Make It Work: Opening the black box of climate talks
Published 26 May 2015 by Ewen Chardronnet
Staging mock negotiations ahead of COP21 in Paris in December is the aim of the “Theatre of Negotiations” event organized by the art and politics lab of Sciences Po Paris and the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre. This weekend, the highlights include films, performances and lectures. Makery visited the construction site of the arena, where 200 students will negotiate on the issue of climate change.
In 1961, the famous American architect of geodomes Buckminster Fuller developed at the University of South Illinois the World Peace Game, an educational simulation to think about geopolitics in the context of mounting tension in the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis in Cuba. The aim of this lifesize game, which was played out at the Universal Expo in Montreal in 1967, consisted of establishing holistic peace and equity, without ecological damage and by spontaneous cooperation. Marked, like many others, by the first outside and complete view of the Earth taken by the Lunar Orbiter mission in 1966, Fuller used the image of a “Spaceship Earth” that 200 admirals try to steer each in a different direction.
It’s this World Game around climate talks that Bruno Latour, scientific director of Sciences Po Paris and initiator of the Speap experimental programme in art and politics, is staging at Théâtre de Nanterre-Amandiers, with the programme Make It Work. But the situation is no longer the same.
Observation satellites around the Earth have multiplied, a planetary network of sensors has been deployed, and a global brain of algorithmic analyses of data provided by this grid of climatic predictions has created an ideal model Earth—making us forget that this idealized image hides a machine world projected into an abstract externality, a planet that has become a laboratory.
The Anthropocene and the “Great Acceleration”
After 25 years of IPCC reports, 20 years of Conferences Of Parties (COP), we have entered the geological age of humankind’s irreversible impact on the planet : the Anthropocene. The word is out. The Anthropocene will be discussed by Jean-Baptiste Fressoz (author of “The Anthropocene Event”) and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, the Brazilian anthropologist who indexes the “ends of the world” (on 5/30). Because what anthropocenologists call the “Great Acceleration” suggests catastrophic zeal and future collapse.
Implemented in the context of Make It Work, a series of initiatives launched by Sciences Po Paris related to preparations for COP21, the Theatre of Negotiations reflects on the necessary conditions to see them through. The simulation will be based on real debate topics and real negotiation modes, but will experiment with shifts and reformulations that allow for exit strategies from existing impasses. 200 political science students from several countries are invited to simulate these talks as negotiators.
Some controversies could be an opportunity to reconfigure groups that represent non-human entities, such as oceans or mountains, coral reefs or oil fields. Philosopher Bruno Latour has always been partial to the “Parliament of Things”, the idea of bringing non-humans into the negotiations, ever since the re-enactment of COP15 in Copenhagen at Sciences Po in 2011.
“This project came out of the conviction that the failures and delays of climate conferences are essentially due to problems of representation—both representation of problems and representation in a UN-type assembly of human communities and other beings that make up the planet.”
This challenge appealed to Philippe Quesne, co-director of Théâtre des Amandiers : “In our missions, there is the exciting idea that programming is done with people who are concerned about the city and nature. It’s everything that the theater’s very position says about nature and urban transformation. The connection with Bruno Latour was certainly an important point of my platform. We became partners and invited Speap each year for four years.”
Quesne invited the raumlaborberlin collective of architects and scenographers. For Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius, “thinking about how to concoct a new mode for negotiations was a big challenge. Taking the time to think about how the space influences people, if you’re sitting down or standing up, if yo’re negotiating in the dark or in daylight, or if you’re completely cooped up. We created a space with a sun, a body of water and lots of light that is reflected on the water and the wall, a bit like on a film shoot by Fellini at Cinecitta, but it’s as if the studios were deserted, the actors weren’t there, the director is gone, the cameras are out for repair. All that’s left is a beach-like scene, a body of water, a fake decor where a boat carrying a unicorn could pass at any second.”
“The theater has been in danger of being demolished for the past 15 years,” adds Quesne. And the Theatre of Negotiations is a good way to show all the possible ways of circulating through this unique space. The convertible room opens out into a pre-amphitheater. It was obvious to both Bruno Latour and me that the talks would take place there.”
This sequence at the theater is also a chance to question how to document the talks. Beyond the more traditional documentary formats (Armin Linke is making a film), Speap suggests a Live Feedback directed by designer and artist Benoît Verjat, for whom “we will not be outside observers, but truly a media that can be taken to task by the negotiators, that can change the way individual positions are viewed. We implemented a modular set of technical and artistic possibilities : two replicating banks for drawing live, browsing books, making announcements, etc. ; a photo stream edited a bit like Reuters ; a video viewing system ; a protest workshop that produces banners, slogans, etc. ; a complex application to follow Twitter activity ; an evolving teletext based on the cloud that generates a Gif with drawings added on ; finally a micro FM radio and a fanzine updated daily.”
What story or idea can we take away from this ambitious project ? For Quesne, it’s the extension of the definition of the theater : “We immediately wanted the entrance to be from the back, after crossing Malraux Park. It’s about reversing the theater.” For Foerster-Baldenius, this lifesize game is the opportunity to provoke debate around the construction of the COP21 site.
It’s a challenge for the Construire and Encore Heureux agencies, which converge around the architect Patrick Bouchain, and are responsible for planning the actual site for the real talks at Le Bourget. These teams are close to raumlaborberlin on “the ways of thinking about habitat”, Foerster-Baldenius emphasizes. He hopes that the Theatre of Negotiations will inspire them to “Make It Work” !
Complete programme of the Theatre of Negotiations (talks begin on 5/27, open to the public on May 29, 30, 31) on Théâtre de Nanterre-Amandiers website