The dual nature of Rachel Holmes

In a commission for Atmos, Wade Schaul photographs the eclecticism and courage of the firefighter-cum-Flamenco dancer

Photograph of Rachel dance atop of an overlook near her home in New Haven, CT. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

The video footage of drivers slowly and cautiously edging through the burning hillsides of California will forever remain in my memory. Appearing like something from the apocalypse – or what I imagine it might look like – the scorching, hellish landscapes were transformed by way of the August Complex in 2020, the single largest wildfire in California history. 

This wasn’t even the beginning or end of it, with wildfires continuing to tear through our planet’s forests and environments. Just a few days ago, Arizona was marked as the next victim with fires engulfing more than 24,000 acres; Athens recently evacuated local residents due to threatening flames; south and east Asia have reported numerous outbreaks; while California endures another blaze, the Dixie Fire, its second largest to date. Wildfires are not only becoming more frequent, they’re also increasingly angrier and more widespread. In the past few weeks, for example, more than 100 people have been killed with thousands left homeless. Urgency is needed. A UN report blames human activity for the rise in wildfires, stating the warming climate as a key protagonist in it all. So what can be done, and how can we – the culprits – make our amends?

Traditional flamenco shoes of Rachel’s. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

In a recent story for Atmos, photographer Wade Schaul was invited by site editor Daphne Chouliaraki Milner to document the work of Rachel Holmes, a firefighter-cum-Flamenco dancer who’s spent 10 years working with the Connecticut Interstate Fire Crew. Originally from New Jersey, Rachel is on frontline amongst the woodlands, combatting the vicious flames in the area. Wade, who’s based in New York, travelled to Connecticut to lens the day-to-day life of Rachel and to illustrate her personality – alongside her goals and ethos. The project fit with Wade’s own artistic mission as a photographer entirely: “As a photographer, I’m always trying to make something that’s visually interesting and authentic in relation to the subject,” he tells me. “The interaction between the subject and myself also plays a large role in shaping the photos.” 

Portrait of Rachel at fire station. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

When photographing someone, Wade thoroughly enjoys learning about the subject’s life, stories, opinions and ideas, “I think this shapes the work tremendously”. So when it came to photographing Rachel specifically, not only did he want an accurate representation of her character, he also wanted to capture the critical subject matter at hand – a “well-rounded look at who Rachel Holmes is and finding a way to document the dynamic levels within her work and of Rachel as a person,” he notes. Proceeding to meet with Rachel and her publicist, Ann, the team worked together to align their own visions and to produce the “most impactful” images in a day. With six week’s planning time, Wade felt he was able to build an “intentional” plan that would enable the story to thrive. 

Rachel and her dog Banjo. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Flamenco figurine inside Rachel’s home. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

This becomes evident through Wade’s sensitive imagery, where movements of Rachel’s Flamenco dance interests are paired with the more serious undertones of her firefighting job. It’s not often that you hear of a firefighting-dancer, but as seen through this portrait of Rachel, it works. A photo depicting a flamenco dancer figurine reminds us of this duality, featuring Rachel’s “electric” nature and decor choices in the home. “Once we had Rachel’s living room and dining area lit the way we wanted, I quickly knew this might end up as one of my favourite photos of the day,” Wade says. “Rachel’s home is so unique, which makes so much sense when you learn more about her and her story.” In another, Wade has snapped a candid moment between Rachel and her dog, Banjo. The four-legged companion is caught mid-jump, reaching the ball in Rachel’s hand. Both are smiling. “Throughout the day, one of the things that I was most attuned to was the relationship between the two,” he explains. “The work Rachel does is very serious and often dangerous. I think having that playful, loving connection with Banjo is a bit of reprieve from the serious nature of her work.”

The project is a subtle nod to the old (and a little cheesy) saying, ‘not all heroes wear capes’. Amidst us all, from teachers to writers, artists to builders, there are people out there doing good, risking their lives for the people and the planet. “I think a key takeaway from the story is how cool and inspiring it is to be 100% true to you” concludes Wade. “Rachel gives you her full authentic self at all times. I’m hopeful that there’s a sense of dynamism as a through line between Rachel’s persona and the photos. Rachel has so much energy and passion for everything she’s involved in, so it felt right to try and deliver photos that were intense and warm. Hopefully I did her justice in that regard.”

One of Rachel’s flamenco dresses in her living room. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Decommissioned fire truck. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Work truck door graphic at station. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Rachel sitting in truck amidst conversation with coworkers. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Rachel’s essential gear. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Left to right: Steve Gromala, Rich Schenk, Rachel Holmes, Anthony Flamio. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Sign out front of fire station. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul 

Rachel dancing atop overlook. Commissioned by Atmos @ Wade Schaul  

The Golden City

Mimi Plumb’s new book documents a world grappling with climate change, war and poverty

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

There are countless reasons why someone might refer to San Francisco as The Golden city – the consuming, orange sunsets; the constant rolling fog that heats up the air between the buildings; or its involvement in the California Gold Rush. But even before it was nicknamed The Golden City, San Francisco wasn’t even called San Fransisco. It was only in 1847 that it was given its title, just a year before the Gold Rush which sparked a surge in the population. Then, in 1906, California experienced what’s deemed the worst earthquake of all time, shaking miles upon miles with impact reaching the Bay area. In fact, it’s noted that some remember it as the fire that ripped through the city, giving it a misleading title of San Fransisco Earthquake. San Francisco has an interesting past – its history still looms and is felt in the hills, landscapes and even the people.

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

Mimi Plumb, is an American photographer currently based in Berkley, California, beholds distinctive memories of the area of San Fransisco. So much so that she’s now compiled these past thoughts and snapshots into a book, aptly named The Golden City and published by Stanley / Barker. Mimi grew up on the edges of the city, where the rents were cheap and humdrum of city life was more diluted and dispersed. “San Francisco, known as The Golden City, truly is a golden city,” Mimi tells me. “But, as with most cities, it has an underbelly, which is where I lived and what I photographed in the 1980s.” The city during this time was rife in radical activism, with inhabitants taking to the streets in opposition of gentrification and the policies coming from the White House. It was a tumultuous time for politics and society, which caused sharp contrasts to those living in a gentrified, inner-city world and those on the fringe. Protests and anarchism subsequently forged and the arrival of a more underground, DIY culture, music and art stared to grow. But it wasn’t without its downside. 

