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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  September 17, 2019 4:30am-5:01am BST

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the headlines: the european union's frustration with the uk over brexit has hit the headlines, with the prime minister of luxembourg describing the brexit process as "a nightmare". after meeting boris johnson, xavier bettel said the british government had failed to put forward any serious proposals for a new deal. president trump says it "looks as though iran" was behind the attack on two major saudi oilfacilities. he said washington was seeking more proof, but stressed he hoped to avoid war. iranian president hassan rouhani has denied his country had any involvement. teenage climate activist greta thunberg has accepted an award for ‘ambassador of conscience' at a ceremony in washington. she was given the award by the worldwide human rights charity, amnesty international. she started the international youth movement against climate change when she protested outside the swedish parliament last year.
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now on bbc news: it's hardtalk with zeinab badawi. welcome to hardtalk from tate modern in london where my guest has a major exhibition. he is the award—winning icelandic danish artist. he believes that art can change the world by, for instance, tackling climate change. this is one of his exhibits, a giant wall made of moss. the idea is to get people thinking differently about the environment, for instance, could buildings of the future be made more sustainably? is this sort of thing visionary or far—fetched?
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olafur eliasson, welcome to hardtalk. thank you, zeinab. you had a fairly unorthodox upbringing. your parents were extremely young when they had you, your mother 20, yourfather i9. born in iceland, moved to denmark. your mother was a seamstress, your father a cook. how did your early life influence you, in your work? well, my father moved back to iceland and i would spend my vacations in iceland, running around in nature while he was painting. he also worked as an artist, actually. my mother in denmark would make sure i would go to school, and you could say that my mother had the more disciplined approach to life, where my father supported a more hedonistic approach. and being in nature over the summer, and playing around as a child with my father, that really influenced me a lot. but also, to be fair, my mother giving me a sense of purpose, a direction, made a great difference for me. you also took part in sort of early artistic experiments
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with your father, on a ship. yes, well, he worked as a cook, as well, on a boat, and obviously i was staying in close contact with him until he passed away, some 20 years ago now. we talked about, well, how could we use the ship or the ocean itself as a drawing machine? so we would sort of think of — we would put a bowl with ink on it on a piece of paper. and what we saw was essentially how the ocean was sort of using the ship as a pen, reversing everything, so it was in fact a drawing of where my father was. and then he would write down, this is north of norway, at this and this ocean, and so—and—so — the depth is so—and—so. and all of these drawings we would collect and show them to people. and then you went to the royal danish academy of arts, studied there, and moved to new york. but it wasn't until you went back to europe from america
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when you began to start making art seriously. was that sort of tied up with your identity — that you were a european, and you could only work properly when you got back to europe? yes, i was a young artist. i started art school when the berlin wall came down. i was so optimistic. i said, why even stay on at school? let me go to new york and get it over with. it was only when i realised, actually, this is a little harder, maybe studying art is not so bad after all. so i went back and realised i'm being honest with myself, taking this serious, slowing down a bit. and this is sort of when i actually started, as i say, to get more serious. and you're now a world—renowned artist, and particularly famous for your large—scale installations. and here at tate modern, in london, there's a retrospective of some of your major works over the last 25 years. one very striking one — the rainbow. what are you trying to tell people there? one of the very early works of mine is a rainbow. it's called beauty. it's drizzling water on a lamp, and what you see is then the spectral colours.
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of course, if you move a bit, you see, oh, is it like fire, is it a rainbow? and it's very engaging to look at. and interestingly, the person standing next to you, or over there, obviously because a drop of water in a colour is depending on your eye, the person sees something else. and it's just like it is with rainbows. it's just like we're having that experience together, and i think it's magnificent. a rainbow is ephemeral, isn't it? i mean, is there a message in that? yes, but the idea is i have a personal, very strong ephemeral, immaterial experience. so do you, standing over there. but it's not the same as standing together. so when i did the work, i was very interested, could we dematerialise the kind of objects? because art is often — here is a branch, solid, on a pedestal. i can walk around it, but the artwork is there.
