Tomorrow, on Thursday 2 June, the United Nations climate summit Stockholm+50 will take place in the Swedish capital. The event commemorates the UN’s first climate summit, which was held in Stockholm in 1972. Among the expected participants are United States Special Climate Envoy John Kerry and UN Secretary General António Guterres.
Notably, Stockholm+50 has no official cultural program, but several seminars and events will be held in parallel. Among them is the display of the Swedish artist duo Bigert & Bergström’s installation Tipping Point in a 20-metre-tall hangar in Stockholm’s Djurgården royal park. The work measures 14×9 metres and is the result of a collaboration between several institutions, including Liljevalchs Konsthall and the independent research foundation, Institute for Future Studies.
Since the early 1990s Bigert & Bergström have combined techno-utopian theories with environmental concerns in their practice. Their new installation comprises several rotating arms with counterweights and platforms on which actors perform various rituals while balancing and interacting with each other. The work’s cliffhanger is its potential collapse.
According to the artists, who described Tipping Point as an embodied flowchart where several climate discussions take place simultaneously:
We wanted to create a physical and emotional experience where the sense that everything could fall apart in any second is strongly present. In the work, ‘The Weather God’ manoeuvres theatrical machinery to create a weather simulation through sound. This is balanced by ‘The Climate Scientist’ who is placed on a satellite dish, which is used to gather information but is suddenly transformed into a lifeboat.
The duo also outlined the installation’s various access points to contemporary climate research. They spoke about melting glaciers, Indigenous knowledge, and climate justice, topics which will be further discussed during four seminars arranged at Liljevalchs Konsthall.
By the artists’ account, this project has been in development for nearly a decade:
It all started with our film The Weather War (2012), which is about humankind’s attempts to control the weather. In 2015, Chalmers University of Technology [Gothenburg] contacted us, and we developed a prototype together. Eventually, Staffan Julén from the Institute for Future Studies became aware of our work, and the project was granted funding from Formas, a [Swedish] government council for sustainable development which funds research and innovation.
Bigert & Bergström estimate that they have been working with topics relating to the environment and technology for over thirty years:
Already in 1988, we developed a restaurant concept where the guests would dine in different climate dioramas. A cheese fondue picnic on a Swiss mountain slope, next to a melting glacier, next to a desert where guests could eat Ethiopian Injera in an oasis. For us, the white cube had become an end point as a controlled zone aimed at activating a few senses at a time. Instead, we wanted to include the experience of nature in our work.
In response to criticism that Stockholm+50 is poorly prepared and without clear objectives, the artists said:
Of course, there are bound to be a lot of events and protests during a summit like this, but it’s not all ballyhoo. Stockholm+50 is a serious environmental conference, and part of the United Nations’ yearly COP-meetings which are working to limit climate change. We hope it will urge politicians to focus more on climate change during the upcoming Swedish election.
Yet, the artist duo does not see themselves as climate activists. Rather, they compare their practice to a “weather station,” collecting and processing information through art projects. As for their artistic aims, they stated:
We want people get involved and take a stance. Our film The Last Supper (2005) explored the absurdity of capital punishment, and Rescue Blanket for Kebnekaise [the tallest mountain in Sweden] (2015) tried to visualise the problem of melting ice caps. Art can expose political models and make their weak points easier to comprehend. And art institutions can do the same as everyone else: they can sharpen the focus, be more radical, lead the way, and do something unexpected!
Bigert & Bergström emphasise that everyone needs to work more thoroughly with issues related to the climate and sustainability, and predict that artists in the coming years will be more prone to incorporate creative forms of recycling and new innovative materials in their art.
“The only thing we can be sure of is that something we could never have predicted will happen. Sooner or later, the climate crisis will be our sole concern. On the bright side, more and more people, including artists and curators, are becoming aware of these issues,” added the duo, who recently participated in two major exhibitions on climate change: When the Wind Blows at Kunsthaus Wien and Novacène at Gare Saint Sauveur in Lille. The latter borrows its title from environmentalist James Lovelock’s latest book, Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence (2019), in which the Anthropocene has been replaced by the Novacene, in which humans and artificial intelligence live in harmony with planet Earth.