“As circus artists, we make the seemingly impossible possible, challenging the limits of our bodies and minds. Right now, we as a society need to do exactly that - overcome seemingly impossible challenges, and dare to dream and envision what our shared sustainable future can look like. ”
The following conversation takes place between ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD and EMMA S. LANGMOEN, circus artists, co-creators and performers of Acting for Climate, a professional contemporary circus and performing arts company from Norway founded in 2014 inspiring action for a sustainable future through cross-disciplinary works with artists and activists.
Somewhere in the Latvian countryside
ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD My whole artistic life I have had an urge to find ways to express issues related to climate change and sustainability through art. I am working mostly site-specific out in nature or in unconventional spaces as tall ships. I'm interested in finding ways of portraying and provoking the value shift that is necessary to meet the challenges we are facing today, and in general making the performing art sector more sustainable.
I've grown up working as an artist in Norway's oldest street theater, Stella Polaris, worked as an acrobat and dancer in FRIKAR dance company, and I'm the co-founder of Acting for Climate. I've been one of the key driving forces behind our company and our projects the past 10 years. I've performed since I was 9 all over Europe, worked with acrobats and dancers in Kenya and Tanzania, co-created and toured Northern Europe twice with performances onboard 100-year old wooden sail ships, and toured a forest performance by bike. I'm currently planning a world sailing tour, and I never stop dreaming.
EMMA S. LANGMOEN
I am a 25 y/o Norwegian contemporary circus artist, but first and foremost a fellow human being on this planet. Working with Acting for Climate gives me the possibility to combine my background in environmental activism and politics with my profession as an artist.
I have directed and performed two different performances with symphony orchestras and contemporary circus, co-created and toured Northern Europe twice with performances onboard 100-year old wooden sail ships, toured a forest performance by bike, taught circus since I was 13, published poetry, worked as a political advisor for a Norwegian MP, and I am currently directing a movie and becoming a comic book character. I dropped out of highschool to run away with the circus, and it has given me a life full of surprises and possibilities.
What are 3 values that you wish to mediate through your work?
ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD
Equality (between species, humans, cultures)
Engagement on sustainability
Passion - base my work on what I’m passionate about and strive to encourage others to do the same.
EMMA S. LANGMOEN
And empowering people and myself in the fact that our actions actually matter
What are 3 relevant problems that you wish to solve through your work?
ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD
My drive to inspire people to take action on the climate and biodiversity crisis comes from a wish to solve the inaction, numbness, ignorance or paralyzation we as individuals are faced with when confronted with these big challenges.
I am interested in working towards a thriving culture where we all understand that we matter - and that what we do matters. I believe that systems can change in the favor of equity, equality, kinship and connection.
The challenge of polarization which enables us to see ourselves as ‘separate from’ instead of ‘a part of’. For me, this includes separation through politics, traditions, worldviews and cultures, as well as our spiritual belief systems.
EMMA S. LANGMOEN
Similar to Abigael, my main drive comes from big concerns rooted in the climate crisis, and from choosing not to accept the dystopian realities we are facing.
In our society, we very seldomly challenge the futures we are projecting. If we were to project 2 or (5!) degrees of global warming, this is what we will get accustomed to, thereby making it a reality. Instead, I am interested in exploring other realities, projecting sustainable futures, and seeing how we can implement that in what we do today - both through our performances and in how we work as Acting for Climate.
I would like to challenge the standards of success in my culture; transitioning from a worldview where success comes at someone else's expense, human or non-human, to a new norm that embraces being regenerative and sustainable essentially.
"Ripples took place on a 100 year old wooden sailing ship, and reached almost 10 000 people in Northern Europe during the 2-month sailing tour in the summer of 2022, directed by Hanne Trap Friis. The engineless sailing ship functioned as the stage of the show, the mode of transport and the home for the crew and artistic team.”
VOYAGE INTO THE FUTURE
Why do you think it is important to birth an artistic culture for sustainability?
EMMA S. LANGMOEN Through our collaborations with climate scientists, we have been introduced to the work of scientist Donella Meadows. Meadows defined leverage points for system change, describing what has the biggest impact to change the world. On one end, we have political changes, such as taxes, that have ‘small impact’ but are easy to execute. On the other end, with the biggest impact, we have the power to transcend paradigms and change the very values our society is built upon. This is exactly where art is. Art affects people in a different way than pure science and facts do. As performers, we lend our bodies to the audience, so that they can meet the world from another point of view; or altogether experience a different world. It can be a world of care, or a world of chaos, an interaction of exploitation or of reciprocity. When we are performing, the audience gives us the trust to be part of their dreams, emotions and imagination for a moment, and this is a gift to treat with care. With it comes responsibility; a responsibility to consciously choose what worlds we project, and what narratives and values we give room for.
ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD As circus artists, we make the seemingly impossible possible, challenging the limits of our bodies and minds. Right now, we as a society need to do exactly that - overcome seemingly impossible challenges, and dare to dream and envision what our shared sustainable future can look like. To add on to what Emma is saying, artists have a proud history of being in the forefront of political change, challenging the status quo. History shows that big societal changes often start with certain groups of people deciding to break out and live upon the values they want their futures to be built on. What we need right now is people who are ready to take a naive leap - and to jump into an unknown future where we change and challenge our core values. We want to encourage people and ourselves to be brave, and to dare trying new ways of being in the world. It takes courage to change and to walk into the unknown. Action triggers action - by showing that there are alternative ways, we also inspire ripple effects of action.
MOURNING RITUAL FOR THE PAST
How can ecological grief set free the road to a more sustainable future? ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD Working on Ripples, it became clear to us that grief is strongly connected to love. Being aware of this gave us a new entry point to how we could work towards a more sustainable future - by acknowledging our ecological grief. This gives me hope and motivation to anchor my work and actions in love for the world. We are challenged to take action towards preserving, protecting and listening to the things we love. We need to give space to feel, and time to digest the grief and anxiety that we have over the things that are already disappearing, going extinct, or the tipping points that we are already passing. I think that being able to connect to the feelings related to the climate and biodiversity crisis requires a lot of self empathy. EMMA S. LANGMOEN We live in a world of climate crisis and mass extinction, and it is natural to have a reaction to that. I have come to realize that eco grief is always present in me on some level. For me, it is like having a close friend or relative terminally ill - it always lingers in the back of my head. There are still not that many public spaces in our culture where showing emotions are commonly accepted, but art is one. You can cry and laugh, and no one will question you. With Ripples, we wanted to create a space where people could access some of these emotions, and experience them in a shared moment with other people. I think there is a lot of empowerment and strength in knowing that one is not alone in this.
QUESTION THE PRESENT
Art tends to express and question, whereas activism seeks to transform and support. Where does the foundation of the questions lay when the identity of artist and activist overlaps? ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD How can we go from a culture of extraction to a culture of reciprocity? For us, being an artist and an activist is entangled in their nature and share the same foundation. Our activism is acted out through how we create, perform and tour our art, which seeks to create new radical ways of relating to the world. Today, we have a tendency to see humans as a destructive force, needing to be separated from the beauty of nature. We seek to challenge this view by rediscovering how we can be a regenerative part of the ecosystems, and live in reciprocity and kinship with our fellow species. EMMA S. LANGMOEN What steps do you take for a sustainable future, and are they enough? Currently, the climate and biodiversity crisis is vastly more important to me than being afraid of people potentially thinking that our work is too political. I found a lot more artistic freedom when I stopped being concerned about that. The foundation of the questions I raise and research lay in my experiences as a human in this world. I just happen to be a human that is both an activist and an artist, and to be living in a time and place that I think would need quite some questioning.
“BARK is a contemporary circus performance, for a forest, an audience and five performers. Played site-specifically in and with local forests, BARK is exploring our interconnection as part of nature. The performance combines a physical expression of group acrobatics, vertical dance, dance and physical theater with contemporary soundscapes and poetic text, all performed up in, between, with and around the trees and the audience.”
What does connectivity mean to you and how do you experience it through performance art? ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD Performing art is an art of the present. The performance becomes alive through the interaction and connectivity between viewer and performer. That specific moment will never occur again, and there is magic in that. In BARK, we include the forest and its inhabitants. We are all connected all the time; to each other, to nature and our fellow species. Part of BARK is just to recognize and activate that connection, and to invite the audience into the process by opening their senses to the beauty surrounding them. As nature expresses: “Just give me a few thousand years - the last word will be mine” EMMA S. LANGMOEN Connectivity to me is also ‘how’ we are sensing the world. We seldom access the world with all our senses: How do you touch the world? And how does the world touch you? I am a part of an intricate web of interactions, objects, atoms, intentions. My relationships with friends and family can support me when I need it, and I can support them when they need it - they are part of my safetynet. In the same way, I see my relations and connections on a bigger scale, to plants, animals and other living beings. Connectivity to me is therefore also nurturing this connection; recognising that the more-than-human beings are part of my safetynet, and I am part of theirs. This is a connection I can draw strength and resources from when I need it. And likewise, I can and should give back when I have the capacity for it.
