Power-tripping at the energy conference

Stephen Peake opening the TippingPoint: Stories of Change conference, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. Photo: Gorm Ashurst

Stephen Peake opening the TippingPoint: Stories for Change conference, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. Photo: Gorm Ashurst

I spent an interesting couple of days at the latest TippingPoint arts and climate science conference in Oxford, which was held in association with Stories of Change, a new AHRC-funded research project that aims

to help to revive stalled public and political conversations about energy by looking in a fresh way at its past, present and future. The project draws on history, literature, social and policy research and the arts to encourage a more imaginative approach to current and future energy choices. The project is shaped around the cross-party commitments to decarbonisation that sit at the heart of the UK Government’s Climate Change Act. Research has shown that many people feel disengaged, disempowered or actively hostile to the changes to the UK’s energy system required to meet the targets embedded in the Act.

Highlights of the two days included Stephen Peake’s opening presentation (captured in Gorm Ashurst’s photo above): an entertaining and highly-animated demo of changing energy uses and outputs on a high and low-carbon/energy grid that he had mapped out with loo rolls on the floor of the Sheldonian Theatre.

Split into random groups of six during the introductions on day one, participants were asked to write a fifty-word story, something that would take less than two-minutes to speak or read aloud. Looking for shortcuts to aid the non-writers among our group, I wondered if we could each try and come up with a limerick. I thought that the simple, rhythmic form and rhyme scheme, the nonsensical impulse, might make the task easier; more playful and enjoyable. That was the theory.

Day two started with very inspiring presentations from some remarkable women including Julia Hawkins of Ashden, scientist and IPCC author Karen O’Brien, Julia Davenport of Good Energy Group PLC, and Gunjan Parik of the C40 Cities: Climate Leadership Group.

Funnily enough, given this progressive context, and an impressive gender balance overall, both of speakers and participants, I also gained the tiniest of insights into what being mansplained (or mansplained to?) might feel like, although obviously since I too am a man, this had not been reinforced by a lifetime of gender-based discrimination, harrassment, oppression and/or violence. Still, an observation I had offered in an open conversation with some fellow delegates got casually shot down repeatedly and authoritatively by a man who (and this is the clincher) was in fact wrong himself ;-)

Stained glass in the Hall of Exeter College, Oxford.

Stained glass in the Hall of Exeter College, Oxford.

A group of us was chatting over lunch, in the rather ostentatiously class-bound — if not to say highly stratified and ossified — surroundings of the Hall at Exeter College. We were talking as so often at such events in recent monts about the need for new kinds of stories about climate change, and new kinds of storytellers. In my recent article ‘Wanted: A New Kind of War Artist’ I argued that the IPCC and the climate science community seem over-reliant on their primary, policy audience and on the news media, where they could be finding new ways (including by working with artists of all kinds) to address wider, public audiences; electorates, even. To illustrate the point here, I raised the obvious recent example of how badly the IPCC’s publication on 31 March of this year of their Working Group II report on impacts of climate change had fared in gaining news coverage; how this most important and unequivocal of reports had immediately been bumped down the news schedules, e.g. on the BBC TV news flagship Newsnight, where UK Chancellor George Osborne’s same-day announcement on the (rather woolly, as it turned out) subject of ‘full employment’ had seemed like a deliberate spoiler, as indeed for US audiences had Exxon/Mobil’s report on climate change risks, also released on that same day; 31 March 2014.

A journalist at our table corrected me. No, he said, the Exxon report hadn’t been published on 31 March but some weeks later, on the same day as the IPCC’s Working Group III report on Mitigation of Climate Change, which had moreover, he said, been rather weak, and that was why any coverage had been bumped. Furthermore, he added — bringing in invisible reinforcements — that he knew for certain that this was the case, because some friend or relative (his brother? I can’t remember!) had been personally involved with the publication of Working Group III.

