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Paris is Culture - Culture is Climate

Creative contributions and provocations at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris are spread far and wide, embedded throughout this most cultured of cities. Festivals such as ArtCOP21 and Artists 4 Paris, include exhibitions, forums and workshops. Australian Artists invited to take part include Debbie Symons and Janet Laurence.

Symons’ video work was launched on Sunday evening at Prodromus Gallery. In Counting One to Four: Nature morte  a blue globe, slowly revolving in the blackness of space, reveals changes to habitat and species distribution as temperatures rise, the earth turns brown, and red marks scribble across the surface showing where up to 52% of all mammals, reptiles, marine species, amphibians and insects could be committed to extinction by 2100.

The importance of this cultural contribution was highlighted by the attendance of several Australian observers to the UN Conference, including Senator Richard Di Natale, University of Melbourne / Melbourne Sustainable Society observers Robyn Eckersley, Peter Christoff and John Wiseman, and Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation CEO Catherine Brown. Also at the launch was ArtCOP21 and Cape Farewell Director David Buckland, Creative Victoria's Fay Chomley, artist Janet Laurence, and City of Melbourne Future Melbourne 2026 Ambassador Kate Auty.
Around the corner from the gallery where Symons’ work is being exhibited is the Bataclan theatre, site of the tragic massacre that occurred here only three weeks ago. Meeting the challenges of global terrorism and global climate change will require a much stronger commitment to supporting our common global humanity, and an appeal to the angels of our better nature.


Some of those angels have thankfully been seen on the streets and in the plazas of Paris. Australian activist theatre troupe (led by CLIMARTE Board Member and co-founder Deborah Hart) has been providing some of the conference’s most memorable imagery as a backdrop to the sometimes unfathomable machinations of the conference negotiations. ClimActs’ evocative Climate Guardian Angels have been appearing around Paris as part of ArtCOP21, and images of their winged protection and concern have been seen by millions across the globe.


At the Museum of Natural History Janet Laurence’s installation Deep Breathing – Resuscitation for the Reef places fragile artifacts from coral reefs with video of ghostly sea creatures in a ‘hospital’ of multiple glass boxes within which creative medical interventions attempt to coax white bleached corals back to colour and life. During Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to COP21 Lucy Turnbull came to view Deep Breathing – Resuscitation for the Reef. It can only be hoped Mrs Turnbull’s impression was conveyed forcefully back to Mr Turnbull.


Even the Paris Metro operator is taking up the cause, exhibiting majestic and enormous 3 x 4 meter images of the natural world by Sebastiao Salgado at twelve major metro stations. The works are from his Genesis project and depict polar regions, rainforests, savannas, arid deserts, glaciers and islands. Arriving into a metro station and being surrounded by these vast images of primal nature certainly concentrates the mind on what we are losing with every day of political inaction and obfuscation. While during the first days of the conference UK group Brandalism installed fake advertising posters by 82 artists across commercial advertising sites across Paris to protest the influence and hypocrisy of large corporations associated with the climate conference.

Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing’s Ice Watch is certainly one of the cultural highlights. Twelve immense blocks of ice, harvested from free-floating icebergs in a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland, have been arranged in clock formation on the Place du Panthéon, where they are melting away drip by drip. They provide a potent and poignant image of the damage being done and the time that is running out as we struggle and strive to meet the global warming challenge.

At the Palais De Tokyo a ‘big data’ video projection called Exit by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Laura Kurgan, Mark Hansen is composed of a series of immersive animated maps generated by data that investigate human migrations today and their leading causes, including the impacts of climate change. It is a completely immersive experience with data flowing over a planetarium like curved wall whilst a soundtrack makes you feel like you are sitting on top of an about to explode volcano.

Meanwhile at the massive temporary conference centre at Le Bourget on the northern outskirts of Paris, tens of thousands of delegates to the Climate Conference are working through these last days and nights in an effort to come up with an agreement that can put us on a pathway for the urgent task we face: ensuring a climate that is consistent with a sustainable and just future.  
Paris, 9 December, 2015, drip, drip drip…


Do you want to do something? Join with and thousands and thousands of others to tell negotiators in Paris to set a long term goal for a just transition off fossil fuels by 2050, a global goal of limiting warming to less than 1.5C, and a pledge to raise their ambition every
5 years. Tell them now!

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