I’ve just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Prodigal Summer (available at all good bookshops) and it got me thinking about home. One of the characters, Lusa, inherits her husband’s family farm after his death barely a year into their marriage. Part of the book deals with her coming to terms with what it means to inherit another family’s farm, their “homeplace“; can she, as an incomer, take possession of their family’s history?
It made me wonder where is home to me. The place I still think of most as “home” is the house where I lived as a child, on the side of a hill in South London, in a 60s estate full of teachers and solicitors and their young families. Because the hill was so steep it wasn’t completely covered in houses, so there was space to run about outside, build dens, and a wood full of ruins to explore. And I think the sense of “home” came from having outside space, land that felt ours, trees that were friends – a place beyond the four walls of the house.
One thing that strikes me when people refer to the environment as a fringe subject only of interest to self-righteous fun police yoghurt weavers is that the environment is nothing less than our collective home; when we damage it, we destroy the home and systems that we all depend on. And yet most people still seem to see a disconnection between “us” and “the environment” – if not in their thinking, then in their behaviour. Maybe this is partly because humans have evolved to respond quickly to immediate threats, and not yet learned to respond to threats at a distance. The effects of chucking out a few tons of carbon by flying somewhere are not right in front of our face; even with the recent increase in extreme weather events, the media consistently fails to mention the link with human-caused global warming, and business continues pretty much as usual.
Manchester City Council gets to grips with climate change?
A year ago, Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in Manchester addressed a full meeting of Manchester City Council on the likely impacts of climate change in the years to come. You can see his presentation here and a report on the event here. The councillors appeared suitably moved and alarmed, but so far this has not translated into significant action, either to reduce local emissions or to prepare for changes in the future, and the council still clings to Manchester Airport as the driver of the all-important economic growth.
As part of my attempt to imagine different ways of social organisation, I have started a painting of Professor Anderson in that meeting – treating as if it were a starting point for radical change in Manchester which then spreads outwards, in the way that the changes brought about during the Industrial Revolution did. It’s my first non-small painting, and I’m constructing it in the old way, with gridding out and underdrawing. As ever, once started, it takes on a life of its own, presenting visual possibilities that may undermine my conceptual and political intentions. If it ends up in pastel shades of pink and turquoise, will this distract from the possibilities I’m trying to suggest? Where does my responsibility lie – with the idea, or with the will of the paint? In any case, it’s starting to become interesting…