“I was an art student working at a minimum wage job,” explains Mimi of the time. “I lived on the edge of the city where the rents were cheap. I photographed the environment around me, often taking daily walks in my neighbourhood of Bernal Heights; Dog Patch, along the bay; and the Mission District.” In one part of the neighbourhood named Warm Water Cove, located on the bay, Mimi observed captured a pile of tires and abandoned cars. In another spot, she climbed the chimney of a power station that was positioned above the 25th Street Pier – she’d sit and watch the planes swooshing above. Mimi is an observer and this becomes explicitly clear in her photography, that which steers from bleak landscape shots to the more intimate, candid portrait. All of which is shot in signature black and white and features a distinctive luminous tone – an ominous hue that probably couldn’t be captured anywhere else apart from The Golden City. “I actually began this project in the early 1980s using colour film,” says Mimi, “but the blue skies didn’t convey the edgy content of the work.”

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

To accurately (and artfully) tell her stories, Mimi has divided the book into sequences. The first half features notes from The Golden City itself, “predominantly of landscapes in and around the city,” she says. The work in this part is particularly distinguished as she documents the link between “wealth and power to climate change and poverty” – that which is pictured through angular cliff edges framing the city, almost like a colony of concrete ants in the distance; or busy streets peppered with suited city dwellers juxtaposed with the stark, deteriorating landscapes. Then, you reach the middle point: “The breaking heart and the two spreads that follow represent the heart of the book for me,” she adds. “The second half of the book, mostly portraits of both friends and strangers, reflects the psychological angst that I felt in myself and my community, both then and still now. One of the last pictures in the book – the girl in the polka dot dress hiding her head – is a stand-in for me not knowing what to do about it all. And my cat, Pearl, waiting and crouching is a portrait of me, as the world grapples with climate change, war and poverty.”

What’s most interesting, however, is that although the work in The Golden City was shot between 1984 and 2000, the topics, themes and issues explored are especially relevant today. The world over continues to tackle the warming climate, the dangerous policies imposed by the government and increasing poverty, not least in San Francisco. Mimi’s work, then, reminds us of the cyclical nature of things – that life and history tends to repeat itself. She concludes: “I see this book as a testament to the time and place that we are all experiencing.”

Mimi Plumb’s The Golden City is published by Stanley/Barker

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

©Mimi Plumb The Golden City

Beyond Recipes

Umami Journal explores the culture, history and ancient methods of food

The history of food is rich and fascinating; it betroths a shifting timeline that sees seasons, cultures and discoveries affect the very ingredients that enter the fridge, pot and mouth. In a time before now, the meals that were consumed were much determined by the weather and geography, meaning that palettes were in some cases limited and dependable on supply. But equally, they were in synchronicity with the environment. Now – with advanced technology, globalisation and travel – we have ingredients and cuisines at our finger tips. The immediacy and expectation of what arrives on a plate has overshadowed its roots, diminishing the thought and consideration that comes with its origin and meaning. How often do you spend a moment to observe and appreciate what you eat, and more importantly, learn where it comes from?

Umami Journal takes its readers beyond the recipe as it delves into the culture of food, looking at its history as it celebrates ancient methods of eating – as well as the new. Sustainability is therefore intertwined with Umami’s ethos, where vegetarian or vegan sourced ingredients make up the entirety of its menu. Not to mention its delectable illustrations created by London-based multi-disciplinary artist Diogo Rodrigues which further exemplify its attention to craft. Here, founder and editor in chief Poppy Mist discusses the relationship between food and culture, the importance of sustainable cooking practices, and her favourite dishes published on Umami Journal to date.

Who makes up the team, and what led you to set up Umami Journal?

I’m the founder and editor in chief. Growing up with a mother who was a chef, I have always been passionate about food and cooking. I have a background in anthropology, specialising in migration studies, and have a particular interest in how the movement of people shapes food culture. I launched Umami Journal during the pandemic as an attempt to bring these passions together.

Diogo Rodrigues is the illustrator. Originally from Northern Portugal, Diogo’s background in sculpture is the foundation of his later works, with current expressions focusing on illustration and tattoo art – particularly influenced by Japanese and tribal imagery.

What does Umami Journal stand for, what’s your goal?

Umami Journal is an online platform that takes people beyond recipes, investigating their cultural nuances and history. Every recipe has a story, whether that’s related to the style of cuisine, a particular ingredient, or the dish itself. We also feature other types of articles that celebrate ancient methods of eating whilst simultaneously recognising new, innovative techniques and ideas, and have recently begun curating events as well.

What is sustainable eating, how does this translate through the ingredients and methods you use to cook?

Consuming less animal-based products, and eating more local produce are both vital to tackling climate change. All of our recipes are vegan and/or vegetarian and aim to utilise seasonal produce as much as possible. My aim is to produce delicious vegetarian recipes where people won’t miss the meat.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite recipes and tell me how they’re sustainable, how they’re made and their history?

One of my favourite recipes at the moment is Koshari, Egypt’s national dish. Its origins emblematise the country’s cultural history. It consists of a marriage of Arab, Indian and Mediterranean flavours, a hearty blend of rice, lentils, chickpeas and macaroni, topped with a rich tomato sauce and finished with crispy fried onions. 

Imam Bayildi, otherwise known as ‘the priest fainted’, is a classic Turkish dish that comprises whole stuffed aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, Urfa chilli flakes and spices. I have such fond memories of my grandmother making it for me when I was a child. Although its exact origins are unknown, it dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, and the name ‘İmam bayıldı’ translates as fainting priest, referring to a Turkish legend in which an elderly Imam fainted after eating the dish, apparently due to its abundance of olive oil.

