The inaugural Social Impact Arts Prize invites artists to think about how they can use creativity to engage with social challenges, and there is no argument that human-induced climate change is the single most important challenge we face.
Although it is denied by many politicians and ignored by far too many individuals, climate change is already affecting every person, plant and animal on the planet, and will continue to do so in devastating ways – unless humanity changes.
Artists are often seen as the first line of response in times of global emergency – and free from many of society’s constraints – artists are able to communicate in a liberated way, what it feels like to face a problem with the magnitude of climate change.
As desertification is threatening already parched cities and towns – which we are already witnessing in the 5-year long drought in the Karoo – followed by shortages of food and water, a rising frequency of natural disasters, compounded by the rise of species extinction and the potential of real economic collapse, all subjects are under urgent consideration.
One artist who has long taken the narrative of the environment and the need to realise the interconnectivity between nature, the delicate ecology and the future of the planet, is Olafur Eliasson.
The Danish-Icelandic artist – appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change in September 2019 – fuses nature and technology in his artworks. From creating a glowing sun in Tate Modern’s turbine hall to a clock consisting of melting blocks of an iceberg or a man-made rainbow, all generate emotional responses that prompt in the viewer a deeper engagement with society and the environment.
For his recent show ‘In Real Life’ at Tate Modern in London, anyone who brought in an old t-shirt, received a discount on a new exhibition t-shirt, highlighting his concern for the 300,000 tonnes of clothing that go to landfill in the UK every year.
But it is his affordable, solar-light based social business ‘Little Sun’ that highlights how, as a creative problem-solver, his work directly impacts on the way ordinary people live. With an understanding that banishing darkness creates safety, possibility and opportunity, he uses sustainable energy for people living without the privilege of electricity.
The project has been such a success – based on a business model where those most in need pay the least for the lighting device at a locally affordable price, subsidised by those who can afford to pay the full price. Eliasson is now developing a solar-powered phone charger.
“Civic society holds the answers, and art can act as a great communicator within it. I think we see a trend for how to translate our climate knowledge into climate actions,” says Eliasson.
The creative mind of this artist has imagined and developed an affordable solution to a social issue, taking an alternative route to create an artwork, as his direct action against climate change.
Now, the Social Impact Arts Prize offers artists, architects and scientists, gardeners and landscapers, environmentalists, poets, sound artists and musicians, stargazers and all other creative visionaries to submit their own powerful ideas to engage with social challenges within the Graaff-Reinet community and surrounds.
The submissions close on 15 December 2019. Go to socialimpactartsprize.org for further information.