Art for a Climate Emergency
Lara Stevens, “Art for a Climate Emergency”, Meanjin Quarterly, volume 82, no. 1 (Autumn 2023), pp. 57-61.
After becoming ill with a series of rare conditions, Australian performance artist Hanna Cormick took a long time to reconcile with the new parameters of her disabled body and its relationship to the world which was also showing symptoms of being acutely ‘sick’ in its toxic soil, polluted air, dying reefs and mass species extinction. Today she describes her behaviour towards her body in the same way we might describe the causes of the climate emergency – the product of a mentality that viewed it as a resource. Cormick's performance The Mermaid drew attention to the shared nature of the air we all breathe and vividly illustrated that as humans destroy the planet we are also destroying our own chances of survival on it.
Australian Coal Theatrics
Denise Varney and Lara Stevens, “Australian Coal Theatrics”, The Drama Review, volume 67, no. 1 (2023), pp. 57-61.
Climate change was the defining issue in the 2022 Australian federal election. As a new administration takes power, all sectors, including the performing arts, need to keep up the pressure. An iconic moment of “coal theatrics” in Parliament House, so labeled by the Australian media, stands in contrast to artistic performances that continue to put pressure on the framers of political and cultural policy.
Sink or Swim: Performing the Iniquities of the Climate Crisis
Lara Stevens, “Sink or Swim: Performing the Iniquities of the Climate Crisis”, Critical Stages/Scènes critiques, no. 26 (December 2022).
In 2015, Tongan-Australian performance artist Latai Taumoepeau staged Repatriate, in which she dances in a Perspex tank, her body slowly submerged in water. In a remarkably similar work, Rising (2018), renowned Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović created an avatar of herself drowning in a tank with rising water levels with which spectators/players could interact via Virtual Reality technologies. These performances explore the impact of climate catastrophes on communities vulnerable to rising sea levels, highlighting the difficulties in representing the scale of global warming and complexity of its social effects. As the climate emergency escalates, Repatriate and Rising draw attention to its uneven impact on particular bodies, cultures and nations and prompt the question: what is the role of performance as a catalyst for climate action?
‘Droughts and Flooding Rains’: Ecology and Australian Theatre in the 1950s
Denise Varney, “‘Droughts and Flooding Rains’: Ecology and Australian Theatre in the 1950s”, New Theatre Quarterly, volume 38, no. 4 (2022), pp. 319-332.
This article uses historical-ecological insights for a re-reading of two little-known mid-twentieth-century Australian plays, Oriel Gray’s The Torrents and Eunice Hanger’s Flood, which highlight developments relevant to the environmental disasters of today. In particular, the article focuses on the significance of key cultural assumptions embedded in the texts – and a revival of The Torrents in 2019 – including those to do with land use in a period of accelerating development. This approach offers new insights into the dominance of mining, irrigation, and dam-building activities within the Australian ethos, landscape, and economy. One of these insights is the framing of development as progressive. The article thus also examines how development projected as progressive takes place amid the continuing denial of prior occupation of the land by First Nations peoples and of knowledge systems developed over thousands of years. The intersectional settler-colonialist-ecocritical approach here seeks to capture the compounding ecosystem that is modern Australian theatre and its critique. The intention is not to apply revisionist critiques of 1950s plays but to explore the historical relationship between humans, colonialism, and the physical environment over time.
The Climate Siren: Hanna Cormick’s ‘The Mermaid’
Lara Stevens and Denise Varney, “The Climate Siren: Hanna Cormick’s The Mermaid”, The Drama Review, vol. 66, no. 3 (2022), pp. 107-118.
An accomplished dancer, acrobat, and physical theatre performer, Hanna Cormick became ill in 2014 with a trifecta of rare genetic conditions that make her severely allergic to pollutants in the air — smoke, detergents, and food particles — and her bones and internal organs prone to dislocation. In January 2020, during Australia’s summer of unprecedented bushfires, Cormick staged The Mermaid, risking her life to make a performance about the climate emergency and how we are all vulnerable bodies at risk in a changing environment.
Caught in the Anthropocene: Theatres of Trees, Place and Politics
Denise Varney, “Caught in the Anthropocene: Theatres of Trees, Place and Politics”, Theatre Research International, vol. 47, no. 1 (2022), pp. 7-27.
This article investigates live performance in the broad geo-historical context of the Anthropocene, a contested term in recent scholarship, but one that offers a breadth of focus on human relations with its coexistent non-human other. These interrelations are examined through a range of theatrical and non-theatrical genres and sites from the Australian parliament's coal theatrics to exemplary performances by Indigenous companies Bangarra Dance Theatre and Marrugeku. It sets the scene with a visit to the Curtain Tree in the rainforests of north Queensland, Australia, arguing that the vitality and display of its root system models a special kind of reciprocity between the performative elements of the environment and the environmental elements of theatre and performance. This is traced through recent short-run immersive works, Hanna Cormick's Mermaid (2020) and Melinda Hetzel and Company's Conservatory (2020), and a rereading of a canonical Australian drama, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.
Hosts of angels: Climate guardians and quiet activism
Denise Varney, “Hosts of angels: Climate guardians and quiet activism”, in Peter Eckersall and Helena Grehan (eds), The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics (Routledge, 2019).
The Australian Climate Guardians offer a fascinating example of new modes of political performance that draw on feminist ecopolitics, the bodily power of assembly and the techniques of site-specific activism. Appearing together in public dressed as angels in long white robes bedecked with large feathered wings, the Climate Guardians intervene in the politics of climate change in Western patriarchal capitalist economies. Understanding that both the left and right of politics have vested interests in industrialisation, the angel figures aim to transcend the everyday while remaining deeply invested in the world. Hence they gather in proximity to iconic symbols of the capitalist-industrial-carbon producing order, such as a regional coal station and a city stock exchange, in what we can understand as agonistic acts of protest. These acts render carbon producers as the hostile other while mobilising those who stand for the future of the planet. In their many appearances in public spaces, the Climate Guardians circumvent party politics while giving ‘agonistic form’ to the political debate about climate change.
Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene
Lara Stevens, Peta Tait and Denise Varney (eds), Feminist Ecologies Changing Environments in the Anthropocene (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).
This edited volume critically engages with ecofeminist scholarship. It tracks the ongoing dialogue between women’s issues and environmental change by republishing the work of pioneering scholars and activists in the field. Together with new essays by contemporary ecofeminist scholars, the book uncovers the dialectical relationship between environmental and feminist causes, the relational identities of feminists and ecofeminists, and the concept of ecofeminism as a rallying point for environmental feminism. The volume defines ecofeminism as a multidisciplinary project and will appeal to readers working within the field of Environmental Humanities.