Besides cooking delicious meals following your recipes, how do you hope your audience will respond to this project – do you hope they’ll switch to more sustainable food habits, for example?

I definitely think people should eat less meat, but I’m not one to impose my beliefs on others as I think this is incredibly polarising. No doubt, not all dishes have been historically plant-based, and I’ve had to adapt them. But I think this is part of food evolving! 

Ultimately, I want to get people thinking more about the historical and cultural context of food. It’s constantly evolving and this is really exciting. This is largely influenced by migration which should be celebrated.

What’s next in the pipeline?

We recently collaborated with HOME by Ronan Mckenzie to host an event titled Walls Have Ears. This featured a multi-sensory journey into the ancient art of the tea ceremony presented by tea sommelier and R&D chef, Genevieve Lenette, and musician Cassidy Hansen. Blending ancient tradition with modernity, this improvisatory event utilised a synthesis of abstract sound and traditional movement as a medium, in order to investigate how an age-old ritual manifests within an unconventional setting. I’m hoping to do more events and supper clubs, and write more features on exciting and innovative producers and cooks.

All imagery courtesy of Umami Journal

Just Dance: 7y98D

Ouro, the Vancouver-based dance collective, addresses the climate emergency in its hypnotic dance project with RubberLegz

Global warming on the cusp of becoming irreversible – or perhaps it’s already there. As I’m writing this, I’m gazing out the window at a divided sky; one half is clear blue, the other is expelling snow. Today marks the beginning April, and this icy, interchangeable weather is highly unusual for the dawning days of spring. This is just another noticable effect of climate change.

In response to the impeding doom of the heating planet, many artists and creatives are utilising their practices as a way of steering action. It’s far less about raising awareness, now, for we’ve gone far beyond conversational points or discussion. Now, it’s about actionable response. Ouro Collective is doing just that in its work, a Vancouver-based dance collective merging hiphop, waacking, breaking, popping and contemporary dance in its evocative works. Founded in 2014 by Cristina Bucci, Dean Placzek, Maiko Miyauchi, Mark Siller, and Rina Pellerin, the collective has since evolved from a group of artists “looking to share and learn from each other” into something much bigger, and more impactful. The group have collaborated with artists spanning all mediums over the years and, in its eighth season, this is its most exciting yet with its roster of Ash Cornette, Cristina Bucci, Eric Cheung, Maiko Miyauchi, Rina Pellerin, and Shana Wolfe. All of which hail from diverse cultural and dance backgrounds, wherein they forge a collaboration that demands a need for “dialogue, creative innovation and community building”, the collective explains. 

The result of which has been merged into project named Just Dance: 7y98D, a mesmerising piece composed in collaboration with Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit. The work is inspired by The Climate Clock, a public installation created by an Golan and Andrew Boyd located that counts down the days until unrepairable climate catastrophe – where no longer can we reverse the burns, scars and wounds of humanity’s impact. Below, I chat to the collective about collaborating with RubberLegz, who’s “well known in the street dance community”, learning the hypnotic choreography over Zoom, and how dance can be a vital tool for addressing the climate emergency. 

It’s interesting to hear that you learnt the choreography through Zoom, how did this pan out?

In 2020, we received the Chrystal Dance Prize, an award from Dance Victoria, which supports projects with international collaborators. We began rehearsals through Zoom, in our own homes, as Vancouver was on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic and RubberLegz was in Los Angeles. As rehearsals progressed, the ban on international travel was not yet lifted, and we were forced to continue the project virtually. 

Learning movement online is challenging in a number of ways, but learning RubberLegz’s movement online is a game-changer. His movement vocabulary stems from breaking and threading concepts which results in various limbs folding and threading into one another, and with Zoom, everything is backwards. Though challenging, this opportunity created space and trust between the dancers and choreographer.

This trust also extended into the film’s direction as the storyboarding and filming preparations took place online. Co-director David Ehrenreich said: “It’s the first dance film I’ve made, and I enjoyed the unique collaborative process. I imagine it’s similar to adapting a play into a film; this live performance is being created, and we got to go watch it and design the film around what you see at the rehearsals. Rauf approaches movement and the human body in such an idiosyncratic way—we wanted to champion the exploration they were doing.”

The project raises awareness about climate change, a highly pertinent and relevant topic of today. How do you do this in the choreography and wider project?

The title of this project was inspired by The Climate Clock, a public art installation created by artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd set on Manhattan’s Union Square. The clock counts down the time left to avoid climate disaster. Ouro became aware of The Climate Clock in 2019 when seven years and 98 days remained. Faced with this stark knowledge, OURO was inspired to bring “the most important number in the world” – as described by the creators of the clock – to dance audiences. 

During the filming of 7y98D, we endured extreme weather conditions. On one of our filming days, Vancouver had the worst air quality in the world, and on another, temperatures reached over 40℃. The air was thick from the smoke of neighbouring forest fires. We had to alter quite a bit of movement to adapt to the environment, so in a way, the choreography underwent its own type of natural selection.

The choreography begins with dancers moving in a harmonious link, mirroring the cyclic nature of the earth. As the piece progresses, the dancers begin disconnecting and linking onto themselves. The tone shifts and movement becomes faster and more urgent as they adapt to new environments. We are currently in rehearsals for our full-length theatre piece and are adapting the choreography seen in the film for a live audience.

What reaction do you hope to receive from your audience?

We hope audiences reconnect as a community during this critical window for action to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible. Making small personal changes in our lives can pave the way for a better relationship with the earth. 

“It’s a challenge to make a film about how little time we have left to save our planet without it feeling depressing or preachy. Dave and I wanted to present this film in a way that allowed the audience to connect to the movement of the dancers on an emotional level first and wait till the end to provide some context.” Co-director, Jeff Hamada explains. “Hopefully it leaves people feeling just as inspired to go out and do something.”

In what ways can dance and art be an agent for change, especially in relation to the warming climate?

