CLIMATE COHORT
CATHARSIS

Duncan McLaren

Scene Stirling's Climate Cohort consists of five artists: Kate Clayton, David Sherry, Rory Green, Sean Hall and Ojo Taiye. They worked together in various combinations for a few months in the second half of 2021. What motivates me to write this essay, months later, is their 'creative ecosystems' exhibition that I've just had the intense pleasure of attending the opening night of, and the marvellous job that one of their number has made of the 'creative ecosystems' website, illustrating what a creative ecosystem they are/were together. Take a bow, Sean Hall.

If you want to go straight to the website and its 20-odd videos, its clutch of absurd drawings; its combination of seriousness and humour, joy and misery; its collection of poetry from a defiantly dignified man in the middle of burning Africa,
here it is. Be sure to leave a little time for your machine to upload the material, for it's a fairly heavy task, despite the lightness of touch that is on display from top to bottom of the long scroll.

I'm going to use photos that were taken at the opening, which was attended by three of the artists, and further photos taken when Kate Clayton and I visited the exhibition again on our own the next day, as a door into the cohort's website. I hope that will work for the five members of the climate change group, and I hope it will work for you, dear reader.

The photo below was taken in the second of two rooms, where one is immersed in the work of Sean Hall, filmmaker, and Rory Green, sound artist, who collaborated together on two works:
Shifting and TIME/CLIMATE. Rory's sounds were the starting point for the four sections of Shifting. While Sean came up with the concept behind TIME/CLIMATE. It all took a bit of sorting out on the night, such was the overwhelming impact of the immersion, but I'm now familiar enough with the material to know that the scene that Kate, Sean and David are standing in front of shows hot rock pulling away from hot rock to a pulsating beat. That's to say, about five minutes into the 10-minute TIME/CLIMATE film, in the section called 'Collapse'.

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Photo by Lesley Wilkinson, Scene Stirling

Who would have guessed that the collapse of the planet could be so irresistibly danceable?

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Photo by Kevin Harrison, Scene Stirling

Rory Green was not able to be there on the opening night. Ojo Taiye was not there because he lives in Nigeria, in the midst of a drought-afflicted land that was once cultivated successfully by his ancestors, wondering when he is going to wake up from the ongoing nightmare of climate crisis.

As I mentioned, Kate and I came back the next day, fresh(ish) from a night at the Stirling Travelodge. She took me on a tour of the two-room show. A poem of Ojo Taiye's had been writ-large on the wall with vinyl lettering.

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Photo by Duncan McLaren

I know this poem well, as it is the one that Kate was filmed reading by a Stirlingshire loch, her voice accompanied by the sound of a skein of geese, migrating from one land to another. That's also the poem that was made into a card for the show, the other being a David Sherry drawing:

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Photo by Lesley Wilkinson, Scene Stirling

The blanket of fog/drought/flood poem can also be found on the website in a video where the poem is recited by Taiye (as he likes to be known) sensitively accompanied by Sean Hall's film, as well as sounds by Rory Green. So you don't have to make an effort to read this poem: it comes at you from many angles and is all the stronger for it. It's the cohort's way of ensuring that Taiye really is present in this contemporary art project. He really isn't stranded in an overheating dark continent. He really is a brother. Have a listen to Taiye's voice when you're finished with this page. Feel his pain, that feels as if it could turn into panic.

David Sherry is represented by a suite of his abject drawings. Light hopelessness is the opposite of black despair: two sides of the same climate catastrophe coin.

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Photo by Duncan McLaren

Also abject is David Sherry's 'the most toxic object on earth', a large mound of greenish-greyish plasticy crap that has been known to emit horrific noises (courtesy of Rory Green). But as the second of the two exhibition cards suggests, the most toxic object on earth might be us. Mankind. The maker of the most toxic object on earth
must truly be the most toxic object on earth.