AR5cover1_275_356_70Having written about both the IPCC AR5 Working Group II report on climate impacts and the Exxon report in the days immediately following their respective publications on 31 March, (and, separately, about Osborne’s seeming IPCC spoiler of the same day) I was pretty sure of my ground, and said so, but there was no getting around the confident assurance of my interlocutor, who by now (as Solnit so eloquently puts it in her influential essay) had his ‘eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Within what was otherwise a broadly and generously interdisciplinary gathering, such pulling of rank — power-tripping at the energy conference? — struck a strange, isolated note. It is a timely and useful reminder that interdisciplinary working brings together people from many professional domains or ‘communities of practice’, as Scott deLahunta writes in the special section of Leonardo (volume 39, number 5) that I co-guest-edited with Bronac Ferran and James Leach:

In face-to-face meetings in the context of a project, it is professional borders that drift and open as collaborators search for the best means of relating to one another and stimulating creative and lateral thinking. However, these borders will constantly reassert themselves…

In his article’s abstract, deLahunta outlines his argument

that the role of facilitation within art and science collaboration projects is perhaps best described not as a function or position, that of the facilitator, but as a framework for thinking about relations and how to encourage a certain quality of exchange. The article reflects on how the themes of willingness, inter-profession, conversations and wording, empathy, and collaborative writing relate to the conditions for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Leo395_cover-175TippingPoint events seem to be about precisely such a process: creating a framework and encouraging ‘a certain quality of exchange’. And this latest event in Oxford was no exception. Indeed some of the conversations that began at this and their previous conference at the Free Word Centre earlier this year are continuing to develop as I write. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, so much for making the task easier, I don’t think anyone else managed to write a limerick. I had to leave before the final session of the conference, so sadly I didn’t get to hear any other groups’ fifty-word stories either. However, after a few false starts (‘Lord Lawson, that arrogant peer…’, anyone?) I had managed to come up with one limerick as I walked along St Giles on the way to the conference on the Sunday morning.

There once was a climate denier

Who sat very close to the fire.

Asked if he was hot,

He said, ‘I am not!’

And denied that his socks were on fire.


Shackleton’s Man Goes South, square thumbnailTony White’s latest novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South is published by the Science Museum — the first novel they have ever published — with an accompanying display in the Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery. The novel is available free from the Science Museum website and from a specially-developed, touch-screen ebook dispenser in the Atmosphere Gallery. The novel giveaway and exhibition run have been extended by the Museum and now continue until at least April 2015.

Panel Beating #4 — The Cenotaph Project & the public sphere

Stuart Brisley, The Cenotaph Project, 1987-91, Installation (with Maya Balcioglu). Image: Maya Balcioglu.

Stuart Brisley, The Cenotaph Project, 1987-91, Installation (with Maya Balcioglu). Image: Maya Balcioglu.

I am delighted to be participating in an event on 24 October 2014 with Stuart Brisley, Maya Balcioglu and Dr Sanja Perovic, as part of the Kings Arts and Humanities Festival 2014.

This is an output of an ongoing research collaboration exploring Brisley’s deployment of the Republican Calendar in works produced since 1973. This revolutionary calendar was created by Sylvain Maréchal in 1788 and implemented during the French Revolution. Maréchal was a poet, avant-garde playwright and newspaper editor and his decimal calendar was used by the French government between 1793 to 1805, and briefly by the Paris Commune in 1871. Dr Perovic is a leading researcher in this field, and her groundbreaking book on the subject, The Calendar in Revolutionary France, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.

Also drawing on my research with Stuart Brisley is a recent short story ‘High-Lands’, which was commissioned as part of Remote Performances, a recent broadcast collaboration between London Fieldworks and Resonance 104.4fm. There is more info about ‘High-Lands’ on my Tumblr, here. The story was broadcast as a live performance with a soundscape created by Johny Brown of the legendary Band of Holy Joy direct from Outlandia, London Fieldworks’ unique, tree house field station for artists, which is situated high above Glen Nevis in the Highlands of Scotland. Free audio of that performance of ‘High-Lands’ is now up on SoundCloud.

Here is the blurb for our event on 24 October, which is to be held in the chapel at King’s College London:

This panel revisits Stuart Brisley and Maya Balcioglu’s Cenotaph Project (1987-91). The British painter, sculptor and performance artist Stuart Brisley is widely regarded as a key figure in British art. Along with his frequent collaborator, Maya Balcioglu, he has unflinchingly probed the political, cultural and social mores of his time in a career now spanning its sixth decade. Cenotaph literally means an empty tomb (from the Greek kenos, empty and taphos, tomb.) It both conceals remains that are lost or buried elsewhere and serves as a powerful signifier of military and state power. It thus raises questions about the relation between what is ‘above ground’, state-sanctioned, revealed and what remains underground, buried and concealed. For this project the artists exhibited replicas of the Whitehall Cenotaph, scaled down to match the typical height of a council flat ceiling, in six locations across the country. From a mute signifier of ‘official history’ the various, smaller cenotaphs opened a space for a critique of history and the possibility of change.