Art can be an agent for change, as it inflicts subconscious responses and emotional connections that impose lasting meaning for the viewer. With a topic like climate change, it is easy to feel disconnected and complacent, as its effects are often regarded as gradual and not fully visible. We wanted to find a way to encourage our audiences to recognise our current situation and empower them to make changes while we still have time. Jeff Hamada said, “The rotations that happen throughout the film are meant to be a reminder that the climate clock is always ticking, but also to convey that there is still time.”

What’s next for you?

We are currently adapting 7y98D into a full-length stage piece, which will premiere in summer of 2022 in Vancouver. Following that, we will be touring the work, and running our summer programming and workshops.

Dates for our community and ocean cleanups will be released in the next few months. They will be open to the public and followed by workshops led by our team and collaborators. We encourage everyone to come, learn and contribute to reversing the Climate Clock. 

The Very Fire They Sit Beside

In a new exhibition at Huxley-Parlour, Dan Wilton in collaboration with ClientEarth addresses the calamitous impact of the coal industry

Towerfest Country Music Festival, Drax power station, North Yorkshire, 2019 © Dan Wilton The owners of North Yorkshire’s Drax power plant, formerly a coal-only plant, have pivoted towards a variety of future options – including heavily contested biomass (the burning of wood pellets). For this, they have received millions in subsidies from the UK Government.

It’s no secret that the coal industry is impacting the planet in calamitous ways. Mining, burning and usage all have their profound and consequential disadvantages; it’s the most polluting way of producing energy. From toxic chemicals and soot released into the atmosphere, to broken environments, abolished habitats and relocated homes; coal is a cheap and dirty alternative to renewable sources. The human reliance on coal comes at a large cost.

A third of the globe’s population currently uses energy fuelled by coal, despite worldwide access to renewable energy. It’s the largest contributor to the increase in carbon dioxide, so action needs to happen promptly and cautiously to curb the affects of climate change. This is a topic that’s currently being addressed by photographer Dan Wilton in a new exhibition at Huxley-Parlour Gallery, launching this weekend and made in collaboration with ClientEarth. Titled The Very Fire They Sit Beside, the works involved depict Dan’s journey across Europe to document the impact of the coal industry on both the landscape and the communities who live amongst its open wounds and scars. The project started in 2019 and Dan ventured across Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain and the UK. “Coal is still the number one contributor to climate change,” says Dan, “so it’s incredibly important that we move away from it as soon as possible.”

Povrchový lom ČSA Lignite Mine, Czechia, 2019 © Dan Wilton A long tussle over the end of coal in Czechia has resulted in a recent announcement that the country will go beyond coal in 2033. This is later than climate science allows – but better than the original 2038 proposal.

Before now, the Croydon-born and Walthamstow-based photographer had originally trained as an environmental biologist before experiencing his first black and white darkroom at university. Self-taught – he describes this as both a “blessing and a curse” – Dan’s craft has allowed him to tie both worlds as he strives to raise awareness of climate change. As such, he’d met environmental law charity ClientEarth in 2018 during a shoot for Monocle. “I’d been looking for the right charity to work with for a while and they basically just fell into my lap,” he explains. After which they discussed various environmental issues and a few simple facts were laid on the table, enlightening Dan about Germany’s coal usage, for one, which inadvertently caught his attention. “I’ve always thought of Germany as a green leader in Europe. I’ve visited Cologne many times to visit friends and had absolutely no idea that just a half hour drive away are some of the biggest lignite mines in the world, encircled by a ring of power plans that combine to be one of the biggest carbon emitters in Europe.” In fact, still to this day, Germany relies on coal for a third of its energy requirements.

Triggered to do something, Dan set out on his quest to capture the crumbling landscapes. He’d visit villages on the brink of collapse, observing buildings and homes as they gradually fall in on themselves as a result of over mining. “They’ve had their natural water supply cut off because of heavy metals leaching into the supply from nearby coal ash deposits,” he explains. In Germany, for example, the large lignite mines – harbouring brown coal which produces a low heat content – stretch for miles in a sea of mines, “as far as the eye can see”. They’re forcing people from their homes. “I was there to witness demonstrations against the demolition of the village in Manheim, which included the deconsecration of its church.”

‘Yiorgos’, Coal Miner, Akrini, Northern Greece, 2019 © Dan Wilton Yiorgos works in the lignite mine that encircles Akrini. The village’s natural water supply previously had to be cut off after the cancer-causing hexavalent chromium leached from coal ash deposits from nearby coal plants. Those responsible were later imprisoned – but the site is still not managed properly. Yiorgos wants to move on but, like many villagers, he is caught in an impossible position, with the coal industry being a key employer in the region, and the mine affecting house prices.

In the city of Katowice, Poland, the smell of burning coal lingers in the air – “it hits you as soon as you get off the plane,” explains Dan. Awash in high levels of pollution, the children living near the coal plant were exposed to four times the amount of cancer-causing black carbon in relation to France. “But at the same time, the coal companies are often the key employer in the region – so people are reliant on them for their income, and have been for decades. So it’s quite complicated to transition from coal in a fair way that doesn’t simply punish people who have made sacrifices to power our homes and countries for decades – to guarantee them a stable future.”

Throughout Dan’s imagery, the more visible repercussions are paired with the subtle; decaying landscapes are sat next to pleasing yet emotive portraits of the people he’d met along his journey. Some of which were those who worked with ClientEarth to fight their cases, including Marina and her son Zhelyazko in Bulgaria who were being evicted from their home due to building plans for a local mine. “Marina, who’s in her 90s, had already been evicted once in her lifetime because of the coal mine, whilst Zhelyazko is reliant on the mine for his employment.” Meanwhile, other meetings were more impromptu, like the children in Bobov Dol, or Yiorgos, who Dan met while waking through Akrini village in Greece. “Photographing the Ende Gelände protests around the Garzweiler mine was one of the most emotional moments of the whole process for me. To witness thousands of young people protesting breaking through police lines, storming the fine, blocking train lines to shut the plants and force mining to stop, all in the face of a very heavy handed police response was very moving.”

