Editor's Pick

Seedling, the touring art project asking hard questions about parenting in the climate crisis

A bold work aimed at adults and kids, devised in partnership with primary school pupils, is currently looking for future partner organisations. 

Ruth Stringer’s Cardiff home is, apparently, also a professional storage unit. Given what she does for a living, we can only imagine the hoard. 

A freelance costume designer, even at college she was conscious of the often overlooked footprints of theatres and the performing arts, swerving problematic materials and always looking to reuse, or use as many recycled things as possible. Today, sustainability is at the core of her work, which right now includes Seedling, a community art project dealing with some hard subjects.  

This isn’t the first time people may have seen it. Most of the piece premiered in 2021. Between then and now it has toured various locations, making its debut in Budapest last year. Taking the form of an audio installation by composer Alice Boyd, set inside a tent designed by Stringer, a story about consumerism and environmental responsibility devised by Helen Crevell and Anne Langford brings the piece together.

Textile creations made by local people during the weeks leading into each installation are also on display. Courtenay Johnson, founder Carbon Theatre, which makes new work on equality, feminism and accessibility, has produced. Among other things, Seedling asks big questions about having a family in the middle of a deepening climate crisis. 

‘I was pregnant at the time [Seedling began], and it’s something I wrestle with,’ says Stringer. ‘I look at my daughter now, she’s nearly three and it’s quite a scary prospect as more news comes in. This inevitable feeling of a tipping point that we’re hitting. It’s quite a big thing to deal with.’

Returning with a new iteration for 2024, an additional section has been added, co-created with kids at a Cottesmore Academy in Rutland. Cub is the counterpart to Seedling, aimed at the under-12-years children of the adults the main event targets. Both are on display at Northampton’s Grosvenor Centre for the rest of this week, and will then move to other parts of the country. Partners, including local authorities and schools, are currently invited to discuss future collaborations, and Stringer assures us it won’t be all doom and gloom. 

‘I’m a stubborn optimist, and I believe in living with hope. We do still have time and we are able to make the world better. But we do really have to put our minds to it,’ she continues, before moving on to how the project itself works. ‘Seedling and Cub really look at the idea of community ecosystems, like how we can help each other and how we look beyond our own individual needs and make connections. How when we do things together, we’re taking a step forward.’

That certainly rings true in terms of the format. Situated in a busy retail destination, Seedling asks the public to take time out and consider the impact of their actions and decisions they might make. It’s a process which begins by simply walking into an empty shop, then a tent, and putting on a pair of headphones.

‘Once inside they’re sort of encapsulated within a tiny world where they listen to the piece, which lasts about 15 minutes. Then they can come out and interact with other things that are within the [retail] unit,’ says Stringer. ‘So there are a few reflection activities. There’s a timeline, sort of talking about changes that are happening in the world, but also the fictional characters who’ve been spoken about in Seedling, their age, what they’re doing. Now we’ve added Cub, which was devised with school children, so there’s a little den which houses another audio installation, for children.’

Groups of up to three at a time can experience Seedling together, but for the greatest impact we’re told the installation section is best encountered solo, serving food for thought in a truly personal but non-preachy way. If that sounds overwhelming, though, it’s best to remember Stringer’s point about the real goal of the project. Raising awareness around the unfolding emergency, and helping us recognise our agency, emphasising how small steps can take us towards a cleaner, greener world. 

Seedling and Cub run in Northampton until 14th April 2024, and then Corby from 24th May to 2nd June 2024,

Organisations looking for more information on collaborating with Carbon Theatre – including textile making sessions –  can find further information and contact details here.

More features:

If climate is location specific, our solutions should be too

How to spot climate misinformation and disinformation, and counter both

The Englishwoman who bought a mountain and planted 250,000 trees

Images: Maksim Podorozkin / Carbon Theatre


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