A few weeks back, Plan A received a message from an incredibly good looking group of people from Italy. They said their name were Zeitgeist 19, and that they were taking change pretty seriously. So seriously in fact that now Plan A and this collective are working together to foster the sustainable transition at every scale. We interviewed Elizabeth and Farah, the two leaders of the Milanese cultural hub to understand how can reflexion, art and design take sustainability to the next level…
Plan A: Hi Elizabeth & Farah, it is a pleasure to interview heroes like you! Can you tell us a bit more about what Zeitgeist19 is?
Farah: Zeitgeist 19 is a socio-cultural research-led hub that deconstructs classical forms of art education, bringing the artistic research of our speakers directly to its audience by re-considering the social spaces and social experiences, creating an alternative platform. We present multidisciplinary panels and curated talks, where art and sustainability can co-exist, bringing a model of cultural pluralism to Milan.
Elizabeth: We had a shared vision to create curious and inspiring talks we would personally enjoy to attend but that did not exist often in our town.
Your Manifesto states: “We act at the intersection of culture and environmentalism to encourage the conservation of our planet, following the model of ARTivism.” Can you explain what is ARTivism and how culture can support the fight against climate change?
F: Michelangelo Pistoletto once mentioned that art should live on the border of freedom and responsibility. ARTivism is this social responsibility that includes both investigating critical matters and raising awareness through the language of freedom.
E: Art can give us the chance to actively address global issues and seek positive social change, while engaging society and interfering with daily life, ultimately initiating a constructive metamorphosis.
Each event you organise supports a good cause. What motivated you to partner with Plan A to assist you in identifying the most critical projects?
F&E: In our fast-paced world, Plan A provides a very effective way to instantly identify and support ecological emergencies. Thanks to your platform, supporting a good cause is now one click away.
Your last event discussed architecture and the threshold of sustainability. On this occasion, you decided to support Crowdforest, an Italian project using drones to reforest the hills of Northern Italy. Can you tell us more about this choice?
F&E: Indeed, we started the journey of ZG19 with the talk about green architecture, as architecture has been trying to resolve sustainability dilemmas for decades. Our biggest inspiration was our guest speaker arch. Peter Pichler and his Tree Houses project in the forest of the Italian Dolomites. Through Plan A we got to know CrowdForest and felt it was relevant to our topic. Deforestation causes irreversible biodiversity loss and contributes to climate change.
What can artists and intellectuals do to fight climate change?
F: I couldn’t agree more with Francois Quentin, who compared artists to canary birds, using a long forgotten British expression “the canary in the coal mine”. Canaries were used in coal mines to detect the presence of toxic gases, eventually saving lives. The entire society of miners were dependent on tiny birds. Artists today should consider themselves as indicators of potential and upcoming danger, while an artwork – a tool of noticing.
E: By expressing and communicating truths, artists and intellectuals have the mission to change how people perceive themselves and the world around them for the better. As in the butterfly effect, each of them has the power to flap their wings and trigger transformations. We need to be often reminded about the sensitive invisible thread of dependence between all living organisms.
Which artists or philosophers have influenced ZG19 the most and your approach to climate action in particular?
F: When speaking of the biggest personal influences, my approach to climate action is by no means aleatory. My father dedicated years of his doctoral research into identifying alternative energy and clean fuel obtention to produce eco-friendly sulfur-free and aromatics-free gasoline. Whilst my brother continuously explores ways of extraction of flare gas, which leads to air pollution. My family always contributed to climate action, and as an art curator, I’m just taking a different direction to reach the same destination.
E: Likewise Farah, I was raised in a family that gave me a sense of social responsibility. My parents and ancestors have always been involved in cultural affairs and I suppose my way is continuing their trace. Besides, I am fascinated by the romantic part of the 19th & 20th-century German philosophy, perceiving the world as a giant organism uniting nature with spirit, as well by existentialist thinkers investigating our raison d’être.
Do you think that today’s zeitgeist is driven by or centred around climate change?
F: The mechanism of mindless self-destruction has been wound up way too long ago and immediate actions need to be taken. The voice of truth is gradually going up, but it is taking a lot of time.
E: Climate change has radically shaken the kaleidoscope through which we see the world today. This gives us the opportunity to reimagine, reinvent and thoughtfully create, in a way, to heal what has been harmed. We have no choice but to acknowledge it and try to harmonize our coexistence.
What amazing events are coming next from ZG19? Where can we sign up?
F&E: We are really proud of our next interdisciplinary content, which will be announced shortly, and can be found on our website www.zeitgeist19.com.
What would you say to the people who want to support climate action but do not know where to begin or how to go about?
F: Supporting young and innovative platforms such as Plan A and ZG19, taking small yet consistent steps, educating yourself and reconsidering classical sustainability concepts such as ‘Small is Beautiful’ for any initiative.
E: Our new series of short video interviews are an example of a source that educates on that matter, raises awareness and illustrates solutions in an easy and entertaining way. Also, try to stay self-conscious and keep the ‘less is more’ state of mind, keep it simple.