Cynthia Hopkins on This Clement World
Photo by Ian Douglas
Singer, composer, and performance artist Cynthia Hopkins returns to the Walker this week for the Midwest debut of her new show, This Clement World, a piece that addresses climate change. The performance combines original songs, storytelling from multiple characters, and projected video from a trip Hopkins took to the arctic ocean.
We took a moment to chat with Hopkins about her process.
Photo by Pavel Antonov
These two things kind of just fell into my lap. I mean, I was already aware of climate change and was disturbed by it. Everything I make springs from disturbance.
The footage is a combination of footage that I shot on the boat, and then footage that was shot by the head of Cape Farewell, David Buckland, and Matt Wainwright, the videographer on the boat. That footage is really stunningly beautiful. A lot of my footage is of interviews. I interviewed almost everybody on the boat because I was really fascinated by the people on the trip. I was trying to learn as much as I could, but I'm a shy person. So making the video of the interviews was a way of connecting with the other people.
I should mention that documentary prosaic travelogue is then inter-spliced with wildly fictional characters. And those fictional characters -- one is from 200 years in the past, one is from 200 years in the future, and one is from outer space -- provide a much wider perspective on the climate crisis that we're experiencing here in this present moment on Earth. The piece shuttles between the very idiosyncratic, personal, intimate perspective which is my story, and a much wider and more imaginative perspective.
Can you tell me about the American Indian character? How did you go about researching that character, and how did that character end up being in the story?
Because this book was really strongly in my consciousness at the time, I wanted there to be a ghost of a Native American who had been slaughtered during that time period. It's really important for me to have that perspective, especially because it's a way of life that was prevalent in this country, and was then destroyed and is no longer prevalent. It represents the mortality of the way of life, and the mortality of any given civilization.
Of course, the Native population in this country is not extinct, but it is a way of life that was prevalent and is no longer prevalent. So what I hope that it sparks with the audience is the fact that our way of life -- the Western, industrialized, capitalistic civilization that I live in -- is mortal, is transcendent, is something that is guaranteed not to last.
Did you work with any American Indian people for this show?
In my mind, what they are directed at is actually not individual people, but kind of an entire population, a Western civilization, really. But I think the people who have been upset by it are people who take it personally, as if it's a message delivered from me directly to them. That's not what it is at all, of course. It's a fictional character that is a representation of something larger than any one person.
There's a metaphor presented between my own experience as an alcoholic and drug addict in recovery, and the possibility of recovery from any kind of addiction. The connection is made between that and the addiction of our current species and population and civilization to fossil fuels, and so the message is that a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels is not only possible but essential to the survival of the clemency of this world. So it's a message of hope, and I don't consider that a political message.
IF YOU GO:
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.