‘Zhelyazko’, Beli Bryag, Bulgaria, 2019 © Dan Wilton. Zhelyazko and his mother Marina are battling to keep their rural home in Beli Bryag, where they have a smallholding, growing vegetables and fruit, including plums for traditional liqueur. Marina has already been evicted for coal once in her life – but with Zhelyazko at the mercy of the mining company, the villagers are in an untenable position and planning legal recourse.

Art has the magnitude to educate and inform – proving a powerful device in relation to the climate. Through this body of work, Dan invites his viewers to learn the impact of the coal industry and, ultimately, to steer action – even if we might have a rocky road ahead of us. “I hope this project helps highlight the work that still needs to be done in Europe to move beyond coal and also to highlight that it’s not just a simple black and white issue. We can’t just close all the coal infrastructure and replace it with renewables in the same area to replace the jobs that will be lost in one fell swoop. It’s not that simple.”

The Very Fire They Sit Beside by Dan Wilton in collaboration with ClientEarth is on view at Huxley-Parlour Gallery from 10 – 12 March 2022

Tourists, RWE’s Hambach Mine, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 2019 © Dan Wilton The Hambach and Garzweiler mines are truly colossal, stretching further than the eye can see. Bulldozers the length of rows of terraced houses seem like specks on the horizon.

Sines Power plant, Portugal, 2019 © Dan Wilton At the time this picture of Sines was taken, the power plant was active and one of the most polluting plants in Europe. But 2021 marked the closure of Sines, nearly 10 years ahead of schedule, followed by the country’s last coal power plant, Pego, in November. Portugal is now coal-free.

The Residents of Anargyroi, Anargyroi, Northern Greece, 2019 © Dan Wilton Anargyroi was half destroyed when the 5km-long Amyntaio mine on the doorstep of the village caused a catastrophic landslide in 2017. Most lost their homes and were unable to return. Remaining houses still contain fragments from the day of the collapse – cracked walls, open cabinets and unused vinyls. Residents have long been campaigning for compensation for what they lost.

Aboño Power Plant, Gijón, Spain, 2019 © Dan Wilton The soil of the land around the Aboño power plant contains levels of mercury 7 to 10 times over the WHO legal limit. Water from the natural springs in the area is undrinkable due to contamination with mercury and other heavy metals. However, people still grow vegetables and crops.

Ende Gelände, Protesters Storm RWE’s Garzweiler Mine, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 2019 © Dan Wilton Each year huge groups of activists periodically invade RWE’s massive mines in North Rhine- Westphalia in an effort to halt coal production and bring pressure to end Germany’s continued reliance on coal energy. Germany touts its green reputation with gusto, but nearly a third of its power still comes from climate-killing coal. While climate science says EU countries must phase out coal by 2030, the date stated in Germany’s coal exit law is 2038.

 

Rafael Kouto

The designer and label founder uses upcycling as a sustainable alternative to the current fashion system

What will the future hold for sustainable fashion? With Glasgow’s COP26 prompting goals and recommendations for a more environmentally conscious world, now has never been more crucial to reassess our relationship with the planet – and our clothing. When it comes to the fashion industry, there’s much to be learnt and adopted in order to reduce the impact it has on the environment. This includes net-zero emissions by 2050 latest, to waste elimination and erasing the global supply chains – not to mention increasing education of how to better address the climate emergency through manufacturing and more conscious and sustainable business models.

The anticipation for change is heartfelt across the globe, but now, perhaps it’s time to shine light on the industry folk who are already doing their bit. Like Rafael Kouto, a fashion designer who launched his own avant-garde fashion label with the environment in mind. Conceived with upcycling at its core, the label of the same name aims to tackle textile waste, dead stock and other materials in the creative and production lifecycle. “The goal since the beginning has been about cultivating an uncompromised approach to sustainability as it exclusively uses the technique of pre and post-consumer upcycling to create new clothes and accessories,” he tells me.

Rafael grew up on the Italian side of Switzerland in Ticino to a Togolese father and Swiss mother. He studied fashion design at FHNW-HGK in Basel, followed by an MA in fashion matters from the Sandberg Institut in Amsterdam. From working at Alexander McQueen to Maison Martin Margiela, Carven and Ethical Fashion Initiative, he garnered the necessary experience to excel in his profession. Equally, these past roles enlightened an alternative fashion system and proved that a more sustainable and viable option was possible; this is the moment he decided to focus his practice on upcycling and sustainable strategies, “with a particular focus on open source and craftsmanship,” he says. 

In 2017, Rafael therefore decided to launch is own fashion brand, which has now gone on to win numerous awards such as the Swiss Design Awards in the Fashion & Textile category for both 2018 and 2019 (he was also the finalist in 2020), plus the Gerbert Ambiente Design Preis 2020 and 2021. To date, he’s also been published in the pages of magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Dazed. He also applies his knowledge and know-how to a series of upcycling workshops in collaboration with various institutions, alongside teaching as an associate professor in Fashion Design at the IUAV in Venice. 

Throughout all of Rafael Kouto’s output, garments are construed with utmost credibility to materiality, source and process. Amassing in timeless collections abound with pattern and colour, everything is created in Switzerland through the upcycling of existing dead stock garments or fabrics, “with different traditional couture techniques as crochet, screen printing and knitting,” he says. The result of which is a consciously designed label replete with bespoke clothings for the wearer, bound in a post-modern blend of tie-dye, 70s swirls and traditional African prints. “The collections have a hybrid aesthetic between African and the West, therefore I envision the Afro descendants community embodying those values and all the loves of the aesthetic of course.”

Rafael’s approach to fashion design and manufacturing is commendable. The industry – and our planet – is so awash with garments that they’re bursting at the seams of landfills and our wardrobes. There’s simply too much in the world and, along with more sustainable business practices, our consumer habits need to adapt. “With the brand, we are contributing on a small scale, but I think that the most important part is about proving that a sustainable alternative to the current system is possible and to engage the users through upcycling workshops and other activities into the creative and production process,” explains Rafael.

