'I was inspired by Kylie': artists Jeremy Deller, Olafur Eliasson and Helen Cammock on their Guardian climate crisis covers

Three leading artists explain the new works they’ve created for tomorrow’s magazine (click on each artwork’s title to download a copy)

I Should Be So Lucky and Fuck You CO2 by Jeremy Deller

I heard some young activists chanting, “Fuck you, CO2 at the school climate strike on 24 May. It wasn’t the most profane chant I heard that day – there were a lot about politicians. But it worked well: it was short, strong – and kids just like swearing, don’t they? So I didn’t come up with this: I nicked it from the air. But by getting it down on paper, I’m giving it more life. I can imagine people putting it in a window at home, like a party-political poster. In 2017, I did something similar with Theresa May’s words in my poster Strong And Stable My Arse [which was posted around London]. Her repetition of the phrase gave it its power. I just took it and turned it into a poster.

Fuck You C02, black writing on white background, an exclusive artwork on the climate crisis, created by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge for Weekend magazine
‘I nicked this from kids at the school climate strike.’ Artwork: © Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge Photograph: ✎ Artwork: Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge. COPYRIGHT JEREMY DELLER AND FRASER MUGGERIDGE

My other artwork for Guardian Weekend magazine – I Should Be So Lucky – was inspired by Kylie Minogue. But we should all be worried about our declining bee populations. We assume the planet will be destroyed by an apocalypse or a big weather event, but actually the death of insects will kill us. People seem to care more about the plight of pandas than everyday creatures such as ants and bees. But that’s a distraction, a magic trick.

I worked closely on these with the graphic designer Fraser Muggeridge – it’s a real collaboration. He does all my books and clothing, including my Fuck Brexit T-shirts, and helped produce these covers. He works more like an artist than a designer. He just gets it.

How do you make a political statement while still making art? It’s a huge question, but I don’t worry about defining my work. I came up with some slogans and put them down on paper, that’s all. Art is just one ingredient in the stew – it can help visualise and clarify a political message, but it can’t change the world on its own. Like music, or humour, it attracts people to a cause; it seduces them.

I’ve been really impressed by the way Extinction Rebellion has utilised graphics and art so well. It has a strong logo, a consistent message, even a style sheet – it’s organised. There are a lot of groups in this area, but no one else has branded itself so well. It uses symbols, some of them ancient, that we all understand: bees, skulls, smiley faces. The public is more or less sympathetic to their aims, and that wouldn’t have been the case even five years ago. Things have moved on.

Sunlight Graffiti by Olafur Eliasson

Sunlight Graffiti, sunflower lamps and lines of light on black background, an exclusive artwork on the climate crisis, created by the artist Olafur Eliasson for Weekend magazine
‘I danced with a solar-powered lantern to create this.’ Artwork: © Olafur Eliasson Photograph: © Olafur Eliasson

My cover is a drawing made from sunlight. It’s generated by a Little Sun lantern, a portable, solar-powered lamp in the shape of a sunflower that my studio launched in 2012. We wanted to help people living without electricity, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Every lamp replaces one that uses paraffin or petroleum, and we’ve already distributed 600,000. That’s a lot of unused oil.

To create the work, I set a camera to a long exposure, turned off other lights and danced with the lantern. It’s a visual record of my movement. This ties in with my show at Tate Modern in London, where Little Sun will be part of the exhibition.

As an artist, I’m curious about how we turn data – hard facts – about the climate emergency into something tangible. Data doesn’t deal in feelings or emotions, and we need those to engage people, to encourage them to act. Art and culture can give language to things that are hard to articulate. Data is often rooted in fear, whereas art is positive – it can inspire us.

I’ve always been interested in how we experience nature. When I did The Weather Project for Tate Modern in 2003 [Eliasson hung a giant sun in the gallery’s Turbine Hall], we knew far less than we do today about the climate crisis. With Ice Watch last year [when Eliasson placed chunks of ice that had broken away from the Greenland ice sheet around London, including outside Tate Modern], the aim was to put people in direct contact with the effects of rising temperatures. By touching, feeling, even hugging the ice, they had a more emotional response. Extinction Rebellion activists staged a “die-in” on the same spot in April, to highlight the decline in the bee population. I love that the public is owning these spaces.

Artists need to look at themselves, too, not just the topics we address. I’m constantly working on how to make my studio in Berlin greener, to reduce its footprint, to reduce my travel, to review my shipping methods. There’s an assumption that we have to wait for others – leaders, politicians – to act, but that’s a mistake: we all have this power. We must unite and become a movement.

What response to my Weekend cover do I hope for? That people think about our sun, its power. Can art lead to actual change? Yes – it participates in the larger political debate. It combines our memories with our expectations of the future.

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life is at Tate Modern from 11 July-5 January 2020. Little Sun solar lamps are for sale at the Tate shop

Crying Is Never Enough II by Helen Cammock

Crying Is Never Enough II written in white on teal background, an exclusive artwork on the climate crisis, created by the artist Helen Cammock for Weekend magazine
‘Red would have been too urgent.’ Artwork: © Helen Cammock Photograph: Helen Cammock

The text on this artwork is a call to action. It comes from a frustration at the apathy surrounding the climate crisis – and I include myself in that. We understand and can articulate what the issues are, we feel strongly about them – yet still we don’t act.

I write down lots of ideas, then play around with them. I think about how I would feel reading them. I consider the meaning, whether the message is obvious, direct or too obtuse. I try not to be too hostile. This piece grew from an exhibition I did in 2017 called Shouting In Whispers, which was about the choices we make, collectively and individually, in moments of crisis. It featured five monochrome prints like this – different texts on a rich background colour.

The teal colour I’ve used is significant: green, representing the natural world, would have been too obvious, as would blue, which depicts the sea, the sky. Teal is neither one nor the other; it’s deliberately murky. It’s also a calming colour: if you’re trying to say something challenging, the colour has to play a part in the delivery. Red would have been too urgent.

This is the first time I’ve directly addressed the climate crisis in my work. As an individual, I do the things many people do: I recycle, I don’t use plastic bags, I think about whether I need to fly. But there are other things that are just part of my life, too: I don’t eat meat, I don’t have children.

Art is incredibly subjective, but I like any art that makes me think. It’s a way of asking questions and of opening up a conversation. I’m passionate about it reaching as wide an audience as possible, whether that’s through a film or a magazine. I like galleries, but they need to be opened up. Being shortlisted for this year’s Turner prize has been incredibly exciting, and an opportunity I don’t want to waste. When it works well, art is transformative – even if you hate it.

Helen Cammock: Che si può fare is at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, until 1 September; the Turner prize 2019 is at Turner Contemporary in Margate from 28 September-12 January 2020.

This feature appears in the climate issue of Weekend magazine on Saturday 29 June.

If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).


Hannah Booth

The GuardianTramp

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