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maybe i could suggest, if i dematerialised the artwork, it's the relationship, it's the evaluation. am i seeing something? what does seeing actually mean? is this real? and therefore the seeing itself, with you as a spectator, becomes much more interesting, and sort of a co—producer. you become an artist as well, i could argue. there are quite a lot of exhibits you have here. another very striking one is the moss wall. what are you trying to tell viewers there? so i work a lot with natural phenomena and natural sort of experiences, and how do our senses react to that? and back when i did the moss wall, it was sort of before the kind of green vertical gardens, green high—rises, had shown up. and i proposed, well, maybe ecology has an answer to architects. maybe we should look to nature for a response to how to build buildings. the moss wall is like, why don't we just build with moss? in this case, why don't we listen to nature in order to come up with solutions to architectural things? and, as we can see in the moss wall, it looks amazing.
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are you seriously suggesting people, say, could live in a house that has got walls made of moss? well, the point is more like, with the moss wall, it's more like a proposal to say well, instead of as we know now, a lot of sort of building and materials are not sustainable, right? why don't we seek answers to what — how are we going to live in the future, if not the moss wall? but then the proposal is, maybe ecology has things to offer. we just need to find ways to implement them. there's a very strong sort of climate theme to a lot of your work. i mean, in the past we've seen how you had the waterfalls on the brooklyn bridge in new york. you've got a waterfall exhibit here also, at tate modern. and then you also, in the past, had the shock tactic of dyeing rivers green in cities, something which you've stopped. why is climate so important to your work? i should also mention ice watch, in which of course you had glaciers which you had shipped
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in from greenland to the uk. why is climate so important to you? i'm old enough to remember when there was the distinction between culture and nature, and now we know that nature isn't something out there. nature has been sort of taken over by humankind, so to speak. there is no outside. there's — everything is cultivated. it's what we call the anthropocene. but for many years, i've been interested in moss, in water, in the ephemeral, in natural phenomena. it was obviously very easy for me to start thinking about, can i use my artworks to make explicit what it is that the scientists are talking about? what is it the politicians are talking about? what is the data report that the un is making for us, the cop? because for ordinary people,
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it can be difficult to think, what can i do with this massive data report? what does this have to do with me? so i think one of the things i was interested in is simply making tangible what it is that's going on. so the ice watch project, quite frankly, offers the opportunity to look at the ice from greenland and say, oh, this is what they're talking about. this is the ice. and interestingly, it's actually very touching. and you put your hand on it, you go, oh, it's really cold. and you kind of know it's ice, it's cold. but still, feeling it on your own hands, as banal as it might sound, it's amazing. and then you just realise, oh, this is actually something right in my era, in front of me. and what does that do, though, olafur eliasson? are people aware about climate change? are you saying that you can actually get people to translate this kind of awareness and thinking into action? i think embodied knowledge has a more likely chance to embolden people to decide to change their behaviour, to change the way they do things.
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i think it's very hard to sort of instigate change if we're only relating to data, if it's only disemotionalised information. you need to bring an element of emotional life, saying i have a feeling about it. that is very dangerous, too, as we know. but all in all, what art can do is it can make things which are seemingly out of touch, somehow, and make it touchable, and make it available in a way where people say, ok, i understand that. this is somehow relating to me. i get it. but what does it actually, actually do? because you have said that the private sector is all about profitability, the public sector is about populism now, and that's irrational. and that just simply leaves the cultural sector. you're asking too much of culture, surely, to say that it will change minds, lead to policies which, you know, to stop greenhouse gas emissions, and all the rest of it. it's too much.
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no, it's not. i actually don't think so. but, of course, i as an artist am just one of many artists. so when i talk, i talk for me, and not all artists. but what i think is interesting, if you look at civil society, where do we find trust, civic trust? what do people actually identify with, and where do people say, oh, here is someone who is actually listening to me? so i think the cultural sector is a space where people say, oh, i identify with something, with this book, this theatre, this dancer. this is how i would move if i could express my feelings. people look at a dancer, they say this is me. so unlike politicians, where it's like — ok, personal, incredibly short—term, always about the immediate. they're always talking down to you — you're not good enough, you're not good enough. and let's be honest. the private sector is actually doing a lot. it's a bit unfair to say that they're only about profitability. but in the long run, you don't see the necessary radical change in the private sector, because profitability is pushing against the climate.
