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P/re: For a Just Design of Climate Politics

The escalating climate crisis requires us all to cultivate our abilities to respond to it. The special response-ability of the arts in European and international climate politics was the topic of a virtual symposium hosted by the collective Klasse Klima in March 2022. In this essay, the organisers reflect on how creative practice is entangled with climate justice.

On the picture you can see textes on the purple background. The textes are: New European Bauhaus, Digital Symposium, For a just design of climate politics, March 5-6 2022. Two more letters RE can be read in the background.
Graphic: Katharina Brenner, Karen Czock / Klasse Klima

Whenever a group has worked towards an event or exhibition opening, there comes the moment when the project is delivered but the team’s thoughts and actions still habitually refer to it; when the Pre- slowly transforms into a Re-. Yet, would it change anything if the project had begun with a Re-?

March 5-6, 2022 were the dates of an autonomous, virtual symposium titled Re: New European Bauhaus – For a Just Design of Climate Politics. It was initiated by Klasse Klima, a transdisciplinary collective of emerging artists, designers, and theorists, founded in 2019 by a group of UdK students. Back then, the university lacked a thorough ecological perspective, and Klasse Klima responded to this lack by organising a self-hosted, transdisciplinary seminar. The alias ‘Klasse Klima’ was a wordplay referencing the naming system at UdK, where classes are titled after lead professors. Klasse Klima, instead, set out to decentre teaching from individuals, and to create a space for mutual, horizontal learning in the face of the climate breakdown. To this day, the Klasse Klima seminar series collects material, practical, and conceptual approaches to the role of art in the struggle for climate justice. 

In 2021, the project was honoured with a New European Bauhaus Rising Stars Award by the European Commission. The Commission was looking for projects that reflected the values of its brand-new initiative New European Bauhaus, which aimed to mobilise artists, designers, and architects to realise the European Green Deal, the European plan for a climate transition. We at Klasse Klima were certain that our practice did not exactly reflect the proclaimed values of either the New European Bauhaus or the European Green Deal, for they both insufficiently address climate justice.

Seen from a justice perspective, climate change is not simply a technological question, but an ethical challenge, following the principle that the climate crisis was caused by capitalist and colonial expansion, and is projected to have disproportionate effects on marginalised, colonised, and underserved communities. Against this situation, climate justice activists demand an equitable ecological and social transition that jointly addresses global inequality and ecological breakdown. In full disregard of such calls, the European Union’s planned transformation will not be quick or radical enough to have any chance at protecting the regions and people that already are, and will be, most affected by the climate catastrophe. 

Still, Klasse Klima applied for the New European Bauhaus award, calling for climate justice in both the application and during the award speech in Brussels. We refused to offer our work as passive executors of an unjust transformation agenda. Instead, we sought to engage with the initiative, or, as we called it, to take response-ability for the prize, by organising a public forum to collectively explore our capacities for responding to institutional climate politics.  

The idea of response-ability originated in feminist science studies. It offers a relational alternative to the heavy-handed concept of responsibility. Instead of attributing duty or moral obligation to individuals, the idea is about cultivating the capacity for responding, as theorist Martha Kenney writes. “What counts as response-ability is not known in advance; it emerges within a particular context and among sometimes unlikely partners,” she adds. Since theorists such as Donna Haraway and Karen Barad first described the idea in the 2000s, it has traveled through ecological debates as well as the art world. Unsurprisingly, it has not infiltrated so-called hard politics, a realm which still focuses on the strong, individual figures of powerful politicians and popular activists instead of dynamic webs of agencies and vulnerabilities. 

Very often, the European Union is considered too abstract for European residents to relate to, even though many aspects of their everyday lives are affected by European policies to a larger extent than by national politics. This extent will grow as the climate crisis continues to escalate: it is the European Green Deal that determines the design of every national transformation agenda in the EU. Not only the everyday experience of European citizens is linked with EU climate politics; European politics, of course, also relate to world politics, as they did in the past and will in the future. 

European or Western ‘responsibility’ has often served as an excuse for unsolicited intervention in the domains of others. Throughout history, ‘white responsibility’ has legitimated colonial and neo-colonial activities. As the EU now aims to take responsibility in the climate crisis, eurocentrism still seems to resonate in the project’s baseline. With the Green Deal, Europe wants to become the first “climate-neutral continent” worldwide, only a few centuries after forcibly guiding that same world into becoming “climate-negative” in the first place. As the European Union must respond to the climate crisis by facing its problematic past and present, another concept of accountability might be fruitful: response-ability. 

Thus, Klasse Klima partnered with befriended initiatives medienhaus/ and ende der kunstgeschichte Berlin to set up the virtual symposium Re: New European Bauhaus. For a Just Design of Climate Politics. The event consisted of three panels and a workshop that linked the debate on climate justice with the theory and practice of transformational art. It sought to foster alliances between activists, NGO workers, economists, historians, designers, architects, and artists, all connected by their support for climate justice. The participants were invited to transgress their individual practice to collectively find out how instead of only “taking responsibility” for the European green transition, we can cultivate response-ability towards the European past, present, and future.  

As our team noticed during the planning process, choosing the syllable Re: for the beginning of the event title complicated its pronunciation – at least when one refused to read it as “renew”, which silenced any irritation or open-endedness. Re:, for us, did not only connect to response-ability, but also to the practices of revisiting and referring, of resonating and relating. Re: signifies relationality. It proposes a view of the world as complex and connected, a reality in which there is no best solution or universal strategy. Thus, the weekend did not leave us with a fixed policy proposal or a set of design rules. The event did not result in an outcome, but an open-endedness. Now, as we pass this open end, the event title slowly takes on another dimension: that of remembering the symposium, that of revisiting the recordings, and of reflecting on the process. That of writing this article in retrospect, and that of inviting others to keep responding to the matters, so that the Re: will again transform into a Pre:.

Info + Resources

More information and recordings of all panels can be found at forajustdesignofclimatepolitics.com.

You can share thoughts and responses to this text at info@forajustdesignofclimatepolitics.com.

Furthermore, you can meet the organisers at Klasse Klima’s Berlin seminar series. Information about the current seminar program is available at klasseklima.org


This text was written by Klasse Klima members Lena Schubert and Tonja Grohmann. This symposium was initiated by the collective Klasse Klima, founded in 2019 at the University of the Arts Berlin, when a handful of students organised a seminar to learn about ecology, the arts, and design. Since then, the group has become a critical education space and a collective. It explores the agency of art and design in the climate crisis and equitable social-ecological forms of coexistence. With the symposium, it transcends its local frame of operation to offer a place for connecting, learning, and discussion for an international scene of justice-focused creative practitioners.