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Irish creatives begin to tackle climate change in “How Do We Start?”

Words: Eva O’Beirne

Images: Bureau Bonzana

Ireland has one of the world’s most ambitious plans to tackle climate change with a commitment to cut its emissions of planet warming gasses to the atmosphere in half by the end of this decade. But how do we start to implement these radical policies?

“How Do We Start?”, a collaborative publication by Project Arts Centre seeks to encourage the creative community to realise the potential impacts they could have on the climate crisis. From communicating and illustrating ideas to using more sustainable materials, each artist we sat down with had a vision for how they could contribute to offsetting the worst impacts of climate change.

Image by Bureau Bonzana

Editor Maeve Stone sat down with District to explain not only how do we start to tackle these issues, but also why should we start now: “We know what’s happening with the climate crisis, we know what’s going to continue happening but we haven’t changed our behaviour. The publication deals with the themes of individual responsibility but it is also a starting point to recognise and appreciate the world around us.”

Maeve is a director and writer whose work responds to issues of climate breakdown. She is an “Associate Artivist” with Project Arts Centre, working through 2022 on two projects which reimagine the narrative around climate by building unexpected networks and connections.

When asked about the inspiration behind “How Do We Start?”, she reminisces on the relationship between humans and nature in the early days of the pandemic and how nature was an escape for many of us amongst extreme uncertainty: “Within the first couple of lockdowns, the comfort and resilience that nature offered people in their day to day is real, its a real strength. Its something I find really accessible. The better we get to know our community, the more we understand our impact on that area.”

Maeve also pointed to the relationship between the two emergencies that have dominated the news cycle for the past two years: the pandemic and the climate crisis, as a reason for pursuing the project.

When asked about the tone of the publication and how it relates to current narratives on climate change, Maeve asserts that ultimately “How Do We Start?” is hopeful and a point of inspiration rather than a battle-cry. “This publication was a gift, really to me, to be able to share joy and appreciation for nature and the world around us. Its an invitation to the simplicity of how we can begin to react to the climate crisis and reconnect with both ourselves and nature.”

Maeve described working on the publication as “pure joy” despite the logistical issues that came hand-in-hand from working remotely. “A lot of the time when it comes to sustainable projects like this, we’re working with people who’ve never worked like this before and we’re challenging them to change up their creative process. The design team for the publication went above and beyond to help us.”

Ireland was recently ranked ranked ‘among worst performers’ in 2021 climate rankings due to its failure to cut emissions. According to Maeve, one of the main ways we can combat our lack of action is by creating the conversation about how we can change our behaviours rather than setting a deadline. “We’re not exactly best in class,” explained Maeve. “We need to consider our day-to-day activities. There can be very divisive conversations about climate change but I wanted this publication to be a starting line for us to work from.”

“You don’t need to have done anything, said anything or know anything. You just have to be willing to step over the starting line to solve this issue.”

Breathe. Reconnect with your deep roots. Get in the sea. Breathe. Lie on the Limestone. Learn. Breathe.

How Do We Start?

The creative process

To understand the emotional weight of creating a publication that deals with such a heavy topic, we asked artist Kasia Kaminska what the emotional weight of the project was like: “I felt incredibly supported by Maeve and the whole team. In terms of what we were asked to do, it felt incredibly open. It was both daunting and thrilling to think of how do we start to combat such a large issue.”

Kasia is an Irish artist with Polish roots, based between Dublin and Kilkenny. Her love of nature and the outdoors are her direct inspirations behind her contribution to the publication. “I have this need to protect the environment around me. It can almost feel like a personal attack when people dismiss the importance of nature or green spaces,” she explained.

Kasia is of the belief that art inspired by the climate crisis will start to become more commonplace as we move further into the 2020s. “I think people need to realise its more than a science or technological issue. Its an issue that will affect all levels of society and permeate our art and culture. I think creatives have the power to imagine what an ideal world will look like, and that was some of my thinking when I was involved in this project.”

“The arts are the realm of imagination after all. We can communicate in a different way to engage with people who may have tuned out of the climate change conversation.”

Kasia also mentions the larger project, GILD, that “How Do We Start?” is a part of. GILD is an ongoing social art project that combines ecological art and gardening practices to connect people, plants and places. “It is completely open to both collaboration and participation by members of the public.”

All of the photographic work that features in the publication is made using environmentally friendly processes, using natural and non-toxic materials where possible. Using these materials causes slower work but it allowed the creatives to be in tune with the seasons, nature and the weather.

Image by Bureau Bonzana

Bureau Bonzana’s founding creative directors Rachel Copley McQuillan and Stina Sandström also identified with the freedom associated with the project. Bureau Bonzana, a Dublin-based design company, was gifted the Trojan task of bringing the publication to life.

“The trust from Project Arts Centre was very freeing and allowed us to use so many unique references like children’s stories and more,” explained Stina.

Rachel and Stina met in college as mature students and despite their different nationalities, they have a similar taste and style when it comes to their work. From one college project to a trip to Mexico, the pair have created a thriving business that creates editorial pieces, social media assets, billboards and more.

Rachel previously worked in Project Arts Centre, but the opportunity to design the new publication was still a “leap of faith” in terms of trust between the centre and Bureau Bonzana. From poetry to dictionary excerpts, the typography elements of the publication really allowed for the duo to use their skillset to the maximum.

“How Do We Start?” posed a creative challenge as they were given the artist’s works to build their designs around. “We were given these golden nuggets,” explained Stina. “We had to figure out how to marry our aesthetic to the words and material given to us.”

“The challenge was to create a theme, to make them synchronised with each other despite the pieces being so different,” continued Rachel.

But the project has also been a therapeutic release for the pair, as Rachel noted: “Working so hard, all year round, it was lovely to have a project like this, where we could do our own thing without being restricted.”

When asked how the publication has affected their perception of climate justice, both Rachel and Stina underline the power of dedicating time to thinking about the issue. “We channelled it through the lens of what we do. Having a client who was willing to pay the extra money and wait a small bit longer for the finished product so that the publication could be made sustainably – it is a game changer,” said Stina.

Bureau Bonzana used plant-based ink, sustainable paper and eco-friendly printing materials in order to make “How Do We Start?”. The multi-coloured covers of the publication not only represent individuality, but also indicate that no waste material was left over from the creative process.

Other artists involved in “How Do We Start?” include poets Shanna May Breen and Luke Casserly, environmental activist Katie Holten and designer Kaajal Modi.

The simplest solution for how we can all start responding to the climate emergency, is to return to our beautiful beginnings.

Project Arts Centre

So how do we start?

For the past ten years, Ireland has consistently missed the mark when it comes to achieving its goals for reducing emissions and becoming a greener, more sustainable country. The constant emphasis on personal responsibility can be draining – how can one person do so much?

But “How Do We Start?” does not put the pressure on any one person, it simply asks the question of how do we wake up as a collective, and realise how important the world is around us.

The starting line has been drawn. Now its time to take the first step.

Image by Bureau Bonzana

“How Do We Start?” is available to purchase from Project Arts Centre’s website for 15 euro (including postage) to Ireland or 18 euro for those abroad.

Click here for more information.

For more information on the GILD project, you can check out their website.

Elsewhere on District: 22 Questions for 2022: Life & Society