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A climate for change: Love Ssega talks about his new project Home-Zero

A climate for change: Love Ssega talks about his new project Home-Zero

Love Ssegais a Musician, Artist and current Arts Foundation Music For Change Fellow 2022. Having started as the original frontman of Clean Bandit, Love Ssega has gone on to record with PhilharmoniaOrchestra, tour China as a Musician in Residence for British Council and PRS Foundation and release music with Parisian fashion house Kitsuné. As a visual artist, he has collaborated with Slow Factory in New York and is part of their debut MoMA PS1 exhibition. 

In recent years, he has turned his considerable talents to campaigning for climate justice. As a culmination of this activist work, Love Ssega will be collaborating with the National Gallery X (National Gallery and King’s College London) and Nestato create Love Ssega’sHOME-Zero. We caught up with him to hear more about the project.

Love Ssega’s Home- Zero is your new project, can you tell us a bit about it?

I was joint commissioned by Nesta and National Gallery X (The National Gallery and King’s College London). As an artist I want to use my voice in a non-trivial way and this was an opportunity where the commissioners put out a brief for artists to develop a unique creative experience that could help inspire a net-zero carbon future. I feel that it is timely, in a cost-of-living crisis caused by our structural addiction to fossil fuels, that a commission such as HOME-Zero shows that musicians and artists can tackle these questions with the backing of our big cultural institutions.

For my Home Zero project, I decided to create two events at the National Gallery; a workshop involving Londoners aged 18-35 years and a promenade performance tackling climate justice and a call for more sustainable social housing. Having this performance on Earth Day, 22nd April 2022, right in the heart of the National Gallery with some great performers and artists is fitting. It is my hope that this action will create awareness and impact, beyond the events, to bring people together and tackle some of the issues we are experiencing due to climate change.

There was a creative challenge of linking home emissions to the climate crisis to highlight what we could improve on. Given the type of artist I am, I wanted to involve underrepresented voices by focusing on sustainable social housing as a topic, working predominantly with people of colour, to bring these opinions to a wide audience. The second part of the project is spreading this message from the Black-led performance and workshop across the globe digitally, through a film that will be shot by cinematographer Darius Shu (Tribeca Film Festival, Sky Arts, Netflix) that will premiere in June. The aim is to further conversations around climate change and social justice and how it intersectswith housing, by highlighting underrepresented voices aged 18-35. Leaders, policymakers and legislators all need to hear these younger voices. The film will give this project a future life beyond these first events.

The music I am composing for the performance will be inspiredby the National Gallery’s world-class collection and the views of 18–35-year-old Londoners from diverse backgrounds previously recorded at the workshop in National Gallery X Lab. I’m excited to bring different voices into the National Gallery and to show that climate action should be creative, positive, and uplifting. How often to you get a chance to curate something in your hometown in front of internationally renowned Turner, Constable, Gainsborough, and Caravaggio paintings? It’s an absolute honour. I will also be donating a percentage of my commission for the project to EarthPercent. EarthPercent is a charity providing a simple way for the music industry to support the most impactful organisations addressing the climate emergency.

Why is this project so important, particularly now?

The climate emergency is really upon us as a recent IPCC report outlines. We also have to make sure inequality surrounding social housing is not left as an after-thought when we talk about giving people cleaner, cheaper, greener energy. Most of the times the conversation focuses on those who own homes rather than those who don’t. Home emissions are a big part of the UK’s carbon emissions. We need to reduce these to stop the world heating up uncontrollably which will make the planet uninhabitable, perhaps even within my lifetime. So, we have to take this seriously. The Grenfell fire tragedy struck a personal chord for me, and it showed me that social housing residents were actively engaged in wanting to improve their homes. They just weren’t listened to, with tragic consequences. We must not repeat this same mistake when talking about the green transition, which is the move away from ever more expensive, polluting fossil fuels.

What do you hope to achieve with the Home-Zero project?

I hope people can realise how much the climate emergency is not only linked to the sustainability of the planet but to our quality of life, so we are all implicated in this problem, and it affects us all. As we all know, the current system isn’t working. My aim for Love Ssega’sHOME-Zero is to highlight the connections between the climate emergency and the social housing crisis and to bring Londoners together to dream up ways of tackling this. Key to my project is the principle that live performance and art can be used as a catalyst for change and that community and collective goals can have the power to influence society.The first challenge was getting such great collaborators enthused enough to be part of this project about positive climate action through art. Then the next challenge is to draw a crowd to the National Gallery to watch the performance which as I explained is about sustainable social housing. If they leave liking the performance, then it might be enough to get them to go home and think about why an artist such as myself went to all that trouble over something they might not have thought about. After that, they may look into the science behind rising home emissions. And this is my hope for the project to raise awareness and to try and ultimately create real change.

Who are the other artists that you are working with on the project? How is it to collaborate across artforms?

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My musical collaborators here are the genre-shifting Shadwell Opera who have worked with binaural sound, premiered an opera at the world-famous Mariinsky Theatre and curated experiences for school kids. Falmouth-based designer Dominick Allen is creating the most innovative new upcycled instruments I have ever seen. He is taking old radiators, heating tubes, furnaces and turning them into controlled tuned instruments. This has been such a creative process for me in a world where so much is done on computer with synthesised instruments. This is so exciting, and I’m thrilled to write even more music with these four instruments. It’s also great to upcycle items that create a lot of home emissions and use them not only as educational talking points but to make art.

For the performance, I wanted to bring in different voices and the Black experience into the National Gallery. Therefore, I’m delighted to be working with Solomon O.B. and Kieron Rennie to commission new poetry from them and Dance Artists Paris Crossley and Krystal S. Lowe. They are giving modern context to classic masterpieces, which is what art is about. Building on the past to help reimagine the future. In our case, we hope a better, more sustainable future.

How is community important to your work on a micro and macro scale?

Community is very important and became even more so during the pandemic as we all looked inward. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter showed the inequalities to many in the UK and across the world – triggered by events in the US, but also highlighting deep-rooted systematic problems in other countries too. When we look at housing for instance, it is not too long ago that we had the Grenfell tragedy. The worry for many communities is that if resident voices were ignored there, what are the chances that they are going to be listened to as part of any green transition. Confidence must be rebuilt where trust has been lost. Otherwise, we can’t heal a divided society. This project is my small contribution to try and help with that change.

What role do you see the arts having in society?

I think one of the roles of the arts is to bring different angles and emotional experiences to people. Also, with something as heavy as the climate crisis, I believe the arts has a role in reducing climate anxiety amongst the population. Young people have been doing this a lot with global school strikes and online campaigns, however, we can’t just leave it to them. Art has always been rebellious, urgent, and challenging. Hopefully, artists speaking up about things makes it easier for people to have conversations. Music and culture are everywhere, so we need to put the positive climate action messages there too.