Four members of the cohort took part in video skits, conceived by David, three of which have made it onto the website. The one that I have watched repeatedly is called
Space Walk. You need to scroll nearly to the end of the website to see it, but that is well worth doing. David Sherry is the first to fall off the International Space Ship while making his space walk. He drifts far from the ship but is told not to worry, the crew 'has a visual' on him. He is instructed to use his oxygen blasters to manoeuvre himself closer. First the left, then the right. Cut to Rory who seems to be floundering, though reluctantly he follows the left-right instruction as best he can. Cut to Kate who looks exhausted after a long day's acting out of scenarios. She has the noise to perfection as she uses first her left, '"Tch-h-h-h-h," then her right '"Tch-h-h-h-h," in an attempt to save herself. Hollow-eyed Sean has his go as well. But the four of them seem utterly lost in space, it seems to me. I wonder how Ojo Taiye would have found acting out this scenario. Maybe his controlled rage would have come across. Maybe he would have put down his futile oxygen blasters in protest, and recited:

"I live in a blanket of smog
At time my heart turns into bells
When I say
we've lost it, I am referring to the future… "

Also in this first room of the exhibition at the Tolbooth are three films that Kate appears in, filmed by Sean Hall. In the one below,
Meditation, she is sitting by the same Stirlingshire loch that she recites Taiye's poem. No geese this time. Maybe they have given up on their traditional migration route. Kate's thin, gauze-like covering billows up behind her, thanks to a hot-seeming wind, but she does her best to keep her cool. If anybody can do it, she can.

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"Left, Kate." 'Tch-h-h-h-h.'

"Right, Kate."
'Tch-h-h-h-h.'

She could keep that up for hours. I know she could. The vulnerable individual cum indefatigable survivor.

The second of the films that Kate is in has a completely different feel.
He(art) Pump. Sorry, that should be Hea(r)t Pump. She is leading a workshop in making a heat pump for Stirling. How many heat pumps have been installed down your street? You don't know? None, possibly. Well, look at this video and learn. Who would have known that a 'state of the art' heat pump consists of so much cardboard, plastic tubing and scribbly felt pen markings. David Sherry is also in this video, which was filmed by Sean Hall. The work suggests the gap between political aspiration and actual achievement. It suggests the chasm that exists between an engineer's understanding of what a heat pump is, and the public's near-complete ignorance. Are we being told that the most toxic object on earth is the gas boiler that smoothly runs on non-Russian gas? Do we believe that?

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Photo by Silvia Sinibaldi, Scene Stirling

In the Tolbooth exhibition, the third of the films in which Kate appears is on a loop with Meditation. But, on the website, Back to the Earth is the first thing that you encounter. It is a most moving production, with Kate walking and crawling through a green Scottish wood. A piece of ribbon tied to her peeled stick tells us that she is 'NOT DEAD YET'.

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Photo by Duncan McLaren

By the end of the film, the lioness (because that's how she comes across) has come to a stop on the mossy forest floor, kissing the ground. Every movement is lovingly highlighted by Rory's meticulously co-ordinated sounds and Sean's relentlessly sensitive film. Watch it and weep.

Actually, I think Kate struggling in
Back to the Earth is something that is alluded to in the fourth section of Sean Hall's Time/Climate, which is called 'Circle' and which, courtesy of Rory Green, has a lamenting female voice added to the compelling beat.

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Photo by Kevin Harrison, Scene Stirling

Me: "Don't look so depressed, guys. We've got a visual on you. Use your oxygen blasters to get yourself back to the blue planet."

Me: "Left, David. Now right."

Me: "Right, Sean. Left, I mean."

Me: "Right, Kate. Now left-left-left. Hard left."

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Photo by Kevin Harrison, Scene Stirling

Over to Taiye:

"Home is falling apart,
the blue beautiful world my mother left behind needs
our help. when I say
I am self-flagellating, I mean my mouth,
my teeth, my tongue - the scrubland
is changing. How tricky this makes
the word
drought."

I gave the link to the website at the top of this essay. Here it is again. But if you are lost in space with just your mobile, the best thing to do is point it at either of these unnatural square things. They take you to exactly the same place.

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Oh, and here is the poster in case there is still time for you to get to the Stirling show:

Check out the temperature! ("Left over right, David.")

Check out the frying pan! ("Right, Rory.")

Check out the pineapple! (Cheap as chips.)

Check out the thermometer! (To get from far-in-height to cent-i-grade couldn't be simpler, and cools everyone right down.)


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Right, Taiye?

"memory dims,
& the past becomes a pentimento
like a scene, a kind of snapshot
a photograph in my head, where
my extended family, are all smiling
& they are not even the ones who
survived the flood."