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Artist's alphabetised argument for fighting climate change

Arts & Culture

Adelaide poster-maker Jake Holmes has made an alphabet of climate-change causes and threats, with his latest creations going from a Schools Strike 4 Climate protest to the walls of a university art museum in a new exhibition.

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“There is room for quite aggressive speech in political movements but this work is more about presenting a young person’s thoughts,” Jake Holmes says of his Writing the Climate poster project.

“I got this quote from a kid who protests climate change … when people say to him ‘You should be at school’, he’s like, ‘Why does my ATAR matter when the planet is dying?’.”

Many people respond to political events by making posters and protesting, but Holmes has built his artistic career out of it.

He transformed the “C’mon Aussie C’mon” chant into a rainbow print-screened mantra for marriage equality in Australia, and collaborated with Aboriginal artist Elizabeth Close to create a poster using the same words to support the campaign to change the date of Australia Day.

Writing the Climate tackles the ongoing threats posed by climate change, with a set of 26 posters each featuring a letter of the alphabet and a corresponding word and explanation linked to the environment.

“I think about climate change a bunch, especially with having a kid,” says Holmes.

“It’s horribly concerning. It’s the big issue of our time and it just has so many potential impacts.”

The 26 posters will be exhibited at Flinders University Student Hub from today until November 30 as part of The Guildhouse Collections Project, which invites artists to respond to a specific collection at an institution.

A quote representing young people’s concerns in Jake Holmes’ Writing the Climate. Photo: Angela Skujins

Holmes studied the Flinders University Art Museum’s expansive Australian Political Prints and Posters Collection, which includes works from a range of artists and poster/printmaking collectives.

He says the works reveal the anxieties of ordinary Australians from more than half a century ago, some of which are mirrored by current concerns.

“There were works about post-Vietnam War, feminism, housing, nuclear energy, but one of the things I noticed was there was a lot of work linked to environmentalism, like anti-nuclear stuff, border security and deforestation,” he says.

“Climate change encompasses all these things – like the border, deforestation, and nuclear worries – and is the environmental movement of our day and the potential environmental catastrophe of our day.

“I wanted to do something that addresses that.”

The 1985 Talking Poster Project by Sydney-based collective Garage Graphix also inspired the artist, as it collected direct quotes from young people on pertinent issues such as homelessness and LGBTQIA+ concerns. Holmes realised that quotes could also express how people are feeling about climate change now.

A letter work in progress, as part of the Writing the Climate series by Jake Holmes.

“I was trying to think of ways to use quotes, but it was like 3am and I was up in the middle of the night, and Aulden [his son] was crying and I got up to rock him back to sleep in his room. I was stressed … but I had this idea of doing an alphabet,” he says, adding that the alphabet can be seen as a symbol of education, learning and communication.

“So I thought maybe rather than doing posters with quotes on them, I could do posters and each one is a letter of the alphabet.”

The letter C, for example, represents Coal, “one of the largest contributors to anthropogenic climate change”, while T is for Tipping Point, “an event that crosses a threshold that can’t be reversed or leads to large-scale impacts on our climate”.

Holmes drew the illustrations on his iPad before print screening them onto A3 sheets of paper and adding the definitions.

There is also a sculptural element to the exhibition’s final work, with the individual letter posters used to form the quote referenced above, which he heard while interviewing high school students about their thoughts on climate change.

Holmes is keen to create different distillations of the project elsewhere.

“So taking different quotes from different people and installing the project in multiple spaces and expanding it, so it’s not just this one work, but it’s able to be reinterpreted and reused to say different things …,” he says

“And I acknowledge making a poster is pretty easy, and I can acknowledge there are people fighting social movements risking their lives and doing things like that.

“But I make posters, I make art, and that’s a contribution I can make to a larger fight.”

Jake Holmes and his son Aulden at the Schools Strike 4 Climate Australia protest. Photo: @jaketoothandnail

Writing The Climate is being launched tonight at Flinders University Art Museum (at the Flinders University Student Hub in Bedford Park) and will continue until November 30. 

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