The green on black sign was adopted by Gary Campbell, Sustainability Co-ordinator at Central Saint Martins college of art and design, to be displayed outside their building for the whole of 2019. On 13 January 2020, the sign was taken on foot by CSM students in a climate change procession across London to take up residence in the Hoxton Trust Community Garden outside PEER.
PLURAL FUTURES - Looking forward, looking back, looking sideways
Plural Futures is a cross discipline series of workshops, events and actions produced by CSM’s Sustainability Co-ordinator Gary Campbell.
In response to the Climate Emergency, Plural Futures asks what will the future look like? How will we cope? What new challenges will arise in the next decade?
How will an art degree help?
There are many different answers to these questions as well as multiple consequences to a range of possible actions. The future is uncertain, the future is plural.
In view of the Climate Crisis it felt wrong to limit the conversation around Sustainability at CSM to one week of the year. So for the last three years, in addition to the annual Green Week, Plural Futures have hosted monthly workshops devised to sustain an active discourse around a range of environmental, societal and economic issues.
However as the Crisis worsened we decided we needed to put even more pressure on, so approached Ellie Harrison about hosting an Early Warning Sign. After months of emailing with estates, the events team and our landlords [Argent] at Granary Square, we finally got the permission we needed to put the sign at the front entrance of the building. But there were caveats. It had to remain in the alcove and not block the passage of the students, staff or visitors in any way. Outside the entrance was not possible as this was Argent’s property, further inside the breeze wouldn’t turn the sign.
The permitted location was a little hidden and didn’t allow for any exposition information to be put up so there was no comment book to add thoughts. But on the 25 February 2019 [the hottest February day ever recorded in the UK] the sign was put out for the first time. In recording this event we observed the joyful whoops of students leaving the building, bounding out into the glorious sunshine, dropping off their winter coats, completely oblivious to the Early Warning Sign and the bigger picture.
But the sign persisted…
spinning quietly at the entrance, whispering its solemn refrain.
climate.change.climate.change..climate..change..climate...change...climate.... change.... clim...ate...chan...ge....cl....im....ate....chhhh...aaaannn...gggeee...change.
It frequently stops. The positioning of the sign isn't perfect. It's too sheltered. It had been a big struggle to even get permission to put it there, possibly reflecting the colleges' position on the subject just a year ago. But things were beginning to change.
In April 2019 CSM’s Culture and Enterprise Programme staged Alternative Futures: Creativity and the Circular Economy - a symposium on Culture and Sustainable Prosperity. The event saw over 300 students and public attend.
Plural Future’s Gary Campbell chaired a discussion on the role of creativity and environmental sustainability with Sara Ayech (Senior Campaign Strategist, Greenpeace), Tarek Iskander (Artistic Director and CEO, Battersea Arts Centre) and Aste Amundsen (Theatre Maker and Experience Designer) presenting the Early Warning Sign in his introduction as a shining example of environmentally conscious art.
As the summer term drew to an end students and staff started to call for a Climate Emergency Assembly and senior management started to listen. A working group was formed and the first Assembly planned for the beginning of the next academic year.
The Early Warning Sign was there to welcome the 400+ attendees from across the University of the Arts, London (UAL). Gary Campbell presented at the Assembly and again referred to the Early Warning Sign as an example of the response that the emergency demands.
During the Assembly four sub working groups were formed. The Plural Futures team led on the goal of UAL becoming Carbon Neutral by 2025 and the Early Warning Sign became a sort of mascot of the Group. But it was clear the conversation had got more urgent. The language had changed and we talked of:
On 4 November 2019, Phil Barton [MA Art & Science] restated Gustav Metzer’s Call to Action to Remember Nature. The Early Warning Sign heard the call and lamented that its own warning hasn't been listen to.
Believing the sign still had the capacity to push the climate conversation forward and demand more from the University, we requested permission from Ellie to stage an intervention with the sign. A kind of Raushenberg/De Kooning collaboration where we'd obscure one of the words and replace it with new messages. Acknowledging the brilliance of the original artwork but taking ownership of it temporality before we concluded its residency at CSM and handed over to its new hosts, PEER gallery.
A GIF was created by the wonderful Jake Stephenson-Bartley [BA Architecture] and sent round in the weekly newsletter – reaching thousands of CSM students and staff and Fran Hayes [BA Fine Art] suggested we organised a procession of the sign from Kings Cross to Hoxton. This would be the first Carbon Neutral delivery of the Early Warning Signs and was treated with excitement from Ellie and offers of a tea and biscuits on arrival.
The next Climate Emergency Assembly coincided with our handover date, so as part of the build up to the Assembly, the sign was presented in the internal street at CSM alongside a survey of the 'uncomfortable spaces' in the building [those where the heating, air-conditioning, computers or lights are on less unnecessarily].
On the day of the procession the Plural Futures team gained a few new members and we got ready to set off on our Carbon Neutral handover. The trolley we had borrowed was too small, but an alternative was quickly sourced, a wheeled cage of sorts. It seemed ungainly at first, but the aesthetic was enough to convince us to give it a go. The proposed scenic route following regents canal and through the back streets of Hoxton was revised because of steps and low bridges but a suitable alternative was found and off we went.
The wheels of the cage proved noisy but equal to the job, mounting kerbs with only the gentlest persuasion needed. Along the way we navigated abandoned Christmas trees, heavy traffic, perplexed pedestrians, cobblestones and gale force winds. Even with stopping to salvage a decent roll of astroturf, we made it in good time to the PEER gallery where Natascha was waiting to get a photo and Steve had the kettle on the boil already.
Meanwhile back at CSM the conversations are still bubbling along and with this report, Jake Stephenson-Bartley's GIF and the video of our epic Carbon Neutral journey (above), I believe the sign’s legacy will have just as much impact as it had when it waved its warning at us each morning.
Plural Futures will continue to push the climate emergency agenda at CSM and support the students and staff that believe in radical and urgent change.
Thanks to Ellie Harrison and the Early Warning Sign and good luck with the rest of the journey.