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I Dream of Canute (& The Sea is Rising) - About the poem
In July 2013 I visited the High Arctic as part of an artist's residency with the US-Based Arctic Circle Programme. I returned from this life-changing journey with a new perspective on our planet and the way it was changing, largely driven by the actions of the human race. On my return I began making art about climate change and immersing myself more deeply in the subject by reading scientfic reports and through contact with climate change scientists. One of the aspects that struck me about climate change was the timescales involved. To me it seemed that people around the world were ignoring the massive changes that were on the horizon partly because we thought of the future as being perhaps five or ten years away at the most. At the time of writing this climate change is much further away and, although we are already beginning to see the effects that human consumption is having on our planet, it is largely treated as if it is something we can deal with later.
I Dream of Canute (& The Sea is Rising) is my attempt to stretch our perception of time by creating a literary artwork that is formally linked to our planets rising sea levels. This self-destructive poem will play out over the next 100 years, a time period in which it is highly likely that we will experience at least one metre of sea level rise (see Some Notes on Sea Level Rise below). As we enter each year, one line of the poem will disappear. Each line therefore represents one centimetre of sea level rise. I have composed this poem in such a way that it can still hang together as a literary artefact, albeit a permanently shifting one, as it shrinks over time.
In early 2015 I visited Beaufront County First School in Northumberland, UK to run a series of creative workshops with children aged between four and nine on the subject of climate change. I asked the children to share with me the things they would keep and freeze within in a magic iceberg that would hold their keepsakes for the next 10,000 years. Many of the ideas, words and phrases from the children have made their way into I Dream of Canute (& The Sea is Rising) and I am very grateful for their inspiration and collaborative input. Working with young children gives me immense hope for the future. I can only hope that the current generation of adults, of which I am a part, can find the collective strength to change the way that we use this planet's resources for the sake of these remarkable children and the generations that will follow them.
I have no way of predicting if this artwork can survive for the length of time that it will take to complete as I will not be alive for long enough to see it through. To maximise its chances I have launched a public call for an organisation to take on the hosting of the work for the next 100 years. If you are in a position to help with this then please do get in touch with me via my website, which is accessible through the link at the top of this page.
SR, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, October 2016
Some Notes on Sea Level Rise
Predictions for the rate at which sea levels will rise are notoriously difficult to calculate. In general the trigger is the rise in global temperature which in turn causes thermal expansion in the oceans and the melting of glacial ice. Between now and 2100 the current predictions, at the time of writing this in 2016, vary from report to report and sea level rise seems likely be anywhere between 50cm and 2m. The latest IPCC report gives a range of 50cm to 100cm between now and 2100. For the purposes of this artwork I have imagined this 1 metre sea level rise taking place over the 100 years from 2016 – 2116. This is near the top level of the current predictions in the IPCC report but is conservative compared to other predictions that take into account how the melting of ice cliffs around Antarctica could accelerate this process, causing as much as another metre of sea level rise over the next 84 years.
I Dream of Canute (& The Sea is Rising) was produced as part of Arctica, a multi-stranded artwork that I made and presented in 2015 / 2016 encompassing literature, performance, photography, artist’s books, film and public art. Arctica was made possible through the financial support of Arts Council England, Durham Book Festival and New Writing North with additional support from The Arctic Circle, Free Word Centre, the Arvon Foundation, NewBridge Books, Filmpoem, ArtCOP21, The Literary Platform, The Writing Platform and the Centre for Fine Print Research at UWE