Climate Portals: student Seán Talbot spills the beans on his work Coffee Culture
Published: November 4, 2021
It’s Scotland’s portal to the world … a ten-foot, golden shipping container that is connecting strangers across the globe through the universal language of the arts.
Based at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the converted container, with its life-sized screen and a livestream link, is bringing Glaswegians and visitors to the city face-to-face with people they’d never otherwise meet, who live thousands of miles away in locations like Rwanda, Uganda, Gaza and Iraq.
The only one of its kind in Scotland, the container is at the heart of the Climate Portals project, an ambitious arts collaboration between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Shared_Studios, HarrisonParrott and Scottish Ballet.
Climate Portals takes an inventive and intimate approach to the climate change debate, exploring the themes surrounding COP26 and providing a space for people from all walks of life to talk, spark ideas, share thoughts and experiences as if they’re in the same room.
The Climate Portals festival, which runs until November 12, features an artistic exchange programme where artists from across RCS are creatively engaging with portals in Erbil, Iraq; Mexico City, Mexico; Gaza, Palestinian Territories; Kigali, Rwanda and Nakivale, Uganda.
Students and staff are sharing work and performances with audiences who are based near the worldwide portals, staging everything from a mini-opera to a 12-hour music improvisation session.
Seán Talbot, a fourth-year BA Contemporary Performance Practice student, shared a coffee with participants in Gaza for his project called Coffee Culture. The artist invited audiences to join him on an intimate coffee date. On the menu: a chat about coffee, how you like it, where you buy it, and its social and global impact. What do sustainability and climate change mean for coffee trade and will that affect your cuppa?
Spill the beans on the Coffee Culture project?
I was excited to get involved in Climate Portals because of a love for performance and sustainability, and a chance to have a global audience. I’m currently in my fourth year on Contemporary Performance Practice, and in my third year I researched and made work relating to ecological performance and choreographies in nature, and in my second year, I made performances about our personal and cultural connections to food.
For this project, I decided to focus on food as a way to connect across cultures, and the ecological impact of our food systems. Right from the start, I decided to focus particularly on coffee. I find coffee and ‘coffee culture’ really interesting, not to mention throughout my time at RCS I’ve always worked in coffee shops at the weekend. I have a particular investment in coffee and how we drink it, brew it, and enjoy it. But for this project, I wanted to research a bit about how it’s grown, how it’s shipped and processed, and how it differs across the globe. This research culminated in the Coffee Culture performance.
What happened during the performance?
I sat in the RCS portal, which is a bit like a small bunker, and through video call connected with someone in a portal in another continent. Both times I performed, I connected with someone in Gaza, Palestine, and I started off the work by inviting the audience member(s)/participant(s) to grab a coffee. I had a table set out with coffee equipment and then through the following hour I grind, brew, and drink a coffee with my participant and just have a chat.
I had some questions in mind but I wanted to leave it very open so the two of us, half a world away from each other, could have a very relaxed chat over a coffee; about coffee, our lives, and the planet. It was a brilliant experience to just chat; about childhood memories where a parent or grandparent would wake you up with the smell of coffee being brewed or the difference between espresso coffee and Arabic or Turkish coffee, or how we imagine coffee culture might change with our changing climate.
What did you enjoy the most about it?
Both performances flew by, and after an hour I felt inspired and invigorated, and more than a little caffeinated. This project has definitely strengthened my interest in sustainability in performance and reminded me of the power of connecting with people over shared food. It has inspired me to continue working with these things in my arts practice and to sometimes stop and consider where my coffee might have been on the way to make it into my cup.
Funded by the British Council as one of its Creative Commissions, Climate Portals is part of the cultural programme for the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which runs until November 12.
There is a public strand to the Climate Portals festival where the container will throw open its doors in a series of open-hour connections where visitors can enjoy interesting and engaging conversations with people at portals in Rwanda, Uganda, Gaza, Iraq and Mexico.
During COP26, a daily Climate Café will also take place from 11am to 12pm around the portal to explore key themes related to the climate crisis. Each session will begin with an invited speaker, including experts in fashion, music, theatre and food production, which will be followed by informal discussions and accompanied by tea, coffee and home baking.