Is the ocean the final platform for the conversation on climate change? Meet the creative collectives who carry their message to the seas

That first evening, after the call to prayer, the inhabitants of Koja Doi gathered on the quay. Young people perform a welcome dance in traditional bright orange costume. When they’re done, it’s Arka Kinari’s turn. The bridge turns into several stages. Nova kicks off, playing the goddess of the Southern Ocean, her ethereal song of Javanese poetry continuing into the night. Gray joins in the percussion, his face draped in sequined fabric. They stand out on the sail, now serving as a projection screen, displaying cinematographic images that imagine a future after the rising seas. The crew play the survivors, here to sound the alarm bells in the event of an ecological disaster and invite the public to join them in a new future.

“We’re nothing new,” Gray says, when I attend a presentation he gives about the project aboard a barge on Newton Creek in Brooklyn, New York two years later in 2021. He has shining green eyes and a golden tooth, the wrinkles on his face are those of a man who has spent many months at sea. Occasional planes above his head muffle his voice. “Over time, messages have passed from people arriving on ships, sharing stories through music, shadows and light. We are the 21st century version [of this]. “

Gray refers to water as “the last great common” [ground] and a place where “artists can dance around the rules of the world”. Indeed, Arka Kinari isn’t the only creative collective taking to the ocean to spread a message about the climate crisis, and for many of these groups – call them “floating artivists” if you will – the sea offers freedom. to which Gray refers. Artist Caledonia ‘Callie’ Curry, for example – whose work appears as ‘Swoon’ – crashed the Venice Biennale uninvited in 2009, floating on the lagoon on a fleet of rafts made from waste with a crew of mad collaborators. They had traveled, at random, from Slovenia, making short jaunts until they reached the Adriatic Sea, skirting the shore before heading for Italy’s protected inland canals. “Swimming Cities of Serenissima,” as the project was called, functioned as a stage, sculpture and social intervention, foreshadowing some of the collectives that are emerging today.

Elsewhere, the Scandinavian group Acting for Climate aims to “inspire the public to act for a more sustainable future”, so it made sense that they organized and shot their first show in 2019 aboard Hawila, a two-person wooden sailboat. 1930s. Co-founder and circus artist Abigael Winsvold has been sailing since childhood and grew up in Melsomvik, a Norwegian seaside village, but she had never been on a ship this size. “It’s huge,” she tells me delighted, speaking of Copenhagen, where she has just moved into her own boat. “You need so many people for each maneuver. It’s so much about collaboration and coordination.

The boat is fitted with an alternator shaft, built by Captain Samuel Faucherre (who has a doctorate in arctic permafrost) to generate electricity from the wind. Committed to sustainable travel, the crew decides to turn off all engines when the wind drops rather than rely on gasoline. They sailed manually and took turns pumping the water from the old holed hull by hand. “It was really back to basics,” says Abigael. “Just being there on the sea, together as a group, was my highlight.”

The Hawila has crisscrossed the Kattegat, the waterway between Sweden and Denmark, organizing mini-festivals in each port. Artist and activist Emma Langmoen remembers her mooring opposite the Oslo Opera House. “This ship of people with torn clothes has arrived in the middle of town,” she said. “We had to pull our mattresses out onto the dock to dry them in a place where people walk around in costume; it showed an alternative way of life, that’s for sure. ”

The show, “Into the Water” uses the boat as an interactive stage – a “playground” in Abigael’s words – with aerial acrobatics through the rig, balancing acts on the bowsprit and artists jumping in and out of the sea, moving from chaos to hope. It culminates in an immersive ritual with the public. “People are physically passing water from hand to hand through a huge crowd,” says Emma. “They laugh, cry, really connect to each other and to the water.”

The group’s next show, “Ripples”, is currently in development and will tour the Baltic Sea in 2022. It explores “ecological mourning,” something Abigael and Emma say their whole group of young performers lived. “There is so much dystopia,” says Abigael. “It’s really hard to work on something if it’s all about what we can’t do. We are focused on what we can do. What do we want the world to look like? “