Video still © Inga Tillere, 2014

Video still © Inga Tillere, 2014

The discussion concludes with a reading by author Tony White from a new work of critical prose fiction, which will use the figure of the cenotaph to focus on revolutionary aspects of Stuart Brisley’s work since the early 1970s.

This event results from a loose collaboration between Balcioglu, Brisley, Sanja Perovic (Lecturer in French, King’s College London) and Tony White that has been made possible by White’s appointment as creative entrepreneur in residence at King’s College, London, supported by CreativeWorks London.

A cenotaph will be on display in the Chapel for the duration of the festival and can be viewed 10am-10pm weekdays, except while Chaplaincy or Festival events are taking place.


Chapel, King’s Building Strand Campus

24/10/2014 (19:00-20:30)

Part of the Arts & Humanities Festival 2014: underground.

This event is open to all and free to attend, but booking is required via Eventbrite.

Presented by the Department of French & the Centre for Enlightenment Studies, King’s College London.

Panel Beating #3

 Image: Science Museum

Image: Science Museum

I’ll be discussing my novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South alongside other artists featured in the Science Museum’s Climate Changing programme, together with a range of experts who bring different perspectives to the challenge of engaging audiences with climate change. Speakers include Joshua Sofaer, Thomas Thwaites, Guy Henderson, Sophie Thomas, (Co-Director of Design, RSA), and paleobotanist Professor Robert Spicer. The symposium is Chaired by journalist and broadcaster Quentin Cooper.

Here is the blurb:

Engaging audiences with climate change and sustainability is notoriously challenging. And it’s no wonder. Complex scientific, economic, social and political issues seem impossibly intertwined. The prognosis is often perceived as gloomy yet intangible, with vast changes to our world unfolding slowly over decades and centuries. Solutions are hotly debated, though most encroach inconveniently on our own lifestyles. It is no surprise that emotional responses often range from guilt, to powerlessness, to complete disengagement. Artists often find new routes into these topics. The Science Museum’s Climate Changing programme, running since 2010, has featured the work of various artists who reframe these issues in their own uniquely creative ways.


Artists on Climate Change
Thursday 11 September 2014
Dana Studio, Queen’s Gate
FREE but booking essential

A Porky Prime Cut with UK Acid House pioneer Richard Norris

Now up on my SoundCloud page, this is the studio version of a gig that I did at the Free University of Glastonbury 2011, with live accompaniment from UK Acid House pioneer Richard Norris, who as part of Jack the Tab-era Psychic TV made the UK’s first Acid House records.

I avoided the common for a few weeks and repaired my headphones with masking tape, but as the weather gradually got warmer we started going there again on the way home. ‘We’ being me, Gaz and Dom and self-confessed ‘token girl’ Daze. Dom was into reciting routines from the Arena documentary on writer William S. Burroughs that someone in the college library had videoed when it was on telly a couple of months earlier and which we must have seen a dozen times not including the rewinding of favourite sequences so knew those routines inside out in the way that school friends with older brothers knew Monty Python.

A Porky Prime Cut was commissioned as part of Digital Transformations, an arts project co-ordinated and curated by SCAN with Bournemouth Libraries and Arts and Bournemouth Adult Learning. Digital Transformations was funded and supported by The Learning Revolution Transformation Fund, Bournemouth Borough Council, SCAN, Bournemouth University, and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. This version of ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ was produced by Richard Norris, and recorded in Lewes, Sussex, July 2011.

A Puppet Show — vinyl LP now available

Carlos Castañeda once told this parable about the Conquistador Hernán Cortés. He didn’t write it down, so you won’t find it in any of his books or among his papers, but in any case I heard that Castañeda once spoke of a legend about Cortés, one that he in turn perhaps had heard from his own teacher, don Juan Matus.

My short story ‘A Fragment from the Lives of the Conquistadors’ is now available on vinyl LP with sounds and music by Petra Haden, Tanya Haden and Anna Huff, Gibby Haynes, and Steven Hull.

The story, a psychedelic parable about Cortés presented as a piece of Castañeda apocrypha, formed the basis of Steven Hull’s monumental Puppet Show at the Glow festival in Santa Monica. (Glow is a unique arts festival that takes place for one night only, every two years, on the beach in Santa Monica.) The LP is published to coincide with Steven Hull’s current exhibition at Rosamund Felsen Gallery in LA.

Listening station for A Puppet Show LP at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, part of the current exhibition My Little Boat of Sorrow, curated by Steven Hull — to 9 August 2014.

Listening station for A Puppet Show LP at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, part of the current exhibition My Little Boat of Sorrow, curated by Steven Hull — to 9 August 2014.


