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Up Close: Moving People, Changing Climate

Céline Condorelli

Recently I found myself in a place torn between climate change and migration, lacking in knowledge, looking for a bibliography, seeking out what might speak to my questions. That was hard to find. There is no lack of materials on climate change and global warming nor of literature on all types on migration and refugees. There is less on the conflation between the two, and I find most of the material unnecessarily abstract and fluffy, or hyper-pragmatic, catastrophic, and situation-specific. I am pulled between two equally distancing possibilities, looking for voices that bring these two issues closer together and to me, that work against distance and empathize across time and space. Where to go between Donna Haraway and disaster activism in Northern Greece?

I feel out of my depth in these subjects, having given them not much more than general interest and concern in the past. I am by no means on anyone’s list of whom to contact if they were setting up a project on related issues and think: Which artists have been looking at…? Therefore this contribution, as well as some recent projects of mine on the subject, are part of a larger desire to educate myself.

A recurrent strand in my work of the past decades brought me to look as this more closely: I am interested in the disconnect, in how certain things remain hidden in plain sight, in forms of blindness—to disturbing phenomena, to evil, to violence—but also in the disconnect between thinking and action, between so-called good will and injustice in everyday life, in the banal forms of alienation. Part of the challenge lies in reconnecting, making things close, tying them back to an immediate present, to tangible possibilities. Drawing out, outlining, and explicating this chain of connections links us and our conception of our surroundings (contingent, partial, intimate, small-scale, fragmented) with larger forces at work: global phenomena, world politics, and abstractions that we might be able to comprehend in intellectual terms but not in personal or actionable ones. I feel these to be the most urgent issues around climate change and migration: the mapping of coordinates that tie us to large abstract notions like extraction, the distance between an individual’s perception and the global scale of climate change, the zooming out from the tangible and the abstract. The lectures and films I have selected are all in some way singular movements of connection that practice the difficult task of linking our acts to their consequences, reducing distance much like Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers of Ten allows one to grasp infinity by connecting it to two people having a picnic on a sunny day.1

“Extraction can be understood in general terms as the withdrawal of shared and vital resources, not just material and land, but also time, energy, labor, data, without reciprocity or return. And it is intimately tied to the logics of colonialism and of capitalism. The scale of earth’s disturbance at literal material extraction sites dwarfs our bodies and creates a feeling of utter helplessness and inconsequence, which can be similar to the feeling invoked by just mentioning the word ‘capitalism.’ The seeming totalizing nature of that word tends to freeze up any sense of possibility that things could be different than the obscene capitalocene moment we seem to be in now, with its racial and environmental violence and its reduction of all value to profit.” —Laurie Palmer2

But how to deal with the consequences of living in a dangerously warmer world for people, animals, and environments? Confronted by the ever disappearing limits of capitalism’s logic of extraction, of raw materials, of labor, of shared resources, of life and kinship, for those subjected to exclusions and destructions, whose way of life is threatened beyond recognition or survival, there is no possibility other than to challenge these limits, resist capitalism’s advance, refuse one’s given role in the existing order of things—and become, in some or all ways, a fugitive.

Part of this research was developed through the project Cinema Zagara, with Filipa Ramos, itself within Geometries, curated by Locus Athens.

—Céline Condorelli

Céline Condorelli is a London- and Lisbon-based artist, a professor at NABA–Nuova Accademia di Belli Arti Milano, and a founding director of Eastside Projects, Birmingham. She is the author and editor of Support Structures published by Sternberg Press in 2009.

Recent exhibitions include Zanzibar, a permanent installation for the Kings Cross Project, London, and exhibition at Vera Cortes, Lisbon; Proposals for a Qualitative Society (spinning), Stroom Den Haag; and Corps á Corps, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, which featured a sculpture garden that received The Australian Institute of Architects Art and Architecture Prize. Her work was included in the 2016 Gwangju, Liverpool, and Sydney biennials. bau bau, her first monograph, was published by Mousse in 2017.

1 Charles and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero, 9 mm, 1968.

2 Quoted from the introduction to the two-day conference “Extraction: Decolonial Visual Cultures in the Age of the Capitalocene,” UC Santa Cruz, May 12, 2017, organized with T. J. Demos.

November 15, 2018