What is the connecting element of this performance that feeds the interaction of the five performers with their audience? ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD When we enter the forest with an open mind to unexpected elements, it unlocks its beauty, and we can discover the excitement of what is there. During the process of creating BARK, we experimented with different and more balanced ways to interact with nature. How can we move in the forest? What kind of footprints do we leave? Can we embody a less anthropocentric way of appearing? When we invite our audience to our performances we hope to give them a small taste of some of these experiences we have had. We are curious and nervous to share these connections. EMMA S. LANGMOEN There are two more things I would like to add. Firstly, the fact that we built the performance concepts on the book “You Matter More Than You Think”, through collaboration with the author, climate scientist Karen O’Brien. For me, that is an important connecting element. Secondly, BARK is a walking performance. It is quite intimate, and the scenes and actions play out over, between and around the audience. We do group acrobatics and highflying vertical dance under the tree crowns, but the real circus trick is in the interaction between the human audience and other connecting species; and how this can permanently change people’s relationships with their local forests.
How do you grow your perspective through taking this performance to new locations each time? ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD It's an honor to meet new forests and ecosystems in each new location. Each forest has its local treasures, where we cast trees. We get to know them like you are getting to know a new friend. It takes courage and time to trust that the tree will hold our weight, whether 2 or 20 meters above the ground, and to know their strong or weak parts. Our new relationship can then express itselves in a beautiful dance of entanglement, where we learn from our older family members, the trees, how to act and interact. Together, we seek to find the meeting points between our bodies and the forest, and between the audience's senses. EMMA S. LANGMOEN In every forest, we adapt the performance to the forest. We have created a dramaturgical structure that we aim for when possible , however we add scenes along the way, to reflect the characteristics and strengths of each forest, adding a sense of playfulness with the surroundings. Each new forest brings us a new premiere. This process constantly teaches me the importance of remembering to adapt my patterns to nature, versus expecting nature to always adapt to me.
“Currents is a 3 years-long worldwide sailing tour combining art and environmental action. With a main team of 5 traveling artists onboard our sailboat, we stop in harbors around the world where we team up with local artists, environmentalists, activists and scientists. Together, we make a site specific performance on the theme of symbiosis, highlighting the reciprocity between species, and how we as humans can play a regenerative role in our surrounding ecosystems.”
How do you navigate through various disciplines, such as science, poetry, environmentalism and activism?
The following is an open-context dialogue between the performers EMMA S. LANGMOEN Well, learning by doing! We try something out, experiment, analyze the result, adapt, try again. We work a lot with shared leadership to challenge each other and ourselves by giving each other tasks within the creative team. We try to use the collective brain and connect - body and mind - to explore the combinations of disciplines and different entry points. I believe the future is for those who dare to fail, and I am practicing acting what I preach. As with anything else, creating climate art or interdisciplinary work, or learning to fail, is a practice. Practice comes from trying things out, even if you do not master the skill yet. The important thing is just to create the spaces for experimentation.
ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD To add to that, we have facilitated an artist workshop over the past 9 years. We have had the possibility to explore and develop methods for how to co-create these spaces by mapping out what we are passionate about when it comes to environmentalism and our artistic medium. We find our personal entry points: In what ways do you enjoy expressing yourself? What topics are concerning you the most at the moment? Then we dive into those topics and research the science within. Our creative process often starts with a research of the themes we have decided to base the project on. Through discussions, reflections and collaborations with scientists we dig deeper into the themes, while already trying out interpretations in space with our bodies.
EMMA S. LANGMOEN I think an important part of our work is just giving space and a feeling of safety for people to enter a process with all the different skills and ideas they have. It creates a lot of new possibilities when we allow each other not to be experts on one topic. Like Abigael, as a circus artist sharing knowledge from the book they are currently reading, or a dancer co-creating text for a show. Some really interesting things happen when we unbox the people in a project. I really enjoy when we invite the climate scientists we work with to also give artistic feedback, as they can access the work from a completely different point of view. Navigating interdisciplinarity is about challenging ourselves and each other to take on different hats and see where that takes the process. ABIGAEL R. WINSVOLD Sometimes the process is more confusing because we contribute more than our “schooled” knowledge or our professional title. It's a rehearsal - we need to train and experience that skill of having the possibility and feeling the responsibility.
EMMA S. LANGMOEN I agree, and I think it can also be challenging to blur the line between personal and professional work. We often live together when we work on the spot, even very closely, as when we are touring by sail ship, and we know each other both as colleagues and friends. I think part of the challenge is figuring out how much we can intertwine the different spheres of our lives. At the same time, one of the privileges we have when working in Acting for Climate is the possibility to access ourselves as whole human beings. We actually have the possibility to combine who we are, what we believe in, and our values with our work, and the power of the collective to do it together. And I also think that is why the work is so meaningful to us.
This interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.
Written and Edited by Julia Horvath
Image Courtesy of Acting for Climate