The LP features a brilliant new ‘noise jam’ by Gibby Haynes, of the legendary band Butthole Surfers. In his comprehensive sleeve notes, Christopher Schnieders notes that Haynes’s piece — ‘Maigizo ya Bandia’ — ‘synchronizes remarkably with Tony White’s story.’ He’s right. It does. A fact which is all the more remarkable since, as Schnieders tells us, ‘Haynes admits, “I intentionally did not read the story then was shocked to find out how much the writing inspired the sounds.”’

The vinyl LP of A Puppet Show by Steven Hull, featuring my story ‘A Fragment from the Lives of the Conquistadors’ is now available to buy.


-5Steven Hull, A Puppet Show (Nothing Moments, 2014), Vinyl LP, yellow vinyl, gatefold sleeve with inserts.

A Side:
#1 ‘A Fragment from the Lives of the Conquistadors’ story by Tony White and sound by Steven Hull, 12:50 min.
#2 ‘Horse Parade’ by Petra Haden, Tanya Haden and Anna Huff, 3:47 min.

B Side:
#1 ‘Maigizo ya Bandia’ by Gibby Haynes, 10:12 min.
#2 ‘Conquistadorable’ by Petra Haden, Tanya Haden and Anna Huff, 4:51 min.

A Puppet Show LP is now available to buy direct from Rosamund Felsen Gallery for $25.00 + international postage.


Friends in the Los Angeles area will be able to get their hands on a new record featuring my short story ‘A Fragment from the Lives of the Conquistadors’ and music from Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, which launches on 12 July.

Grant Mudford

Grant Mudford


That’s when a new exhibition called “My Little Boat of Sorrow” and curated by artist Steven Hull opens at Rosamund Felsen Gallery in LA. The exhibition includes artworks by Tami Demaree, Alex Evans, Tanya Haden, Gibby Haynes, Allison Schulnik, Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber, and will feature large scale sculptures, drawings, video, sound and paintings — a sinking boat, an army of skeletons, and sculptures of masked heads. During the opening there will be a special marionette performance by Alex Evans and a musical performance by Tanya Haden, Petra Haden and Anna Huff.

The launch is also a record release party for a puppet show, a gatefold vinyl record that documents Steven Hull’s installation at Glow on Santa Monica Beach in September 2013. The record features music by Gibby Haynes (FYI, Butthole Surfers fans), Steven Hull, Tanya Haden, Petra Haden and Anna Huff, and audio of my new short story ‘A fragment from the Lives of the Conquistadors’ — a fictional piece of Carlos Castañeda apocrypha that formed the basis of Hull’s amazing puppet show.

Carlos Castañeda once told this parable about the Conquistador Hernán Cortés. He didn’t write it down, so you won’t find it in any of his books or among his papers, but in any case I heard that Castañeda once spoke of a legend about Cortés, one that he in turn perhaps had heard from his own teacher, don Juan Matus. The legend tells that late in his life – but before his final fall from grace – Cortés and his closest allies, maybe his generals and one or two of their mistresses or companions, stopped on the beach in what is now Santa Monica and stayed there for a short time. Their tangled hair and beards would have been bleached by sun and salt, and their breast plates and helmets ‘battle forged,’ which is to say rusting and dinted; misshapen by innumerable blows.

10409551_10152557177793447_2884448099285032872_nThe record includes images from the marionette performance by Alex Evans and Eric de la Cruz, and Steven Hull’s a puppet show as installed on stage (right). The record was designed by Tami Demaree and Steven Hull with an introduction by Christopher Schneiders. The order and titles of tracks on the record may have varied in production, but this was the tracklisting from an early proof.

A Side:
#1 “A Fragment from the Lives of the Conquistadors” Story by Tony White and sound by Steven Hull, 12:50 min.
#2 “Horse Parade” by Petra Haden, Tanya Haden and Anna Huff, 3:47 min.

B Side:
#1 “Maigizo ya Bandia” by Gibby Haynes, 10:12 min.
#2 “Conquistadorable” by Petra Haden, Tanya Haden and Anna Huff, 4:51 min.


‘My Little Boat of Sorrow’, curated by Steven Hull. Exhibition opening reception and record launch party: Saturday 12 July, 5-7PM. Watch this space or follow me on twitter for information about purchasing the record.

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. B4, Santa Monica, CA 90404

JULY 12 – AUGUST 9, 2014 — Gallery Hours: Tue–Sat, 10AM–5:30PM