All images by author: KT Tunstall, Robyn HItchock, Graham Coxon + Kathryn Williams performing at SHIFT Festival
If anyone needs a right good laugh it's surely those ever so glum and deadly serious environmentalists. One of the many problems with the perception of climate change and sustainability is that people still think it's utterly depressing, self sacrificing and worthy - how dull! Last week at the Southbank Centre in London the Cape Farewell cultural arts festival SHIFT showed, with some aplomb, how in the face of climate change you can laugh uproariously, shake your tail feather and appreciate beautiful art...Mainstream entertainment
The climate change awareness organisation Cape Farewell have the right idea, by involving artists, musicians and comedians in their expedition programmes they are creating new channels of communication directly into our mainstream entertainment culture. Hence the SHIFT festival programme that took place at the Southbank Centre last week, a six day event of talks and exhibits, which culminated with a comedy night on Friday and a music gig on Saturday.
Inform and entertain
The key success of the event was that they struck the right balance between information and entertainment, with each event being slickly and professionally produced, thankfully bypassing the crunchy, slightly shambolic, alternative culture intonations that so often blight environmentally themed events. It helped that Cape Farewell are 'artists in residence' at the Southbank Centre, one of London's premiere cultural arts venues, so they had all the best spaces and technicians on hand to make sure the presentation was a polished affair.
KT Tunstall + Robyn Hitchcock performing in front of artwork by Michèle Noach
At Shift Encounters, the evening seminars, we got to meet architects, climate scientists and artists who had been on Cape Farewell expeditions, and hear their transformational stories on how their understanding of climate change has affected their work. The debate was invigorating and multifaceted, with scientists noting that their experimental and methodical work process is actually very similar to that of artists, and artists debating the role of art and propaganda in our society. The artists were surprisingly defensive about the role of the artist as an independent creative force. They certainly do not want to be seen as campaigners or activists who are trying to change and influence opinion on climate change even though their work was based on environmental themes.
Laughter is the best medicine
Marcus Brigstocke, the British comedian who hosted Friday evening's shenanigans, was definitely not so precious. He launched into jokes about po-faced environmentalists and China hijacking COP 15 at the blink of an eye. But with the cynicism came the seemingly random upbeat anecdotes, I loved the one about growing his first pear in the family garden - not a joke as he explained, but just something that made him very happy! The other top flight comedians in the line-up were not so aware of why they were invited, preferring to give us a good belly tickle with their usual stand up routines, but they were no less entertaining for that.
The beatboxer and the politican
The two highlights of Friday night were surprisingly not comedians, but a politician and a beatboxer. Improbable I know, but Marcus conducted a wonderfully candid interview on stage with Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Miliband was amazingly relaxed and opinionated about what went wrong in Copenhagen and to the audience's delight admitted the government is "crap" at taking on the environment agenda and that we should all wage war on climate deniers.
KT Tunstall performing songs composed on the 2008 Cape Farewell expedition to the Arctic
To the beat of the drum
Shlomo, beatboxer extraordinaire and co-voyager with Graham Hill on the 2008 Cape Farewell expedition to the Arctic, performed his Arctic inspired composition 'Icey Lips' which gave us an amazing sonic impression of how cold it was on that boat. Then he raised the roof with some incredible, heavy drum and bass beats - an experience that was greatly appreciated by the younger demographic, who were nearly jumping on their seats, while more mature ears were being covered by shaking hands.
Saturday evening had a totally different ambiance, with British folk signer Robyn Hitchcock at the helm of his maritime themed concert. This great front man sailed us through beautifully calm waters, with wit and verve, and several extra special guests who were his co-voyagers on the 2008 Cape Farewell expedition.
A very pregnant Kathryn Williams looked and sung like a mother goddess, while Blur's Graham Coxon was the evening's guitar man, and KT Tunstall appeared as the archetypal rock chick. Each song, many of which had been composed on the Cape Farewell boat, had a corresponding art work image projected behind the performers by Cape Farewell artists, Michèle Noach and Chris Wainwright. It was a wonderful synthesis of music, art and storytelling all wrapped up in the salty flavours of the sea.
Emotional engagement creates positive change
For me the SHIFT festival acted like a prism for raising awareness of climate change, as can all creative arts. It's not dogmatic, or direct, it's off kilter, creative, and full of expression. By looking through the filter of art, music or comedy you can find enjoyment, inspiration and be uplifted. Afterwards you may or may not have the deflected desire to take positive action in your own life, it's your choice of course, but there is no doubt you will have had an emotional experience which inevitably always helps people to embrace change.
Cape Farewell have shown us that in communicating climate change cultural arts have an important place alongside policy, politics, energy, business and technology, because they can refresh parts others cannot reach!
More on Cape Farewell
London Event: Sustainable Fashion at Cape Farewell's SHIFT Festival
Cape Farewell: Raising Climate Change Awareness Through Art
Cape Farewell 2009: Artists Inspired by Trek Through Andes
Cape Farewell: A New Expedition Sets Sail
Controversial Artist Justifies Bad Behaviour in the Arctic
The Masterful Beatboxing Shlomo: Music Without Instruments