Annual Assembly: Our House is on Fire (2019)

What practical measures will art and art institutions take to care for our planetary commons with the power of imagination?

The urgent assertion that “our house is on fire” (1) inspired children and youth from all over the world to go on strike and advocate for “climate justice.” Yet this assertion meets some complication. Many of us don’t know how to enact such a thing. There is a lack of a “we” that can address the issue, which might make it impossible to realise change. Meanwhile, behind the language of “crisis,” “urgency,” and “emergency” are corporations who opportunistically seek out new markets, pushing for technological innovation as an all-encompassing solution.

Let’s be clear about it: the climate crisis is part of the same logic that feminists and anti-colonial scholars have long since understood as “CPC” – colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism – a system thriving on the exploitation of labor, inequality, and precarity of life. Indigenous communities and farmers around the world, whose lands have been and continue to be stolen and destroyed, have struggled with the crisis for centuries. Meanwhile, the climate crisis unfolds on the planet where all of us, human and non-human, are living. We are all implicated in the end. But it’s those who contribute to the climate crisis the least who feel the disaster most acutely, while it’s those who come from industrialized nations, contributing the most to the crisis, who are less affected. Faced with this situation, the important question is, how can we act as individuals and as collectives, as artists and as art institutions? 

The Climate Justice Code is drafted by the editorial committee alongside the steering committee of the second Assembly for commoning art institutions, Our House is on Fire, at Casco (25 – 26 October 2019). It is further developed by all the participants of the Assembly, with the intention that it is adopted by art institutions and artists in the Netherlands and beyond. The Code is a tool for responding to the climate crisis, and aligns itself with the climate justice movement, which stands for system change, not climate change.

The Code invites those with the power of art and imagination to reconcile the way in which we as artists and art institutions practice our politics within daily life. At the same time, it considers other codes already implemented in the Netherlands – such as the Fair Practice Code, the Cultural Diversity Code, and the Cultural Governance Code – that are closely interconnected, and that were developed to leverage local and national governmental cultural policy.

The Code takes the notion of the commons as a frame through which to present the problem of climate crisis, and as a viable alternative system and practice. The commons, defined simply as shared resources managed by a self-organizing community, are conditioned by the ethics of caring and sharing sustainability. 

If public art institutions extend their sense of responsibility to the community in which they are embedded, we may extend this responsibility back towards them for a common good and consider art institutions as “anchor institutions.” This means that we acknowledge the art institution’s role within the community (socially and geographically) and in so doing, call for a recalibration of their public and peer responsibility to include or envelop the values of climate justice. 

All things that pertain to system change hurt. As individual practitioners and active members of institutions, we embrace this painful process towards climate justice.

Art institutions that adhere to the Code / guideline are committed to:

  • Prefigurative politics, practicing the politics of climate justice throughout the institution’s infrastructure (incl. supply chain), rather than simply speaking of or (re)presenting these politics. 
  • Acknowledging the Climate Justice Code as an elaboration on the role of the art institution.
  • Agenda setting, shining light on struggles, practices and rituals destroyed in imperialist expansion as a way to inform another way forward, and to pay tribute to ways of life and knowing that have been lost or diminished.
  • Taking an intersectional approach to climate crisis. 
  • All the practical measures + the agenda setting + walking the walk. 
  • Committing to alternatives to capitalism (see the definition of the commons as an example).
  • Challenging heteronormativity and toxic masculinity.

Find the booklet including full colophon and program here.

(1) The title Our House is on Fire is taken from a speech by Greta Thunberg at the Davos Economic Forum. We recognize Thunberg’s efforts in the climate justice movement, yet also want to stress that we do not assign sole leadership to the movement, instead we believe in, and support collaborative forces and movements in constellations.

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