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In Copenhagen, climate change is visual

Making the complexity of climate change something people can relate to is no easy task.

But this month in Copenhagen, ‘green culture’ is everywhere you look. Subways walls are plastered with signs urging negotiators to ‘seal the deal’, and every museum and city plaza has a special exhibit about climate change.

You can learn a lot about Denmark by how they have taken on their role as host for the climate negotiations known as COP15. With so many art and cultural activities, Denmark is recognizing that sustainability will only catch on if it is linked to social and cultural identity.

Here is an overview of the few climate art exhibits in Copenhagen this week, many of which are also online or will soon travel to a city near you.

It’s a Small World
As a world leader in design, the soul of Denmark seems to lie in the Danish Design Centre.

The exhibit “It’s Small World” offers a welcome concreteness at a time when the global stakes are so high and yet so amorphous. The exhibition is about reconsidering scale – from the small choices we make about what we buy, to big visions like widely adopted electric cards.

The worlds of public policy and design merge in an interactive video-exhibit about the future of energy in Denmark. The video features a conversation between designers and the charismatic lead negotiator of the COP15, Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy.

The participants outlines a serious vision for Denmark in 2020-- where half the countries energy comes from windmills that in turn power a new generation of electric cars. With nearly 5,000 windmills currently powering 20% of the nations energy, Denmark is working hard to position itself as a leader and future exporter of sustainable innovation.

Sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, the exhibition will travel to the US and around Europe starting in February 2010.

100 places to remember before they disappear

Near the central subway station of Norreport, this outdoor photo exhibition puts a stunning human face to climate change. From archipelagos in the Pacific, to the hills of Caracas and the streets of Chicago, the pictures show 100 places on earth that are vulnerable to extreme climate change and other human influences on the environment.

While the photos are beautiful, they are also painful to look at; one can sense the vulnerability of the landscapes. By offering pictures of the beauty that we have, the exhibit portrays a sense of wonder and value of exactly what is at stake. One of the goals of the exhibition, sponsored by Care and CO+Life, is to put people living in poverty at the center of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The website is a great learning tool, with an interactive map. The photographs are also available in a hardbound coffee table book.


In a round dome just outside of the conference center, Greenpeace is also presenting a photo exhibit.

During the opening Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International spoke about the importance of artists in fighting climate change, comparing it to the role of artists in fighting apartheid in South Africa.

“Artists are using their skills to communicate what is happening and that is a critical component that is coming together here at COP15,” said Naidoo. “We recognize the power of the images to cut through the crap of negotiations and show the face of the frontlines of climate change.”

Ranging from photos of Nenet reindeer herders in Siberia, to people in India living in the shadow of a coal disaster, all of the photos were shot within the past three months. The exhibit was a collaborative project of ten photographers from the Dutch agency Kadir von Lohuizen with support from Greenpeace.

A slide show of the photos is available on their website.

With so many people in Copenhagen this week, the art is sure to reach many of the climate faithful, though probably not the government negotiators who are trapped behind closed doors until the late hours of the night. Hopefully the exhibits will reach many more people as they travel the world, prompting the cultural shift necessary for change.

As one activist explained, climate change is about culture. If you listen to the speeches of negotiators from small islands like Tuvulu and Maldives, projected to disappear within a generation, they are fighting for their lives. They are thinking about how their children will grow up not knowing their own cultures.

More climate art:

The World is Yours: Contemporary art at the Louisiana Museum of Mod...

Rethink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change, four large art exhibitions by Nordic and international artists

Everyday Miracles: an art installation by Presens, real-life climate solutions

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