The Edge of a Moment: Kairos & Climate Crisis (2022, ongoing)

The Edge of a Moment (workshop documentation)

The Edge of a Moment: Kairos and Climate Crisis project is supported by King’s X Somerset House Studios, a research & development scheme which facilitates and supports new collaborations between King’s researchers from across the Arts & Sciences faculties and the Studios’ hub of resident artists, designers and thinkers. For the project I worked with academic Dr Sarah Lewis, connecting through our mutual interest in the concept of the opportune moment for action, and the ways in which that notion of ‘right-timing’ is culturally constructed.

Kairos - the Greek concept of the opportune moment / right-timing / appropriate action - has never been more relevant to our political, cultural and historical understanding than it is today. The rhetoric associated with kairos (‘seize the moment’, ‘every crisis is an opportunity’, ‘act now or regret it’, ‘you only live once’, ‘now or never’) is all around us, and pervades public discourse; yet it is not a widely familiar term. Kairos has been evoked through the rhetoric surrounding the COVID pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, and through multiple immigration crises. It also plays a part in global cultural movements such as BLM and metoo, and, of particular focus for this project, it’s central to our cultural understanding of and response to the climate emergency. Now is the moment to take action - and to understand and therefore perhaps harness kairos as a temporal and rhetorical framework that shapes our sense of both individual and collective agency.

The Edge of a Moment (website screenshot)

We worked together over a period of six months to explore our individual interests in the concept of kairos, and to design an event which would enable us and others to develop our thinking about the notions of opportunity and action. For me, this thinking grew out of and shaped my work on a film project I am currently developing, which will examine the ways in which we engage with and construct the future from our particular moment of crisis, as well as through the imagined and projected contexts of crisis in that future. For Sarah, this project enabled her to explore kairos in a contemporary setting, and to bring an historical understanding of ‘right-timing’ to bear on a range of twenty-first century contexts, something she is currently focused on through her work as part of the Grasping Kairos network.

As part of the King’s X Somerset House Studios 2021-2022 iteration, The Edge of the Moment: Kairos and Climate Change is one of six artist-researcher projects to have been selected for funding to address pressing contemporary issues, including the post-pandemic world, climate change, activism, im/migration, and identity. Spanning five faculties at King’s and crossing diverse academic and artistic practices – from literature, law, astrophysics, business and global affairs to visual art, immersive experience, film, and gaming, the selected projects aim to offer new critical perspectives on contemporary culture and society through creative interdisciplinary collaborative practice.

The Edge of a Moment (website screenshot)

The Edge of a Moment: Kairos and Climate Crisis ran on February 23rd 2022 at Somerset House in London. The main objective behind this workshop was to explore some of the ways in which kairos is embedded in our crisis thinking, and in our understanding of individual and collective agency in relation to climate change. We invited King’s academics working on climate crisis, students concerned with climate education, artists and others (we had 10 participants in total) to join us at 4pm for four hours of discussion, accompanied by a food experience designed by artist Ines Neto dos Santos.

We split our attendees into two groups, and tasked each group with constructing a speculative narrative about climate change in the future, with one group starting in 2022 and working forward in time to 2100, the other starting at 2100 and working backward in time to 2022. Each group was given a set of scenarios / prompts for discussion, for example: Nuclear power plants open in certain countries that can afford the expensive technology.

They could use these prompts to help shape their narratives. One group worked forwards through time, thinking into the future about the consequences of actions / developments / new situations (where will this take us), and one group worked backward through time, thinking into the past (which is our future!) about catalysts for actions / developments / new situations (how did we get here?). We divided the time of the workshop into 4 stages of about 25 minutes each. For each stage, participants were given one or two food items to engage with – with the hope that they will inspire discussion - and Ines explained how she thought they connected to specific prompts. Participants also wrote their own prompts, and developed the timeline by adding ‘consequences’ and ‘catalysts’.

The Edge of a Moment (website screenshot)

We wanted participants to think and talk about climate change, of course, but we also wanted them to think and talk about time - what part specific temporal ideas such as kairos play in formulating our sense of and response to the climate crisis? How do we decide when to do something? How do we decide what the right action is for the right time? What are the consequences of mis-timing actions? What part does a sense of urgency play in galvanising action?

The workshop explored two key ideas:

Is kairos present in current climate change discourse? What part does kairos, the concept of opportunity (in terms of both right-timing and proper measure), play in our creation of and response to global cultural crises such as the climate change emergency?

Is an awareness and understanding of kairos useful for thinking in different and potentially more effective ways about climate change? Can recognising that kairotic patterns of thought, of speech, and of action are embedded in our abstract sense of ‘crisis’ enable us to more consciously and possibly more effectively tackle the reality of climate change? Can acknowledging kairos as an underlying structuring principle of both individual and collective activism enable us to galvanise and sustain immediate and effective action by imagining new futures/possibilities?

We asked each group to talk us through their timeline at the end of the workshop.

The first workshop was held on February 23rd 2022 at Somerset House in London and was attended by Gary Zhexi Zhang, Gabrielle Reason, Hillary Briffa, Rasha Jomaa, Shirin Hine, Sophie Perry, Maria Rabanser, Angelina Samanya-Sebugudde, Louis Masters and Tom Watson.

Food designed and cooked by Ined Neto dos Santos. Filmed by Paul Bates.

Thanks to Hillary Briffa, George Adamson and Melissa Glackin