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"It's Getting Hot in Here" - A Climate Change Exhibition

Art can show us where we have been, where we are now, and where we might go. Art can be a call to action, and a catalyst for change.
— Climarte Organisation (Art + Climate = Change 2017)

Opening Night

On Friday, 10th of February 2017, doors opened at 6 pm for Azzurro's "It's Getting Hot in Here - A Climate Change Exhibition." Situated in the impressive, three-story Raj House in Adelaide, creative genius, artist and curator of the event, Aaron Batic ("Azzurro") unleashed his largest and most profound exhibition yet. The exhibition was focused on the theme of climate change, and featured over 30 emerging and established Adelaide artists and three prolific guest speakers (myself being one of them!). Opening night was a massive success, with hundreds of people attending the evening, kindly sponsored by Art Wine.

Photos: Snippets from the opening night and featured artists. Photo credit: Georgia Batic

The Mind behind the Show

The show was created, directed and put to fruition by my great friend, and creative genius, Aaron Batic ("Azzurro"). Azzy (as I call him) is known around Adelaide for his phenomenal large-scale mural artworks, with his work literally touching every corner of Adelaide and surrounds. In addition, he's also released his own colouring-in book, has an awesome array of merchandise with his designs on it (I own a mug!) and has curated smaller art exhibitions, shows and markets for Adelaide locals. His work ethic, determination and motivation to bring Adelaide back on the art spotlight is inspiring; he has helped many artists get their foot in the door by presenting them at their first exhibition, networking or even selling artworks! It's hard to believe that back in the day we worked as bartenders together for a local pub, and now he's all over Radelaide; following his passion, setting goals and kicking ass. 

Photos: Aaron "Azzurro" Batic - Director of the exhibition and Adelaide mural artist.

I remember Aaron and I caught up at our local pub a few months before this event. Through our banter (and a cocktail or two), we discussed issues around the world that are causing concern, particularly in our generation. Themes that were brought up included the unusual prevalence of homophobia or climate change denial in society today, and the many ignorant opinions people feel compelled to share despite facts, empathy or common sense. This frustrated Aaron and myself, and he told me he wanted his art to influence change. And that's exactly what he was going to do. 

Far North Queensland - Where Rainforest meets Reef

After working on murals intensively throughout 2016, Azzy decided to treat himself to an inspiring little get-away to Cairns (Far North Queensland, Australia). Home to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, and conveniently, my second home as well! I was absolutely certain that Aaron's travels to the rainforest and reef would bring in a wealth of inspiration; it can make even the blandest of minds tick over in excitement. 

At first, I think the foreign feeling of snorkelling was off-putting for Aaron. He couldn't shake the feeling that marine animals were coming to get him when he wasn't looking, and he asked me how to overcome it and peace of mind. In addition, Green Island's reefs are quite degraded and underwhelming from extensive tourism, so immersing yourself in the moment is a bit trickier (especially when half the tourists can't swim). 

Photos: Azzurro exploring the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest - part of the inspiration behind the exhibition.

But the next day, he experienced the outer reef, and said it was one of the best moments of his life. I can agree with this statement; snorkelling in the popular spots is never as exciting than going out that extra bit further. When I first learnt to SCUBA dive on the GBR, I was overwhelmed with the natural beauty. They purposely took us to several degraded, and even slightly bleached, reefs while we were learning so we didn't get distracted. But the more "pristine" reefs were absolutely breath-taking (not what you want with a tank strapped to your back, but I'll settle for it). The structural beauty in coral reefs, both tropical and temperate, is indescribable until you see it yourself. The shapes. The colours. The patterns. The diversity. The movement. All one unity, and one of the many reasons why people get into the field I work in (marine biology).

But anyway, the reef and the Daintree Rainforest had a prominent impact on Aaron. The exhibition he wanted to host now had a theme based on one of the greatest environmental issues we've ever had to face - (anthropogenic) climate change. He titled it "It's Getting Hot in Here" and asked me to be a guest speaker as a marine ecologist, simply because I didn't have time to paint a mural myself (but oh boy, how I would have loved to). This was a great opportunity for the science-side of myself to talk to the public directly, so I accepted the offer!

