Resources Article

The time has come: how to call for climate action through storytelling

Clore Fellow Eduardo Carvalho has curated his first international exhibition for COP26, here he looks at how the global cultural sector can impact change?

Telling stories has always been part of human history. From ancient cave paintings across the world to the most technological experiences we use today, storytelling is essential for communicating messages that provoke reflection and change. That’s the power of art.

Our generation faces one of its most significant challenges – we are in a climate emergency due to the rise in global temperature caused by polluting gases being released into the atmosphere. If we really want to change the society we live in, we need to harness the power of art.

We have become a society that no longer respects the limits of nature, one which has disconnected from the environment that provides the resources that sustain life. We occupy everything around us, connected to each other, but with little awareness of our relationship with other species with whom we share this planet. The time has come to understand that we are not apart from nature, but we are a part of it.

How can the global cultural sector make a difference? Is it generating greater engagement between the audience and the exhibits and perhaps rethinking the use of materials to avoid immediate disposal?

Proximity to the visitor

As a Clore Fellow, I had the opportunity to get to know works from various institutions worldwide, with very close contact with the UK and, of course, Brazil, my country. Even if the work presented has its central message of climate emergency or the human impact on the environment, sometimes the audience does not realize that the conversation is actually with them.

Facilitating a dialogue, regardless of the techniques used, contributes to a greater awareness of the audience with the content. We need to humanize our messages, use empathy as raw material, and contextualize the narrative with facts worldwide.

It is essential to call the visitor to action, making them part of the solution, taking them out of their comfort zone. However, we need to avoid holding the individual responsible for the chaos we are experiencing – of course, unless that person owns a coal plant or an oil company…

Changing aesthetic standards

Another essential point is about the exhibition/events design. During the development of Somerset House’s Sustainability Policy, as part of my journey as a Clore Fellow, I began researching ways that institutions can reduce the environmental impact of their activities.

There are exciting initiatives happening in Paris and Manchester, for example, regarding applied materials in exhibitions. In the French capital, cultural organisations got together to rethink the use of plastic in scenography, using scientific research that showed that at least 13 possible plastic substitutes could be used.

In addition, a similar project is being led by the organization ‘La Resérve des Arts‘, which collects leftovers from exhibitions and offers them at 10% of the original value to members. According to the company, which has warehouses in the country, 90% of everything that arrives is resold, promoting sustainability in the cultural sector.

In Manchester, back in the UK, conversations between cultural institutions and public authorities about the environmental impact of the sector have grown in intensity and generated positive results. Some museums are rethinking their exhibition tours, not touring at all in order to mitigate emissions from logistics – even if this affects the budget.

Another idea that can reduce the environmental impact is the use of technologies instead of scenographic materials. Projectors, screens and other energy-efficient equipment can be used for more than one exhibition. Therefore, it is worth reflecting on the development of new aesthetic patterns of experiences – and of course, listening to the audience’s opinions about it.

We also live in a period with many challenges having been brought about by the pandemic. Many places are working harder to keep their programming quality and also attract the public. Collaboration between institutions will be a determining factor in strengthening the cultural sector at this time.

Speaking in collaboration, it was really exciting when Brazil Climate Hub approached me to curate an exhibition for COP26. My work has always focused on engaging the audience in social themes, such as climate change, environment conservation and refugees, and I knew the Amazonia rainforest would be one of the most important topics on the agenda for Global Leaders at the conference.

The exhibition For Those Who Are to Come features photographs from three influential photographers Marcela Bonfim (Rondônia); Nailana Thiely (Pará) and Bruno Kelly (Amazonas) and shows the human side of the Amazonia and the impact of human activity on its survival.

Working with fellow curator Vanessa Gabriel-Robinson, the series of images reflects the diversity of Amazonia and highlights the importance of keeping our ecosystem alive and finding solutions to minimise the impact of exploitation. We have the opportunity to show all the global leaders that it is necessary to think about preserving Amazonia and that they must involve its people in this challenge.

I am hoping they will pay attention to the central message of our exhibition and that it will inspire change.

I’ll finish this piece by recalling that, after World War II, there was a consensus by Governments that investment in arts and culture could heal society’s traumas and wounds.

We are again in a ‘post-war’ – this time against a virus and disinformation. I would like to add to this thought that: to prevent new wounds, our cultural and creative sector is one of the best ways to share powerful messages of transformation. The time has come. Let us go together.

For Those Who Are to Come will run until 12 November in the Brazil Climate Hub Space at COP26, Glasgow.

Eduardo Carvalho Biography

A Latin American fellow of the Chevening Clore Leadership, 2019-2021, Eduardo worked for six years at the Museum of Tomorrow, a technological, scientific museum in Rio de Janeiro. There, he developed exhibitions and experiences with a focus on the engagement of the audience in social themes, like climate change, conviviality, culture, environment conservation and refugees. Most recently, he will open the new show “For those who are to come’ which presents the diverse faces and colours of Amazonia at COP 26, in Glasgow.

Among his principal works, were the exhibitions: Coronacene – Reflection in the Pandemic Times; Fruturos – Amazonian Times (opens in December of 2021); Food for Tomorrow – Feeding 10 Billion’ (Bronze Medal of The Grands Prix, formerly known as the International Design and Communication Awards); ‘Inovanças: Creations Brazilian style’, which reached half a million visitors in ten months. He led the creation of IRIS+, an experience with Artificial Intelligence in collaboration with IBM Watson – that was quoted by ‘The New York Times’ as an example of innovation worldwide, and was an industrial mentor of VR experience ‘Amazonia’ in partnership with Miami Dade College, from the USA.

A group of people at an event, some wear masks
Image description: of people gathered – seated and stadning at the For Those Who Are To Come exhibition

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