this experience positive and rewarding overall, particularly because it gave me the chance to do things I’d never done before, had wanted to try out for a while, had been afraid to approach, and had never thought I’d really be able to experiment with. I’m wholeheartedly grateful to have been involved – I learned a huge amount, heard some incredible speakers, supported projects by fantastic artists, and met a really amazing group of people who I hope to stay in touch with for a very long time and hopefully work with again. It also gave me a really welcome opportunity to explore the potential for a small-scale collaboration with the fabulous London Sound Survey (www.soundsurvey.org.uk) and their brilliant and varied collection of urban sounds from across London. I’m hugely thankful to Invisible Dust and to WRoCAH for supporting my place on the scheme.