“Everyone is Talking About the Weather”: Venice Responds to the Global Climate Crisis
Jun 06, 2023 by Yan Shuai
“Everyone is Talking About the Weather, But We Don’t”, poster, 1968
In early 1968, a striking red poster appeared on the streets of West German university cities. The portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenin were placed in the center of the red poster, with bold German text reading “Everyone is talking about the weather, but we don’t” (Alle reden vom Wetter. Wir nicht).
In the late 1960s, the global social revolution movement was in full swing. The message spread by the poster of the Socialist German Student Union (SDS) was direct and clear: while other political parties wasted time chatting about “weather,” socialists, and a broader range of leftists, focused on the truly important structural issues of society – healthcare, wage structure, ownership of means of production, and the provision of equal job opportunities and guarantees. This also made the overall visual language quickly become a modern symbol of protest culture.
The SDS produced propaganda posters that imitated the slogans and images of the advertising campaign launched by the German railway in 1966 – a locomotive in the middle of a black poster was flying unimpeded in the snow – the so-called “force majeure” (weather), which was bravely crossed by the German railway at that moment. Weather – everything that is insubstantial, superficial, and irrelevant – is therefore seen as the easiest to break through, and at the same time, it is considered the least thing to talk about in a progressive society.
In 2019, artist Anne-Christine Klarmann recreated a visual image and slogan from 50 years ago, but this time, she replaced Marx, Engels, and Lenin with biologist Judith Ellens, anthropologist Carola Rackete, and environmental activist Greta Thunberg, respectively. The slogan was also changed to “Everyone talks about the weather, so do we” (Alle reden vom Wetter.wir auch).
From Klarmann’s work, it can be observed that the three male revolutionary figures who were originally the subject have been replaced by three women. The male group is no longer the only referent for the subject of the movement slogan. Women scholars and activists from different fields have actively joined the discussion. This expression, which includes ecofeminist ideas, is clearly related to the changing political and social concepts and contexts of the word “weather” in the past 60 years. The weather being discussed no longer refers to meaningless content, but has become one of the most real and practical problems in human life, along with climate change and ecological crises. Various countries are involved in the topic, and therefore, the internal logic of the weather is the expression and competition of global economic and political discourse.
As Dutch curator Dieter Roelstraete mentioned in his article, “Talking about the weather satisfies the universal need of human communication and sharing information. ‘Weather’ is probably the only truly global tool that promotes daily human interaction and dialogue.” The exhibition placed an electronic screen that continuously plays global weather forecast images at the entrance. In the context of more discussions on geopolitics today, while emphasizing the synchronicity of global cultural climate, perhaps the audience may not be aware or even care about the weather in another country, but it is constantly affecting their lives in the same time and space.
The exhibition “Everybody Talks about Weather” at the Fondazione Prada is not the first institution or exhibition in the art world to discuss the topic of weather. In recent years, there have been discussions on weather in various workshops, residency programs, and exhibitions such as Ulrike Meinhof’s collection of essays “Everybody Talks about Weather, We Don’t” (Seven Stories Press, 2008) and the exhibition project “Let’s Talk about Weather” (Guangdong Times Museum, 2018). However, unlike previous art practices that focused on the diversity of species, colonial and post-colonial cultures, capital and the Anthropocene, this exhibition emphasizes the importance of re-examining art history and the concept of “meteorology” as a reliable and rich historical concept, facing the “unimaginable” in a new way. Thanks to the background and work of the Prada Foundation, the curator has arranged classic works of art history such as those by Giorgione, Turner, Poussin, Courbet, Monet, Katsushika Hokusai, and Bruegel (although most are exhibition replicas) together with contemporary artists’ works, providing a new perspective for observation and interpretation under scientific and technological research.
