DRAWDOWN // Interview with Ben Sheppee - Collusion

DRAWDOWN // Interview with Ben Sheppee22 October 2020

Ben Sheppee is the latest artist to work with Collusion to create a new projected artwork for King’s Lynn. DRAWDOWN runs from 25 October to 24 November. We asked Sheppee what inspired him to create the work in response to the climate change theme.

What attracted you to this commission opportunity? Recently we’ve had a lot of time to reflect on our lifestyle choices. The lockdowns we’ve been experiencing have had a negative impact for most, and some of us have been forced to adopt changes. It’s also been a time to reflect and find new directions.

In March this year the media reported a reduction in air pollution worldwide, which was one of the positive impacts that we can take away from 2020. People in India were able to see the Peaks of the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years due to the improving air quality and the reduction in emissions. This happened around the time I first learnt about the opportunity in King’s Lynn.

How did you approach the commission? The difficulty with the theme of climate change is that a part of the population has become desensitized to it. Generally the message about climate change is out there now and people are aware of it. But it’s my opinion that a lot of the media attention around climate change is quite negative and depressing, and we feel like we are being told off for the state of the planet.

My thoughts were that people need information about how to react to these issues and make it rewarding to contribute to the solution. Could we present a more positive image on climate change, and empower the public at a time when people are already updating their lifestyle given the present climate caused by coronavirus.

I did a couple of courses online and I came across a project called Drawdown, which essentially is an international study group of scientists that are proposing how to reverse the effects of climate change based on some hard research. They’ve come up with a report ranking 100 ways to reverse climate change, with #1 being the most effective in sequestering carbon from the environment. But the report is over 100 pages long and tough to follow at times. It did however outline a collection of solutions which were easier to digest.

How did you make the Drawdown report relevant to King’s Lynn? I focused on subjects that related to King’s Lynn, tailoring the selected solutions to this locality, then began grouping the key issues. Some obvious categories formed: energy (fire), air (emissions), preservation of nature (earth). From here I began art-boarding a visual response for each. King’s Lynn is unique in that it has four permanent projection mapping installations set up on some of its timeless buildings around the centre of town. I divided up the solutions across the sites using these categories.

Greyfriars for example represents possible changes to our energy use, and is represented by slow motion fire, playing backwards to stimulate ideas of reduction and reversal. The Minster on the other hand is more focused around emissions and takes on the element of air. This outlines solutions like moving to electric cars and refrigeration management. St Nicholas, surrounded by trees, seemed to naturally endorse themes around the protection of nature. The Custom House overlooks wetlands and naturally gave home to themes like tidal power.

Why did you pick certain solutions over others? I was most interested in solutions which don’t necessarily come up much in the conversation of climate change. People may associate solar panels and wind turbines as obvious ways to reverse climate change but actually some of the most important solutions are things that we can take personal responsibility for

What do you hope DRAWDOWN will achieve? This project is successful if it breaks it down for people and helps others understand small changes that can better the situation. When we are successful in reversing climate change, it will be a quiet revolution in a way, because it really comes down to people adopting it personally. We can’t rely on the politicians to solve all of the world’s problems; it’s much too big of a task to expect that legislation will completely fix the issues and I think we can take some personal responsibility to adapt and bring some balance back to Earth.

I think it’s about small changes you know. It’s not something you can expect just to switch off and start fresh, it’s about how we can begin to transition; gradually make some updates to our lifestyle to enable the reduction of climate change. There’s more things that I can do to reverse climate change and I’ve tried to reflect on some of my own actions and improve my way of living to accommodate some of the solutions hopefully.

How does DRAWDOWN to compare to your other artwork? Other work in my portfolio is generally a lot more abstract but I found a need to simplify and communicate clearly on this project so that the key points about climate change were not missed. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a number of projection mapping projects in the past for the BBC, the British Museum and other brands. When this opportunity came up at King’s Lynn where a projection system is already in place I was intrigued. It’s such a unique set up! There’s not many towns across England that have this kind of infrastructure.

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DRAWDOWN is the first of four climate related artworks by Collusion that will be delivered between October 2020 and May 2022 as part of the GAME ON series. GAME ON aims to establish King’s Lynn as a national centre of excellence for cultural innovation in interactive, town-scale projection-based artworks, supported by a networked digital cluster of specialist creative businesses.

Find about more about the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk’s climate change work here including a recent carbon audit for the area, emissions reports and plans to reduce the Council’s climate impact.

DRAWDOWN is supported by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West NorfolkArts Council EnglandNorfolk & Norwich FestivalDiscover King’s Lynn BIDNorfolk County Council and the Audrey Muriel Stratford Trust.