Drawing upon Doyle’s existing research into the visual and cultural communication of climate change (Mediating Climate Change, 2011), and through conversations with Harradine about the role of the visual, the poetic and the political within arts engagements with climate change, the artist and academic developed a manifesto as a way of capturing early ideas about what the artwork should be about.
The manifesto drew specifically upon the themes of the residency – embodiment, time, and place/space/landscape. Doyle and Harradine found the manifesto format a playful and useful tool to capture ideas without being bound to a specific idea or vision. In the end, the manifesto was a perfect way of distilling what they wanted the artwork to achieve as well as identifying some of the challenges of visualizing climate change in ways that make it more meaningful to people’s everyday lives.
From the beginning of the collaboration, Doyle did not want the image of the polar bear to be used in the artwork, as academic research has shown that this image, whilst emotionally resonant, is disempowering for audiences, presenting climate change as a distant threat to animals not humans. Yet, through the collaborative process, Doyle and Harradine kept coming back to this image. They decided to try to rework this climate icon instead of ignoring it. The idea was to see if they could use the polar bear to actually break down problematic distinctions between nature/culture and human/animal. The idea was to reconnect the polar bear to humans and everyday practices.
The multi-format film, It's the Skin You're Living In, was the culmination of Doyle and Harradine’s collaboration – which involved both public and private discussions, sharing work, sharing academic and art literature, and discussions with others through two public seminars.
The film is shot in a series of locations from the islands of Svalbard in the High Arctic to a kitchen in a house in London – via the beaches and headlands of Barra and Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides, the M11 motorway, a dairy farm in Bedfordshire and the outskirts of Hackney and the Olympic Park. The film suggests that climate change isn’t a matter just concerning distant landscapes and threatened animals, but is an ever present part of everyone’s daily lives.
The film follows a man dressed like a bear; a polar bear. Sometimes he looks like a person dressed like a bear – human, fake – and sometimes he looks like he might actually be a bear – animal, real. Over the course of a fragmented journey from the northern reaches of Europe, through Scotland, to the south of the UK, the bear-skin-costume is dismantled, revealing the man inside the animal.
It’s the Skin You’re Living In is an attempt to make images of climate change that remind us of how profoundly we’re connected to both nature and culture, how we’re all undergoing change, on a journey, searching for home. It’s language is one of broken images, repeated actions and walking, walking, walking; a strange, sad and funny meditation on being human and being animal, lost in a changing world.
Created by Harradine’s performance company, Fevered Sleep, It's the Skin You're Living In is also a mobile app for groups of people to run together. Partly an artwork and partly a film - a film installation for social settings - the app plays synchronised layers of a short film about connectedness, climate, migration and home. In the app version of the film, the content is split across the screens of multiple iPhones. The more phones are linked through the app, the more layers of the film will be revealed. By synchronising the phones and playing the film across them, the app turns an everyday object into a mobile gallery.
The film has been shown in a variety of public and academic spaces:
The Science Museum London, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Barbican Centre London, The Floating Cinema as part of the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, NIda Art Colony Lithuania, Battersea Arts Centre London, Greenpeace Germany, ONCA Gallery Brighton, University of Colorado Boulder.