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ACAN Climate Confession Booth at the Carnival of Crisis

ACAN's Emily Norman, Hwei Fan Liang, and Gabi Marrero at the Climate Confession Booth

ACAN's climate awareness installation popped up in London during COP26 at University of the Arts London, writes Emily Norman


ACAN’s Climate Confession Booth met new audiences at the ‘Change Agents: Canopy Market Takeover’ in Kings Cross as part of Carnival of Crisis – a season of events run in parallel with the COP26 Climate Summit. Hosted by University Arts London’s own Climate Emergency Network, ACAN was invited to represent at a market stall with our ‘Confession Booth’. The installation was originally targeted at architects as an event ‘ice-breaker’, yet here it welcomed a new audience: unsuspecting members of the general public.

With the world’s gaze focused keenly on Glasgow, the rest of us were nervously minding our own business, biting our fingernails or casually moseying around the ‘Change Agents: Canopy Market Takeover’, an artisanal food and craft market between the 5th-7th of November – with no idea we were about to be invited to confess our climate sins!

Amongst the sustainable fashion and accessories stalls and one occupied by environmental slow journalism magazine It’s Freezing in LA!, we installed The Climate Confession Booth and a showcase of ACAN’s campaigns and thematic groups using the A1 posters created for our Glasgow exhibition Architectures of Crisis: Hopes & Visions. The booth, constructed of U-Build modules (as per its Futurebuild 2020 iteration) occupied a focal point at the end of the market. Its potent mix of making a bemusing spectacle out of a very serious topic, whilst placing the viewer’s own agency at its centre soon piqued the curiosity of passers-by.

“Would you like to confess your climate sins?”

Reactions varied from quiet contemplation, enthusiasm and grace, to avoidance tinged with shame and denial. For every "Oh nooo not me, I've got far too many to write it would take all day!" there were those willing to face themselves and engage. Many people quickly found a weird mix of surprise, humour, identity and relief, connecting with others who also don’t – turn their charger plugs off; leave taps running; love flying; work in wasteful restaurants; are too lazy to recycle; consume fast fashion for fear of losing face; or haven’t yet turned on their new solar panels due to hassle with the recent government Green Homes Grants debacle.

A particular favourite for loud exclamations was "ahhh that is me!!! I LOVE cheese!" at the written confession of the person who can't stop eating cheese, often followed by another’s furrowed brow, “um, but what is wrong with eating cheese?” Needless to say, we were not short of shared inner angst, some self-congratulation and a host of prickly questions to boot.

Once you confront your own fears and decide to be a force for good, each day inevitably becomes a gauntlet of fraught personal and professional choices in the age of climate and ecological breakdown. As with any problem, awareness and admission of your failings are the first steps on the pathway of transformation. This is precisely what the booth offers, in a friendly social context that reminds us we are not alone.

The process of admitting your environmental sins and reading other anonymous confessions hopes to spark communal reflection and understanding of people’s perceptions and concerns about the climate emergency. It seeks to dissolve any sense of individual shame, and through shared experience inspire collective action. There is something about identifying with someone else’s confession that somehow makes it easier to see how you could change your behaviour in turn.

The role of individual action

The role of buildings and the construction industry at large was less of a focus, our conversations were more about who we are as a network, how we work together and what we're aiming for – and the power and the salve that holds for us as individuals engaging in collective action against an overwhelming and destabilising threat. Whilst nobody needed convincing that climate change is a thing and we all have a part to play, the tension between the need for personal responsibility alongside government responsibility was palpable, a sense of powerlessness in the value of individual action was felt by many.

Some were really thinking deeply about the impact of their own actions and how to balance their personal wants with their environmental values. Whilst many of us know we could make different choices but decide not to for a plethora of reasons, a lot of people are perhaps still unaware of basic cause and effect impacts, especially in our industry of architecture and construction.

Whenever we were challenged on a perceived shortcoming, we were able to draw alliances on the fact that irrespective of specialisms or knowledge limitations, we're all working towards the same goals. The shortcomings only highlighted the importance of 'conversation', of listening to each other and working together rather than apart, using each other’s strengths over criticising weaknesses. To my surprise, many people were even thanking us for ACAN’s existence, and seemed genuinely grateful to learn a bunch of independent built environment professionals had connected together to inspire change within their industry.

Whilst we may not have solved any problems, each conversation was an important reminder of the ripple effect potential, a reminder of the power that ACAN has in modelling what a network of individuals with aligned principles and behaviours can achieve, about the importance of visibility, and demonstrating that if we can, then others can too.

Thanks to:

Gabi Marrero

Abbi Fletcher

Jeremy Till

Nick Newman

Tom Bennett

Panopus Printing

Bobby Jewell

Hwei-Fan Liang

Martina Lucchese

Solveig Sostmann

Jack Schroeder

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