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Representing Heat through performance



This magazine illustrates a unique collaboration organised by the Sydney Environment Institute – one between a broadly interdisciplinary set of natural and social science researchers working on the impacts of heat and heatwaves on the one hand, and a set of artists, musicians, and theatre auteurs on the other. As researchers, we know that the reality in Sydney is that in a heatwave it is generally older and poorer people, living alone, who are most vulnerable. We understand this process climatically, physically, and socially. But how can that reality be communicated beyond the usual research community in innovative and impactful ways? The goal of this project was to translate, represent, embody, and present to the public through the arts some fairly straightforward physical and social research on the impact of heatwaves.

Musicians incorporated sound loops of public testimony of the experience of heat waves into moving compositions. The Living Room Theatre created performances that integrated research on human and animal physiology to ground the story of the death of an elderly woman. Along the way, events were organised to explore the creative process, to engage theories of climate denial, to experience innovative forms of music composition and theatre. The ‘elephant in the room’, the reality of increasing climate change and its impacts, became the recurring theme and image – constantly and over multiple events prompting reflection and engagement.

What follows is a set of stories and reflections generated by this broadly collaborative project. We conclude with a small study of the impact of a performance on a select group of audience members. Here, discussions illustrate how artistic representation impacts the senses, renders the invisible visible, illustrates our entanglement with the nonhuman realm, and promotes thinking about connections, community, and care. Overall, this project powerfully reinforces the multidisciplinary mission of the Sydney Environment Institute, and illustrates the potential of work across the sciences, humanities, and arts.

Support for this project was provided by the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC), the Sydney Environment Institute, the School of Veterinary Science, the School of Media and Communications, the Department of Performance Studies, and the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory at the University of Sydney. The Living Room Theatre’s contribution was also supported by a partnership with the City of Sydney and Brand X. Many thanks to all of our supporters, collaborators, and creators.

Professor David Schlosberg, Co-Director –  Sydney Environment Institute