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so the cultural sector as a system, a civics sort of element, i think, has a unique chance to give a voice where people can identify with it and say, this is something we believe in, we'll push for that. but alone, the cultural sector can't do it, for sure. but i mean, it's interesting, because raising awareness about climate change is one thing. and i'm thinking in particular of an example from australia, when in 2017, a then—cabinet minister, scott morrison, stood in parliament brandishing a piece of coal, saying support fossil fuels, coal in australia. climate change registers very high in voters‘ priorities. 2018—2019 you have the hottest summer on record in australia. but then what happens in elections this year in may? scott morrison becomes prime minister. so awareness of climate change doesn't necessarily translate into people voting. i think it is first to say we have a finite pool of worries. we can only worry so much. if people are worrying about brexit,
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if people are worrying about the financial crisis in 2008, we know that their worry pool is full, and people do not think of climate change as being a major thing to worry about. but we are, i think, seeing a radical shift. i think the consciousness about the consequences of global warming is getting so common knowledge that we're seeing massive movements. we have civic movements, we have the extension of movements which have been incredibly successful, "make the world great again," and all the amazing things happening. so i honestly do think that we have, we will always have, probably nationalism, xenophobia. they will be popping up here and there. these are the headlines. but the greater trends, i think, are moving. not fast enough — the governments are not signing up to the 1.5 degrees that they promised in paris some years ago, but it is moving in the right direction, i feel. you are a member of the social
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practice movement, a word which describes any art form which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration and social interaction, and you have used your art to engage with refugee communities as well as obviously, as we have been discussing, climate change. do you think then that the best art is art which has a purpose? the foremost art purpose is to be art. that's how it is, right? and art cannot be put behind somebody else's wagon. but, if we think about it, art always was about something. it's not like art at some point was not about anything. even highly abstract art, autonomous, avant garde art, was about the principle of not being, you know, commodified, and to support the notion that we need something abstract in our society, to have a space to dream and have a space to sort of say, ok, i need a space in which i canjust dream for a while, until i can
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articulate what it is i want to say. but there is a debate within the art world, isn't there. i mean, i'll give you a quote from an american art critic, arthur danto, he says, "a century ago beauty was almost unanimously considered the supreme purpose of art, and even synonymous with artistic excellence, yet today beauty has come to be viewed as an aesthetic crime. artists are now chastised by critics if their work seems to aim at beauty." we have had the aesthetic movement, you know, art for art's sake. let's just celebrate beauty. there is nothing wrong with that. yes but art for art's sake, or 100 years ago, it was also a reaction to something. it was notjust some kind of autonomous, disconnected dream. it was a reaction to a highly functionalised relationship where art was working for the church, orfor the industry and therefore it moved in that direction. art was never in that way out of context. art was always reflecting the time in which it was made. you cannot commodify an artwork without also implementing, or having some impact on it, but to say that art is better art when it is disconnected from a discourse or from a debate or something, we should be very careful about that because we also do not want to take the basic agency
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away from the artist and from the artwork itself. to have a work of art is essentially is to hold hands with the world. you have said in the past, when you were at the world economic forum, in davos in 2016, "art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the glut of information we are faced with today and motivate people to turn thinking into doing." are you able to measure in any way whether your art has indeed translated thinking into doing? i am so happy i said that — that's funny... you did say that, it was a quote. anyway so, yeah, that's a good question. i actually do think so fundamentally, yes. but we also have to see how do we measure success? i mean, normally it is measured in these very quantifiable ways. and what we also need to say that art is not always quantifiable. sometimes success criteria is not always something you can measure. not all important can be measured also. as to art, think of something like a safe space in which we can have difficult conversations. a museum like the tate, it is a place where you can have
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conversations you simply cannot have in other places and in that sense there is something about where can i exercise togetherness with somebody with whom i fundamentally disagree? it's very interesting, we would think the parliament would be able to do that but we see now how they cannot even come up with simple things without falling out against each other, and excluding each other. so i am completely certain that — i don't want to say peace negotiations and so on — but this notion of sharing without having to agree is something that culture, let's say culture and art, is capable of in quite unique ways. as part of your thinking, i should mention that in 2012 you put forward a proposal, take a deep breath, to celebrate the london olympics, and that idea did not really take off.
