“The real power of myths lies in their capacity to become self-fulfilling prophecies: they create our reality as much as they describe it.” Alex Evans, Open Democracy
There’s been a great deal written recently on the power of stories within environmental advocacy and campaigning. Most pertinent is a recent book by Alex Evans, adviser to Tony Blair on poor-world economics, and co-organiser of a UN climate-change summit. Brief but hard-hitting, The Myth Gap advances his theory that the key to all successful movements is powerful, morally gripping narratives. He attributes the relative success of COP21 in Paris (compared to Copenhagen), as well as that of the 2016 Trump and Brexit campaigns, to one common determining factor: robust story-telling and myth-making. Our once rich, myth-centred culture has given way to literal and scientific-based knowledge, leaving room for dangerous “anti-myths”; ‘you are what you buy’, ‘collapsitarianism’, and nationalism. To counter these, as we recalibrate at the start of 2017, it’s essential that we ourselves become myth-makers and storytellers, ‘drawing good conclusions’ from tales gone by, or creating new forms of collective storytelling that reposition ourselves, both present and future.
Within the realm of visual art, this message is particularly powerful and resonant. In the brief range of examples touched upon here, we are seeing an encouraging return of familiar storybook modes and characters being repurposed to facilitate engagement with contemporary climate issues. In its emergence, this trend introduces great potential to develop an existing encyclopaedia of forgotten wisdom and symbolism. It paves creative space to find new ways for anchoring shared values, narrowing political divides, and tightening diverse communities. Perhaps more powerfully, it provides a wellspring of inspiration for constructing new stories. Here too, we're beginning to see exciting experimentation, particularly in the fields of digital animation and virtual reality.
“The Virtual Reality experience inspires us to imagine how individuals can transform and de-carbonise their city…” Exhibition guide
Space to Breathe offered a promising display of these approaches. Whilst Mary Poppins harnessed new power from stories of old, the first installation inside the exhibition was a stimulating taster of the potential for invention of new tales. A collaboration produced by Cape Farewell, Shrinking Space, pioneering Virtual Reality & Immersive Content studioHammerhead VR, and the King's College Environmental Research Group, Energy Renaissance was an immersive experience transporting the participant into a post-carbon Strand, just outside of Somerset House. Following the journey of a luminous girl with an eco-Midas-touch, the streetscape was transformed with her every skip into lush greenery and renewable energy technologies. It demonstrated the impact and potential of individual behaviour and actions in realising this prospective utopia and in doing so, viscerally motivated us to consider how our own stories might be rewritten to achieve the same.
Space to Breathe was part of Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility commissioned and produced by Cape Farewell and Shrinking Space, in partnership with King's College London's Environmental Research Group.