So what does Rafael aspire for the future? “My hope is that fashion will head into a more sustainable, local, social, ethical and community direction,” he says. “I think that idea of expanding as the biggest fashion houses and bands will be replaced by small scale and niche businesses. In this case, I think the mind set of the industry still needs to change and not be based on a constant need to consume compulsively. But, it’s something that has to change also from the brands’ perspective.”

Solai

Founded by Sarah Krause and Sarah Seb, the sustainable fashion brand uses soil regeneration to combat climate change 

Photography by The Earth Issue

The thoughts of fashion becoming fully sustainable has left many feeling hopeless, uninspired or drained by the constant disappointment of the industry. Not only are brands not doing enough in terms of curbing the warming climate, but consumers are left slightly bemused as to the active steps they should be taking – thrifting, buying less, choosing consciously and buying from conscious brands all seem like reasonable guidelines. But what does it really mean for a brand to be sustainable? And is our trust dwindling?

Helping to rebuild confidence is Sarah Krause, a Londoner with an Austrian and Mexican heritage. She set up Solai alongside Sarah Seb, fashion designer and creative director, as a response to the increasing pressures on the planet. Left feeling “disheartened” by the fashion industry, there remained a glimmer of excitement as she noticed the influx of sustainable practices coming into the fore. “I wanted to see clothing on the market that was creative and modern whilst also being ethnically made and genuinely good for the planet,” she shares. “Ultimately though, I wanted to go a step beyond and create clothing that was not just sustainable, but actively climate-beneficial.” 

Photography by The Earth Issue

To address this, Sarah turned her focus towards soil regeneration. Perhaps a term that some may not be familiar with, regenerative farming looks at exhausted soil, and is the solution for creating healthy ecology and, among other things, helps to reverse the effects of climate change. By definition, to regenerate means to regrow or be renewed; so think of the clothing lifecycle in this sense as being continuous and mindful of damage and restoration. “If we could work with regenerative farmers to grow our clothing fibres, we would play a role in reviving degraded lands and creating a carbon sink in the soil,” she says. “This approach to land management has proven to be one of the most effective ways of combating climate change and, to me, there was a clear interesting with the fashion industry. The idea was simple, but incredibly powerful.”

Solai therefore partners with a collective of farmers and artisans in Erode, Tamil Nadu, that of which had “successfully revitalised” acres of once degraded lands through regenerative agriculture and “indigenous wisdom”. The proof is in the output, and Solai’s collections since birth have shown the benefits of tech and conscious sourcing. By 2022, for instance, the brand will make the majority of its clothing carbon negative, derived from regeneratively grown cotton. “The remainder will be made from pre and post-consumer recycled materials, including cotton and wool, so that we can keep existing fabrics out of the waste stream and save ample natural resources in the process,” says Sarah. A recent product in the works, for example, is the “very first photosynthetic top”, which translates to a coating which “captures carbon” and “releases oxygen” while being used. Like something from a dystopian future, perhaps a photosynthetic garment is hard to comprehend, yet Solai are making it a reality.

Photography by The Earth Issue

Besides the somewhat biophillic sounding clothing design, Solai has also recently launched its Revival and Eco Collection, shot and produced by the environmentally conscious agency The Earth Issue, headed up by Elena Cremona and Isabelle Landicho. Captured amongst the Italiante Glasshouse and Tea Garden in the Ramsgate area, the collection presents soft silhouettes, intricate embroidery and mossy undertones – crafted from tencel, linen and sustainably farmed organic cotton, plus naturally dyed colour palettes drawn from annatto seeds. It’s type of clothing that doesn’t adhere to any outdated stereotypes of what sustainable clothing may look like. 

“Although seeing a constant barrage of greenwashing can be demoralising at times, overall I’m hopeful for the future of the fashion industry,” says Sarah of her hopes for the future. “I remember even a few short years ago, so few people were talking about sustainability in fashion and I’d have a hard time trying to get people interested in the topic. But now, I think it’s increasingly on people’s radar and I’ve seen a genuine shift in attitude, with greater commitments to make better, more conscious choices. Crucially, I think fast fashion brands have to majorly scale down their production and put some of their vast marketing budgets into the hands of their labourers. It’ll be interesting to see if people and planet prevail over hefty profit margins!”

Photography by The Earth Issue
Photography by The Earth Issue

Music for climate change

100 cities threatened by rising seas can listen to a piece composed by Cecilia Damström, played by the Lahti symphony orchestra and conducted by Dalia Stasevksa

The Finnish tabloid Helsingin Sanomat once referred to Cecilia Damström as the Greta Thunberg of music, and quite frankly, there is no better description. The Helsinki-born composer, who grew up in a German-Scottish-Finnish family, has so far written four chamber operas, music for orchestra, choir and chamber music plus a host of other solo works. Her most recent piece, however, confirms her essence – the drive, spirit and temper – of her career entirely. In collaboration with the carbon-neutral symphony orchestra of Finnish city Lahti, Cecilia has crafted a 10-minute piece entitled ICE. 

Conducted by Dalia Stasevksa, the music is available only to 100 cities worldwide that are endangered by climate change and its consequent rising sea levels. Artistically strict, upon landing on ICE’s very own homepage, users are given the option to input their city to test out whether or not their lands are threatened. Myself in London, I popped the data in and therein flashed a harsh yet necessary statement: that the city is under threat from rising sea levels. The only positive of this message, though, is that I’m now able to listen to Cecilia’s composition of playful and peaceful melodies that rashly intensify as it strives to replicate the impending danger of our world. “The piece begins with depicting beautiful ice scenes,” says Cecilia. “Every chord is a symmetrical chord consisting of six notes, because when water freezes it always becomes a symmetrical hexagon.” The first three or so minutes, in this sense, depicts a “normal” winter period before “alarm signals” begin to change the pace, “and the winds that grow ever louder every time the winter shortens.” 