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it consisted of people across the world inhaling and exhaling on behalf of a person, a movement or a cause. and it did not get a good reception in the british press. the times described it as "hilarious" and so on. were you — are you hurt by rejection or when people don't get your ideas? i think that happens quite often actually. i propose something and then people say, olaf, this is really horrible idea. so if you keep pushing things, you will get rejections. that's just how it is. it didn't mean that i stopped it and still i think it's an amazing idea. it was too contemplative for london at the time, who were all in the head and maybe in the future they will be in the body and i will do it at some other time... you sort of register it on a website in a personal kind of breath bubble.
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it was — a work of art like that is a process and sort of you negotiate it. it did not actually even find its final shape before we then actually we moved on with something else. as an artist who works like i do, i work a lot outside the museum and in public spaces. i work with politicians, i even work with pyrotechnics and so on and so forth. so i need to face the fact that i get a lot of rejection too. talking about the role of art in society, there has always been a lot of collaboration, of course, between art and the world of design and technology, but when it comes to science, do you think there is a connection between art and science? albert einstein said, "arts and sciences are branches from the same tree". and the french painter, georges braque said, "art is meant to disturb, science reassures". so there's obviously been this debate for some time. how do you see the role of art and science? in my artistic practice i actually use a lot of, primarily, social science. i have great collaborations and i enjoy and i learn a lot from science. at the end of the day, you could sort of break it up and say science is more about how and art often is more about why. why are we doing all of this? science is more like, let's break it down and how are actually we doing all of this.
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but still both of them are models of the world, to some extent, models that have impact on the world. also they are about reflection and understanding the world so they have things in common but we should not make them overlap completely. it would functionalize both in the wrong direction. but you yourself, you're very much an activist, not only an art activist, and part of the social practice movement, as we've discussed, you actually want to help in very tangible ways. you have very close connections to africa through ethiopia. you have adopted two children from ethiopian and you are very keen on bringing power through solar energy to people who do not have access to power in any way, and you set up this not—for—profit project called little sun. yes. just tell us a little bit about that. let me show it to you. actually and it's funny because art and science and what can i do outside of the conventional comfort zone. this is a solar panel, a very small one, a very good one, here's an led and inside there's
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a rechargeable battery. so i can turn it on and this means during the day i can harvest the energy and i can use the energy to replace petroleum and kerosene and maybe stop chopping down the trees. at night i have more cleaner sustainable, affordable light when i want to do my homework, when i want to keep my kiosk open a little bit longer. light as it is in my work as well, is also about empowering yourself, it's about reflecting on your own life. on one side it is a functional thing. we need light, we simply do need light, but it is also an emotional thing — light is also about livelihood. power is about empowerment. and to charge yourself is really also about, well, if i can illuminate myself and my own home, for that matter, i have a life, i can take charge of my life.
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it is an uphill struggle to get people to embrace solar energy and other forms of renewable energy. there has to be, i believe, in this case and there are other partners doing similar work like us out in the so—called rural areas. the thing is, there has to be an economic upside to it too. it has to be cheaper than the petroleum. the investment into this or once you actually have it, that may be the first step but once you actually use it, you're not buying petroleum for the next three or four years. when you look across the political landscape in europe, and you look at climate change and how the greens performed very well into the recent european parliament elections, we had the extinction rebellion protests here in the uk. do you think this kind of issue—based politics is going to be the politics that we're going to see more of? we see now a lot of talk. there's not a massive legislative change yet, there's not a lot of sort of reorganization of the systems which have been creating the problems that we are in now so i'm curious to see if the civic interest might push the politicians.