Photo: The unveiling of the exhibition "It's Getting Hot in Here." Photo Credit: Azzurro 

Putting it Altogether

"This exhibition was aimed at encouraging the public to approach the climate change debate from a direction that is creative and informed to proactively develop arguments in a concise and imaginative way. The exhibition featured over 30 unique emerging and established artists working with paintings, murals, illustration, sculpture, installation, performance, prose, and creative writing to interpret scientific findings and present them to the public in an accessible and entertaining way. The opening night saw hundreds through the doors of Raj House who sipped on fiano and tempranillo by Art Wine and listened to four diverse guest speakers present the exhibition. I have put hundreds of hours into this along with a crew of superstar artists, been working on it so hard I barely look at my phone these days." - Azzurro

No doubt, Azzy had put his all into this. Everytime I spoke to him or saw an update, he was working on something to do with this exhibition. A kick-starter to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, word about the exhibition spread quickly. Even in the early stages, Azzurro and artist, Steven Papas, already spoke about the exhibition on Radio Adelaide. More artists got added to the line-up, and the event gained traction on sites such as Glam Adelaide and Fritz. 

My Speech - The Science Perspective

Before I discuss the other guest speakers, I first want to talk about, well, what I talked about on the night! Videos have been filmed of the speeches, and a separate blog post will be made for that. This was the first scientific speech I have given outside of a scientific conference, so I had to prepare for a completely different audience. I just want to share a bit about it, because communicating with the public, in person, is something that I don't think scientists do enough.

I spent a long time preparing this speech; words can have a huge impact on people and so I was meticulous in the facts and figures I presented (without presenting too many!), along with the overall structure. I read several of some of the most cited, recent scientific articles on Climate Change, published in some of the most prolific journals. I read many interesting discussions on The Conversation just in case I had to answer some questions throughout the night. I made sure to be respectful of my field; a PhD student in the field of marine ecology and relatively fresh in my scientific career (and an artist!), but still certainly knows a thing or two about the issue to make my mark. I rehearsed and rehearsed until I could remember everything without notes of any kind and get it down to approximately ten minutes.

But oh boy; the exhibition was even larger than I expected! It moved to full-house pretty quickly as one of the first Fringe events and suddenly my nerves broke in. I was also feeling so emotional to what my friend had achieved, and through the many artworks and installations presented, many of which spoke to me. I was talking to someone at the bar before my speech and I think due to the noise level and the way I had to keep asking him to repeat himself, he told me "to calm down, I know what it's like to give a big speech" (as though I have never presented at a conference before or anything). This fueled my fire.

René Campbell delivering her speech to an audience on three levels about the effects of anthropogenic climate change on marine ecosystems. She also touched on the importance of science communication, including through the use of art. Photo - Georgia Batic

Photo: René Campbell delivering her speech to an audience on three levels about the effects of anthropogenic climate change on marine ecosystems. She also touched on the importance of science communication, including through the use of art. Photo credit: Georgia Batic

Raj House is on three impressive levels and I stood on the middle floor after Azzy introduced me on as the first guest speaker. Most of the audience were looking up at me, but they were also scattered at eye level and above me, and to the left and right. Giving eye contact is what engages people, so it wasn't easy at first looking at everyone! I started off a bit nervously, but thankfully knew my words well enough that I could restructure my speech without anyone really knowing, and after a few minutes, those nerves shifted towards passion. I didn't make any jokes in my speech, because I am so fucking sick of seeing people making jokes out of anthropogenic (human) induced climate change. I am so sick of people laughing and disrespecting the HUGE and unfathomable amount of work scientists (particularly environmental and biological) put in to their research on this topic. I was sick of seeing people sharing biased articles from random blogs, graphs that are just plain wrong, unstructured arguments on social media fired through cognitive dissonance, or sitting next to a someone that yells out "bullshit!" every time climate change is discussed on the news.

