On Saturday 12 January, an artist duo are staging a parade of waterfowl on Belfast’s Royal Avenue to highlight the urgent need for action on the climate crisis. A brace of ducks will waddle through the city guided by the artists.The duo who call themselves Utopia Ducks have been creating public art events that honour the natural environment and highlight climate injustice
“humans are the most destructive life force on the planet yet we believe we also possess within us the strength to make a positive change so that we and future generations can continue to thrive in peace and harmony. Utopia is here, it’s just ducking down behind exploitation and injustice” Utopia Ducks
Utopia Ducks are a collaboration of two female visual and performance artists, Rebecca Strain and Bernadette Hopkins based in Donegal. They are politically aware artists who engage in activism and bring their embodied knowledge as women to radically imagine and momentarily interrupt the everyday through performance art.
Utopia Ducks create utopian spaces outside the gallery space, engaging local communities and offering new possibilities.
‘Our physical location in Co. Donegal can be seen as rural, a land’s end and a periphery, while our lived experience is rooted in ‘think globally, act locally’
They work and live in impoverished communities who feel left behind by government and where employment is welcomed. Discussion such as damage to the natural environment by corporations, tends to conflict with the reality of poverty in everyday life. They research the experiential sense of place and ways in which communities can have governance in the place they live while preserving local culture and protecting their environments and food production. Utopia Ducks was conceived as a way to engage as artists embedded in communities, given the global condition of political, environmental and economic instability.
Call for the Wild was a sound piece created in Barnesyneilly, Co Donegal. It was created by the participants of a Utopia Ducks art event on the 14th October exploring the townlands in Donegal where Cyanide Gold Extraction mining prospecting licences have been issued. We walked into the mountains in search of the townland of Barnesyneilly and the creation of the sound art was a unrehearsed response to the beauty around us.
This event was planned to find the townland of Corracramph which was one of 32 Townlands where prospecting mining licences are to be granted. We set off with interested companions to Lough Eske on a walk up into the mountains. We met people along the way who were interested in why we were looking for Corracramph and had not heard about the licence notice. Many of those who came with us had local knowledge about the area and we also researched on route, mapping and through acouscenic listening. We also collected some sound photography and film. We found Corracramph and had a great day out while exploring. We will be doing some walks soon and will put the events on our facebook page.
We have been creating collaborative poetry using a Renku model. Renga or Renku or Haikai-no-renga, is the linked poem discipline developed by Basho. It is a cooperative poem of many stanzas. Poets, (2 or more) gather to create a spontaneous poem of alternating stanzas. A popular form of Renga is written in 36 stanzas known as kasen renku. The custom dates back to 13th century Japan.
We created our performances and events by first walking and researching the areas and using acouscencic listening and pyschogeography. Then we create the collaborative poetry based on our research. We were looking for an Irish version of Renku but found nothing that denotes the collaboration and the similar verse elements of Renku. Therefore we have created the name for our poems and have called it Dánchara. Dán is poem in Irish and Cara is broadly speaking the word for friend. Dánchara is therefore poetry created collaboratively, each person giving an alternating verse. It captures a sense of place, elements of nature and female energy.
A notice regarding the issuing of mining prospecting licences around the Donegal Town area, was posted in a local paper in June. There have been other licences granted in Donegal in Inishowen and a notice also around Churchill. It is difficult to get information or maps because the notice only appears for a short lengh of time. We saw this notice and thought we would go to Donegal Town and engage people about these places in the main public area in the town..’the diamond’
* photo by Bernadette Hopkins
We had lots of interest and local people came and chatted to us about these places and how they had not heard about the notice. One man told me he thought it was beautiful just to see his townland’s name written in a public space! These places are about people- they are not just names.
Back in 2007 in New York at the MoMA there was talk of a future.
The writer, activist, curator Lucy R Lippard took questions after the keynote address. There was mention of action for change; theory and practice moving forward hand in hand because without the backing of art writers and theorists the practicing artists stand alone unsupported to face of inevitable criticism that we expect and indeed thrive on in the pursuit of a fine tuned Fine Arts.
In other recordings of the symposium Anne M Wagner specifically identifies imagination as the crucial solution to a feminist future. Imagination creates images of something we don’t yet have the words for. It calls forth positive change through visual perception. Before change we need to be able to have a vision of the potential outcome to inspire us to innovate and transform.
For further information about the MoMA Symposium in 2007 (protected by licence) including audio an video documentation and a .pdf download of the brochure see MoMA The Feminist Future
Utopia Ducks presented a participatory performance which discusses the colonial history of Fort Dunree and the famine days in Inishowen in the contemporary context of climate change. The performance questioned the global spend on arms and the arms industry’s effect on sustainability and proposed a radical imagining of a world without war and starvation. We led a procession through the site as part of the event and afterwards cooked and eat utopian potatoes while evoking female energy.
Since summer 2017 Rebecca has been occupying a walled space at Fort Dunree. It has developed into a community garden growing organic fruit, vegetables and herbs. The space also sets out to nurture biodiversity and so wildflowers grow between the beds and bring bees and other pollinators to the garden. In March 2018 heritage potato varieties were set in beds prepared with seaweed harvested from the shore at the fort and which we harvested on the day of this event. After our performance, people gathered in the walled garden around a peace symbol we made from stones from the shore of the fort. It was a day that ended with music, poetry and people in conversation.
Female energy has great power. As grandmothers, mothers, daughters, grandaughters and sisters we can tap into that source knowing there is another way to live in the world.
While the level of global military expenditure is today higher than ever, at an estimated $1738 billions per annum, many states fail to increase their foreign development aid to the UN target of 0.7% of GDP, and to tackle effectively their economic and social development challenges. To counter these imbalances, the International Peace Bureau advocates general reductions in excessive military spending and a shift of resources to projects addressing human needs, both domestic and international.
Photo by Jess Buckley
PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The Charter reflects an explicit understanding of the link between arms and development. Article 26 recognizes the need to ensure the maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion of the world’s economic and human resources to arms. The last cold war arms race generated substantial global concern about the economic and social sustainability of the unchecked annual growth in military spending. United Nations studies have also shown that excessive military spending can negatively impact inclusive and sustainable growth and capital investment.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development took an important step towards articulating how arms control, peace and security contribute to development. Beyond addressing illicit arms flows, there remains a vast potential to operationally link the implementation of disarmament objectives with many other Sustainable Development Goals, in order to bring the historical relationship between disarmament and development back to the forefront of international consciousness.