On Thursday 14 November, composer, pianist, ClimateKeys founder and Extinction Rebellion (XR) arts activist Lola Perrin will be hosting an evening of conversation about the current issues we are facing with our climate today. Lola will convene a People’s Assembly with the audience for a fully engaged event in which we will discuss our ideas on climate change as a community; everyone’s voice will count. Bow Arts’ Saphia Venner caught up with Lola to find out her views, to learn how her interests in music and climate change first came together and to see what exciting things she has planned for us on the 14th.
Founded by Lola Perrin in 2017, ClimateKeys is an initiative that combines live music with guest speaker talks and audience dialogue on action for climate change. Lola believes that her role as a composer is to “put the conversation that I feel is missing into my concerts”. She always creates work from specific sources, drawing on writings on climate change and allowing these to trigger a series of musical pieces. Working with one of these writers George Marshall – a British environmental campaigner, communications specialist, writer and founder of Climate Outreach – Lola created the structure of her piano suite ‘Significantus’ – an amalgamation of the words ‘significant’ and ‘cantus’, the idea that every single action we do is significant,
“Our actions weren’t significant for 500 years, philosophers have been telling us we’re insignificant, well that’s changed in the last 10 years, we are deeply significant, and cantus is the idea of speaking, of sharing, so ‘Significantus’”
‘Significantus’ has a 40 minute silence in the middle of the suite, filled with a 15 minute talk from an invited speaker, followed by an audience conversation. The speaker has no visuals for their presentation,
“let that expert speak to the heart of the people in the audience, we don’t need any graphs we don’t need anything that makes people’s eyes glaze over”.
Lola was very clear that these ‘conversations’ should not be mistaken for Q&As; the audience would ask the expert a question, and the expert would say ‘who in the audience wants to answer that?’, giving the audience a sense of agency.
After touring her piano suite, partnering with a variety of speakers, Lola found that venues worldwide were inviting her to stage the work. There was a thirst for climate issues, and this spurred on the ClimateKeys initiative. Each concert follows the same structure but with changing music. To date, ClimateKeys has held over 70 concerts in 13 countries and, with a strict no-fly policy, all the performances invite local musicians to collaborate with local speakers. More recently, and since the XR movement (of which Lola is a member), she has been growing ClimateKeys; looking for innovative new ways to structure concerts, and eventually deciding to turn the ‘audience conversation’ into a People’s Assembly.
With years of experience facilitating group discussions and similar events, Lola describes a People’s Assembly as,
“a beautiful way, not only to communicate on a deep level, but also to practice this other thing called a citizen’s assembly which we [XR] want to bring in.”
A People’s Assembly is a way of formatting a discussion between large groups of people; there is no ‘expert’ and everyone works together to come up with solutions. After an introduction everyone is presented with a question, for example ‘what does radical change look like?’. You are then split into small groups, each with a democratically elected ‘note taker’ and ‘facilitator’ to keep the conversation on course, discussing ideas before choosing your strongest point which is then fed back to the whole community for debate.
Though it might sound slightly daunting, the aim of a People’s Assembly is simply to get people talking about current issues, so even if everyone starts by discussing why they find the question difficult to answer, this in turn will stimulate a wider debate,
“What happens is this immense common sense comes forward, and you begin to realise, you might not have expertise but you actually have common sense, and that common sense can drive forward a better society. It might not be the experts; it might just be a level of clearer thinking once you have the facts.”
Despite the fact that organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have existed internationally for over 40 years, climate change was barely referenced in our everyday lives until very recently,
“the thing that was bothering me the most was the silence… people were not talking about climate change, in the bank, in the shopping mall, in the street, in the newspaper, on the radio; nobody was talking about climate change, I just couldn’t believe it”.
The majority of the original XR members were already affiliated with existing climate change organisations, so the networks and ideas already existed, yet progress had been slow and the movement didn’t seem to be gaining much momentum. According to Lola, what XR did differently is that they brought to light the idea of “civil disobedience”, redefining our definitions of social activism and protests. The XR campaign is built around us as a society admitting our failures, rather than blaming one company or individual for something that we should all be held accountable for. Lola refers to this as a “new level of democracy”, in which everyday people have an effect on the politics of our country.
One of the key reasons why so many people, particularly young people and those new to campaigning, have been drawn to the XR campaign is because of their “let’s have some fun” approach, as Lola herself puts it. Global warming is a serious issue and its urgency should not be diminished, but by bringing an element of ‘fun’ into the mix and enabling people to protest creatively through music, dance or even yoga, XR are encouraging a positive “social energy” which is infectious in drumming up support. Lola believes that being an XR member is about “feeling as though you are part of something”, and “connecting with a community”. These aims are much easier to achieve with a campaign that focusses on people’s humanity, with the aim of “getting the experts out of their offices and speaking to us as humans”.
Don’t miss Lola’s People’s Assembly at the Nunnery Gallery. Book tickets here
With the 2019 Bow Open Show now in full swing, we have even more great events running alongside the exhibition, which continue to respond to ‘our current political moment’, exploring the idea of ‘art as protest’, and looking at the wider role that artists play within our society.