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you would like to think that the politicians might go first but now it does not seem to be happening. which means that the civic, the people, we see around the world, probably need to take the lead than elect politicians. we had a party at the recent elections in denmark who simply did not have a green or climate account and they suddenly did not get elected. it was very interesting, even their own electorate did not support them any more. but the speaker of the danish parliament, explaining the loss of three seats in the european parliament to the greens, said that was down to "climate fools". and i think a lot of people picked up on that. that was funny... you have described yourself, you've said, "i'm happy to be called a climate fool". the madmen of yesterday, as we know, are the visionaries of tomorrow, who said that again?
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but the thing is here, probably we need a slightly more robust change than we would like to acknowledge the situation is. foolishness, obstructionist, is honourable and as much as we... we are trying to reorganise, i'm trying to reorganize whatever i can do both in my art, as a person, in my studio, the thing is, we are facing situations where we suddenly now have 11 years, 1.5 degrees, it is not adding up. here you are with this big celebration of your work at tate modern. what can we expect from olafur eliasson in the future? what is happening is of course now, out present, like the way we sit and talk here, instead of being guided by the past we are probably now in a situation where we have to be guided by the future. we are going to have to reconsider the way we do things by having a future imaginary which is going
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to be positive and hopeful and say this is where we go. we are going to go there together. olafur eliasson, thank you very much indeed for coming on hardtalk. thank you so much. hello once again. autumn is presenting its quiet face towards us just at the moment. sometimes it can be stormy. well, we're seeing that quiet spell of weather certainly dominating for the next few days. dry by day and cool, as befits the season, overnight. that's the way the pressure chart is shaping up for tuesday — high pressure very much the dominant feature. quite a number of isobars you'll notice as we get on into tuesday. thejetstream is coming up and around the atlantic high and sweeping down into the heart of continental europe, offering some more unsettled fare there and certainly colder conditions as well than we're enjoying here in the british isles.
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a coolish sort of start to the day, but come the afternoon, plenty of sunshine around. the temperatures again, the midteens or so up to about 20 degrees. just tempering the sunshine late on in the day as we bring a warm front in from the atlantic. it'll still be there as we move from tuesday on into wednesday. enough cloud associated with that for there to be the odd bit and piece of rain, primarily across the northern half of scotland. elsewhere, it's going to be a really decent sort of day. by the stage, the high pressure will have moved just sufficiently far towards the east to pushed those chill north—westerly winds out into the north sea, so it may well feel a tad warmer across the north—east of scotland simply because you've lost the strength of the wind. come thursday, that high pressure is going to be very much the dominant feature, keeping it fine and settled in all parts. you'll notice as we move towards the latter part of the week, so the high centre moves over to continental europe, and that allows the chance for us to pick up air of continental origin.
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there's still some warmth across the continent at the mediterranean at this time of year, and we're going to start tapping into that. it brings drier conditions across us, so any chance of mist or fog that may well have been there the first part of thursday won't be an issue on the first part of friday. those temperatures just ticking up by a degree or two quite widely across the british isles, 20 as far north as aberdeen. not a great deal changes from friday into saturday. notice the run of isobars is there from south to north, keeping the atlantic fronts at bay at this stage. so saturday's another glorious day for many parts of the british isles. there's just the chance of one or two showers, quite heavy showers at that, getting into the far south—west to finish off the day. a high on the day of 25, that's really not bad for the time of year. and then come sunday, we start importing some moisture. a frontal system trying to come in from the atlantic, but ahead of it we'll have some thundery showers gradually working their way up and across many parts of the british isles on what is going to be
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quite a sultry day.
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this is the briefing, i'm sally bundock. our top story: was boris johnson's five—week suspension of parliament legal? two conflicting rulings force the uk's supreme court to have the final say. polls open in israel for its second general election this year. after ten years at the top — it's a crucial test for prime minister benjamin netanyahu. the teenager who took on climate change. greta thunberg accepts amnesty international‘s ambassador of conscience award. and in business briefing, see you in court —


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