Peter Bruegel’s “The Hunters in the Snow” from 1565, originally housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, is closely related to the ice age and is displayed in the Foundation’s space in a chapter dedicated to important historical works. Unlike other paintings that typically depict agricultural and pastoral activities during the year, “The Hunters in the Snow” has a much darker tone and atmosphere. The people in the lower left corner of the painting are visibly upset, and the supposed hunting trip has clearly failed, with the exception of a thin and weak fox carcass. A group of thin, tired, and trekking dogs make up the narrative center of the entire painting, and to some extent, provide a key understanding of the historical background of the work: the sudden arrival of a harsh winter, accompanied by crop failures and famine, due to the impact of the “Little Ice Age.” These catastrophic events largely marked an unprecedented global crisis period from the mid-16th century to the mid-17th century.
In the exhibition “Everyone is Talking About the Weather,” a sharp perspective is presented on the appreciation of color and light in the important Impressionist work “Sunrise”: the beautification of human environmental destruction. In the late stages of the Industrial Revolution, coal consumption in French industry increased rapidly, and the smoke from the Le Havre port in Monet’s painting even became a characteristic of French visual culture. The coal smoke pouring out of the ship’s chimney produces a refracted array of colors in the changing light, making Monet’s paintings so stunning. The exhibition curator has taken classic works of art, such as Pissarro’s “Flood,” Turner’s “Fog,” and Courbet’s “Storm,” out of the high shelves of art history and transformed the emotions and fables of classic art creation into the current state and facts of climate ecology in the exhibition through scientific and statistical research methods.
Part of the exhibition is dedicated to contemporary and future-oriented works that engage in a dialogue with history throughout the exhibition. Ursula Biemann, a Swiss filmmaker, educator, and writer, conducts extensive field research in remote areas from the Amazon to Greenland. Her short films “Deep Weather” and “Atlantic” reflect her recent reflections on the environmental costs of globalization, where human-induced factors of climate change have become the main driving force today. The “deep” mentioned in the video title refers to the causal connection between the exploitation of the Athabasca oil sands in western Canada and the increasing extreme weather events along the coast of Bangladesh. Although we do not know how long this connection will last, it forms a smooth meditation on the ocean currents that connect seemingly distant geographical regions.
Artist Ayran Farah, born in 1978, creates large-scale abstract paintings using natural dyes and weathering agents such as ash, soil, salt, and vinegar. Titles such as storms, rain, waves, and ebb and flow suggest the artist’s interest in natural processes and pay tribute to earth art or the longer history of landscape painting. To create these works, Farah travels extensively (dry, desert-like countries are her favorite destinations), and her “nomadic” experiences strongly influence the aesthetics of her creative practice.
Raqs Media Collective, an Indian art group, produced a 25-minute underwater film called “Deep Breath,” which documents the process of three divers searching for fragments of ancient Greek maxims in the Saronek Bay of the Aegean Sea. The film was shot in the summer of 2019 and, although the concept of the film directly references French feminist philosopher’s study of Heidegger’s ideas, the recent COVID-19 pandemic over the past three years has made the audience more directly aware of the potential lethality of the air we breathe, which gives life.
In addition to the dialogue between the works, the curator designed a wave-shaped large display shelf on the first and second floors of the exhibition hall. The curator also incorporated the views of Arne Naess’s “deep ecology” and Indian writer Amistav Ghosh into the exhibition. Ghosh believes that when the theme of climate change appears in publications, it is almost always associated with non-fiction; long novels and short stories are rarely found in this perspective. In fact, it can even be said that novels involving climate change are almost not the type of serious literary journals that are taken seriously. Artistic discussions of serious issues also face similar problems. Therefore, the exhibition chose to place ecological research-related texts, archival materials, and interdisciplinary research interviews together, allowing the audience to freely browse or click on video materials. In the framework of art and technology, it truly allows “everyone” to talk about the weather.
During this week of article writing, the Venice Grand Canal was shocked by fluorescent green, and the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy continued to experience heavy rain. The climate problem is huge and complex, but the Prada Foundation and “Everyone is Talking About the Weather” are not eager to propose specific solutions. Instead, they try to maintain a balance between criticism and research, between art and science, and realize the synchronicity of the climate crisis from the perspective of art. So, do we want to talk about the weather today?