“At around five minutes,” she continues, “you can hear ecosystems starting to collapse and the strings playing frantic rhythmic repetition, how time is ticking away. While at six and a half minutes, we will again hear alarm signals, like when a big vehicle is trying to reverse. The alarms begin to ring out clearly SOS (three short, three long and three short signals). Soon after we can hear ‘total’ collapse, the heart’s irregular beat in a duet with a bicycle bell, also signalling SOS. The bicycle bell is a symbol for how human (personal) action can impact and make a change, and make things turn around. We hear a fast speed rewind of the collapse from about eight minutes until we are finally back at the beginning, back to normal winters at around nine minutes. The bicycle bell is also the last thing we hear, human action is the note of hope for the future.”

Lahti Symphony, Sibelius Festival 2019. Photo by Maarit Kytöharju

ICE is an apt example of how music can be employed as a tool for steering change, particularly when it comes to addressing the impact of our warming world. And cities, like Lahti, are at the forefront of this: consuming less resources; making urban areas more sustainable; consciously encouraging sustainable urban planning like transportation; and actively sourcing renewable energy are a few instances. Leading the way and setting an example for all, Lathi has been coal-free since 2016 and will be a zero-waste, carbon-neutral city by 2025. It’s also proud to state that 99% of its household waste is received and recycled, and has plans to protect 8% of its nature and resources by 2030.

If urgent action isn’t taken now, then disastrous effects will be brought to the surface, quite literally, by the end of the century. No city will be unaffected by the climate crisis. “Together with Lathi,” says Cecilia, “I wanted to draw attention to the alarming state of these coastal cities by highlighting them and bringing together the people who live in these areas, and share the concern about the future. On the one hand, we are asking the questions about what unique things will be lost if we lose these areas, and on the other hand, we wanted to focus the piece’s message of hope and prompt action on the endangered areas.”

Photo by Marthe Veian

The cities declared under this powerful merging of music and activism have been chosen based on reports and findings by the Urban Climate Change Research Network, The World Economic Forum, OECD and Climate Central. Along with London, these other locations include Copenhagen, Dakar, Istanbul, New York, Buenos Aires, Shenzhen, Venice, Melbourne, Tokyo, Faro, Liverpool, Amsterdam and many more. According the project’s research, rising sea levels are set to threaten several coastal cities by 2050 and 2100. “I hope we can raise awareness of the acute situation of the glaciers and get people to act on the behalf of nature,” she says of her impactful messaging. So what does Cecilia hope for the future? “Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and from those engaging, at least 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change. My hope is that we can be part of those who bring about the changes needed for stopping climate change.”

The Same Sea

Port takes a trip to the Finnish island of Vallisaari for the Helsinki Biennial 2021

©Matti Pyykko, Helsinki Biennial

A group of 330 islands conjugate around the coastline of Helsinki, establishing an untrammelled and easy getaway from the humdrum of city life. It’s normal for locals to boat around here, whether that’s in lieu of the sauna, work or heading home from the mainland. Life in the Finnish capital feels serene, and the calm streets of the more urban environments – free from any queues – only solidifies this as a place where happiness, nature and the environment matter above anything else. 

While leaving the port of Helsinki on a refreshingly crisp day – the locals explained it was unusually cold for the time of year – that’s when I first caught sight of the many tiny islands, most of which are decorated with a wooden hut or left untamed and completely wild. Some are homes, others are summer houses or places to soak up the heat of the sauna. Then there’s the rocks, poking out of the water with abnormally smooth edges; they sink into the sea bed with little effort, windswept and altered by the tectonic shifts of the surface below. It took a mere 20 minutes to arrive at our destination of Vallisaari, an enchanting island and home of the Helsinki Biennial – an event presented by Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), directed by Maija Tanninen-Mattila, and curated by Pirkko Siitari and Taru Tappola.

Making its debut on the island with 41 artists from Finland and across the globe, the biennial’s new location is a land that’s diverse and rich in its formation. Few people could have entered Vallisaari a handful of years ago, due to it being used as a military base for the Russian Army – the remnants of which are still astonishingly present today. With a title of The Same Sea, the works involved in the biennial’s festivities reflect on the island’s history, as well as the interconnectedness and dependence that the world has on its oceans. With the climate at the fore, this is highlighted immediately as you board the island, where visitors are stunned by the confrontational work of Finnish artist Jaakko Niemelä’s Quay 6 (2021) a large, red structure that cups the shore line as it explicitly denotes the impending threat of rising sea levels. Below, I round up a few key highlights from the event, consisting of sculpture, sound and installation that each reflect on our climate emergency. 

Jaakko Niemelä: Quay 6, 2021 ©Maija Toivanen/HAM/Helsinki Biennial 2021

Jaakko Niemelä: Quay 6 (2021)

Designed as the island’s greeting, Jaakko’s installation has been construed of scaffolding, painted wood structures, water pipe and pumps. Commenting on the drastic effects of climate change and how the rising sea levels will greatly affect our lands and civilisation, the alarming piece directs its focus onto the melting of Greenland’s northern ice sheet; if it were to disappear in entirely, then sea levels will rise to six metres – the height of the structure.

Teemu Lehmusruusu: House of Polypores, 2021 ©Maija Toivanen/HAM/Helsinki Biennial 2021

Teemu Lehmusruusu: House of Polypores (2021)

A hybrid of natural processes, research and sound, the Helsinki-based artist’s installation is given anthropomorphic qualities as it listens to decaying trees before converting the noise into music. The work is likened to an instrument made of soil, and visitors are invited to touch and place their ears onto the large tubular structures to listen to its deep and vibrating hum. There are four structures in total, each of which is crafted from mushrooms, electronics and decaying wood. 