I saw some audiences shake their heads with disbelief and sadness when touching on just some of the main effects climate change has already had on our marine ecosystems. I remember expressions in the crowd when I stated that over 17% of the Australian population deny climate change, making us one of the greatest in the world. I discussed the importance of communicating science, including hearing it from the scientists themselves. Additionally, I made an important note on the way that art can challenge our thinking, before signing off with a powerful quote from David Attenborough in Planet Earth 2.

I received a huge applause and could only keep the smiles as I watched two other phenomenal guest speakers, Robert Simms and Satori, and Azzurro himself, deliver some very powerful words all their own. The atmosphere of the exhibition completely shifted after that. I had so many people coming up to me and congratulating me on my words (and the fact I remembered it all) and that it was great to get some of the hard, straight facts. Some people acknowledged that they had no idea on particular aspects of my talk, or were pointing at me from the levels above with smiles. A few others grabbed my contact details.

It dawned on me that talking to people directly can be more relateable and have greater outreach than a peer-reviewed article. It really hits home on just how powerful words can be, and that art has its place in even seemingly unrelated fields.

Guest Speakers - The Power of Words

Photos: Azzurro (1st and 4th photo), Robert Simms (2nd photo), Satori (3rd photo) and the audience during the speeches. Photo credit: Georgia Batic.

Azzurro - Azzurro started the speeches with a welcome and a thank you, and detailed how, and why, the idea of this exhibition came about. As we had discussed in the pub all those months ago, he had a vision of making the public aware of our ignorance to climate change, and the ramifications of our actions. "He spoke on the need to move microphones away from the mouths of stupid people with stupid opinions and urged the audience to consider listening only to the relevant experts in order to form more informed and imaginative opinions which they must spread relentlessly in order to vanquish climate change conspiracy terrorism." To conclude the speeches, Azzurro brought out a box with a skull and cross bones on it, and described it as the most dangerous weapon on Earth - the tongue, before unveiling an Ox's tongue for all to see. It really hit home just how powerful our words are and why it is so important to relay information in a correct way.

Robert Simms - The former Greens Senator spoke after myself, and directed the theme of climate change around policy, energy sources, and public action. "Robert stressed the need for governments to invest money into renewable energy, which for some reason has come under fire for (incorrectly) being assumed responsible for recent power outages. Robert reminded the audience that South Australia has a strong history of people-powered social reform and urged that the public unifies itself in commanding a stronger government position on the issue of climate change."

Satori - Poet Satori was the last to speak, and showed the audience a different perspective on the profound emotional impacts words can have. "He shared incredibly emotive spoken word performances inspired by the issue as well as the Standing Rock situation in the US. The audience was blown away by his entirely memorised performance which left them gobsmacked." He also touched on how climate change effects our indigenous communities with some very powerful lyrics, reminding us that minority groups and many humans already face the challenges of climate change today.  

The Artwork

The artwork for this event truly has to be seen to be believed (and you have until 24th February to check it out). Huge murals and hidden scultpures and paintings on every level, immersive and interactive installations, and prolific literature. I felt emotional realising that artists all around Adelaide felt as deeply about this issue as I did, and explored the issue of climate change in their own unique way. There's just simply too many to showcase here (so I've put in a few), but you can check out the artworks and descriptions here. And if you visit, make sure to buy an artwork or donate in the foyer to help support our local artists! And remember to tag #hotinhere2017 for all your pics of the exhibition!

Myself and Aaron on the opening night of "It's Getting Hot in Here" and standing in front of his mural "Great Barrier Reef." It's awesome supporting friends who succeed in what they do!

Photo: Myself and Aaron on the opening night of "It's Getting Hot in Here" and standing in front of his mural "Great Barrier Reef." It's awesome supporting friends who succeed in what they do!

René Campbell