Margaret & Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring: Helsinki Satellite Reef, 2021 ©Maija Toivanen/HAM/Helsinki Biennial 2021

Margaret & Christine Wetheim: Crochet Coral Reef, The Helsinki Satellite Reef (2021)

The world’s coral reefs are depleting, suffering greatly from pollution and heat exhaustion as a result of climate change. This handmade crochet piece, crafted by two LA-based sisters, is a passionate response to the matter; it reflects on the long process of building the sculptures as well as the lack of time that animals (and the reefs) have on our planet. The project has travelled to New York, London, Riga and Abu Dhabi in engaging with more than 10,000 participants; the sisters will also work with local Finnish communities to crochet a reef in Helsinki.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller: FOREST (for a thousand years…), 2012 ©Maija Toivanen/HAM/Helsinki Biennial 2021

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller: Forest (for a thousand years…) (2021) 

In a calming corner of the island’s woodland, an immersive sound installation encourages its visitors to perch on tree stumps as they listen to various sounds: aircrafts flying above, birds, explosions and choir song. The Canadian artists’ work comments on the sounds that a forest will hear in a lifetime and, in this case, the different points in history for Vallisaar. Its listeners are exposed to yelling, screaming and gun fire, but equally they are connected to the trees around them, personifying nature as a delicate and fragile entity. 

Have You Ever Seen a River Stop?

Amazonian fires, dams and the occupation of indigenous land; Barbican Centre’s new series of films looks at climate justice in Brazil

The river is rich in symbolism. It denotes nature, just as much as it suffuses the landscape with moisture, hydrating the soil to bring growth, food, air and life. But in equal parts, the river represents the manmade, and the lengths in which humankind will drain the organic resource to manipulate, guide and provide water to its growing population. And in the case of the climate emergency, the river is perceived as a goldmine. Many are without adequate water supplies and the world is becoming ever-more thirsty. Wild fires are increasing, droughts are more frequent and the reliance on our rivers is becoming imperious. 

This is a global situation, but one that’s particularly prevalent in Brazil – a topic that’s explored in a new series of short films hosted by London’s Barbican Centre, titled Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? Brought in conjunction with an exhibition, Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle – a show dedicated to the work, photography and activism of the Brazilian artist who defended the territory of the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous peoples, from illegal gold mining – the film series considers the problems of Brazil’s attempt to modernise, and the impact this has had on its civilians. Think dams, highway constructs, infrastructures and more, all of which are perceived through the lens of contemporary art and in films titled YWY, a androide by Pedro Neves Marques; A Gente Rio , Carolina Caycedo; Equilíbrio and Yawar by Olinda Muniz Wenderley.

“It is not difficult to imagine why Brazil comes to mind when we discuss climate justice,” explains Francesca Cavallo, researcher, writer, curator, and organiser behind the event. “The fires in the Amazon region, the recent disputes around the occupation of indigenous land, the enormous economic interest that international banks and corporations have in the country, and Bolosnaro’s handling of it all are among the most shocking examples of how climate change is not a thing of the future, but something we should deal with now.”

Indeed provoking change, the event shifts its focus onto those who are directly affected by climate change in Brazil; it’s a welcomed turn, “especially if we think that what we mostly hear from public figures are top-down, techno-modernist solutions,” adds Francesca. “These approaches do not consider that it’s the affected people, indigenous or not, that should decide how change should happen.”

Additionally, those behind Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? wanted to examine how these topics of environmental disasters in Brazil could be brought outside the usual spheres of protest, and instead mobilise the power of art and cultural institutions to reach a wider audience, including those “that are not those already ‘converted’.” This is achieved through working with London’s Barbican, and it gives what Francesca describes as “another important layer” – brought into light through discussions contextualised in Claudia Aundujar’s work and exhibition. “Indigenous people are taking ownership of media tools and of the narratives that, for too long, white people have been telling about them.” says Francesca. “These voices are important if we want to re-asses how we can live tougher on a planet that is warming up.”

Beforehand, as phrased by Francesca, people used to talk of “natural disasters”, yet in the case of the Anthropocene – a unit of geological time used to describe the recent period in Earth’s history wherein humans started to have significant impact – these disasters are never just “natural”. They’re man-made and they’re devastating. As such, the films address the “factual, political, the imaginative and the spiritual”, showcasing different moods and sentiments, rather than the typical documentary manner of things.

Carolina Cyacedo’s film A Gente Rio, for example, indirectly discusses a one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazil caused by the mining industry, whilst showing how livelihoods depend on the river. “The collapse in 2015 of the Samarco dam destroyed and polluted the Rio Doce’s region with poisonous minerals,” says Francesca. “For the post-show discussion, and thanks to Carolina’s fascination (who also renounced her screening fee in favour of the organisation), we were able to invite MUB, the Movement of People affected by Dams, to talk both about their issues and the collaboration with Carolina. In this case, it was terrific to ask the activists themselves what they got from this collaboration. Sometimes people pretend a bit too much from artists that engage with these issues; artists are always prone to criticism for exploiting other people’s tragedies.”

Other works analyse the more science fiction, like Pedo Neves Marques YWY a androide, as the film navigates a plantation of transgenic crops and an Android, played by indigenous activist Zahy Guajajara, talks to the plants about seed sterility and reproductive rights. “The long close-ups on Zahy’s face, the proximity they create between the viewer and the android make a supposed fiction all too familiar if one thinks of how transgenic seeds have been imposed by international corporations, such as Monsanto, across South America and the world,” Francesca explains. While Kaapora and Equilibrio, two interconnected films by Olina Muniz Wanderley, are seen as a reckoning of the filmmaker’s identity as an indigenous woman, “as she becomes inhabited or possessed by this spirit that protects the forest, Kaapora, and how this encounter informs her life and work at the farm.”

The river, then, not only serves as a metaphor throughout this series of events but also across the wider spectrum of things; it’s the veins that run through the earth, keeping it fertile and, more importantly, alive. Yet within Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? these issues of climate justice are raised as if they were poetry, shying away from the political or factual point of view and instead offering up the world on a cinematic platter. “Moreover, these films show for me the interdependence of issues of inequality, race, exploitation, representation and environmental degradation,” concludes Francesca. “One cannot even conceive of climate change without thinking of climate justice, nor can one neglect how spirituality and the imagination can give strength to accept or challenge the current situation. More than anything, all these films are, for me, profoundly poetical.”

Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? is available to watch online until Monday 19 July 2021