Toxic Climates: Earth, people, movement, media


  • Michael Haldrup Roskilde University
  • Kristine Samson Roskilde University
  • Madeleine Kate McGowan Other Story



Citizenship Activism Media Performance


Planet Earth is toxic. Its atmosphere unbreathable. Its environments deadly intoxicated by the dehumanizing forces of xenophobia, environmental degradation and violence. As its peoples are increasingly on the move to make a worthy living, exclusion, borders and conflict are normal occurrences rather than exceptions in daily life. And, as toxic substances dissipate and spread through representations circulating through the media they cloud the sight of the human beings in front of us. In the face of the intoxicating and dehumanizing forces at play, we need remedies for sobering up rather than intoxicating ourselves further. Remedies for living with contamination and hybridity rather than altering these state. Conceiving of citizenship as a right that has to be performed, enacted and claimed and recognizing how contemporary states of crisis (in the paper referred to as ‘the triple mobility crisis’) intensifies and radicalizes disputes over spatial rights and their representation in current media ecologies this video paper explores the potentiality of merging the positions of academics and media activists. 

Drawing on Anna Tsing's call for “contamination” as a catalyst from which future “world-making projects, mutual projects and new directions – may emerge” (2015, 27), we ultimately propose a radical humanizing intervention in and beyond institutions. We take off from a conception of  practice as an activity that “interrupts all ordering activities and is interrupted by them” (Arendt 1971, 197). The video paper is created through a cooperation between academic performance researchers (Haldrup, Samson) and media activist collective Other Story (McGowan), and it seeks ways of addressing, expressing and enacting citizenships by repositioning academic lecturing  in ‘other’ settings. The settings chosen for this intervention are, respectively, the streets at Nørrebro station (a central mobility hub in Copenhagen's most multi-ethnic neighborhoods) and Sjælsmark (a deportation center for rejected asylum seekers in Denmark). Both places epitomize the issues addressed in academic discourses on mobility, spatial rights and citizenship.

In line with the work of Other Story, and partly inspired by Levinas and his ethics of the “nakedness of a face, the absolute defenseless face, without covering, clothing or mask” (1998, 21), we aim to actualize the emergence of shared sensibilities affecting our own embodied citizenships in the encounter with others. In doing this, we may view the video paper as an audio-visual gesture that brings together discursive propositions and situated spaces together. Situated in two sites relating to the themes “toxic climates” and “acts of citizenship,” the video paper seeks to address its themes through embodied thought. By doing so we, experiment with how speech acts relate to the world, but also deal with what we see as an inherent paradox in academic discourse: the paradox between, on the one hand, wanting to reach out to change the toxic climates of today, and, on the other hand, being trapped in language and specific academic ways of engaging with the world.  While the video paper does not claim to deliver a coherent solution or solve this paradox, it does nonetheless reframe the role of thinking into a situated position from where ethical relations might emerge by questioning how we approach and transform toxic climates today, and to what extent media, performance and language can change the toxic world we live in.

Author Biographies

Michael Haldrup, Roskilde University

Professor (WSR) in Visual Culture and Performance Design, Roskilde University. Numerous publications on visual methodologies, mobilities and performance among others the co-authored books Tourism, Performance and the Everyday (Routledge 2010) and Performing Tourist Places (Ashgate 2003). Recent work includes research on materiality and visual culture as well as cultural institutions and citizenship (see Visiting Scholar at Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University, 2007. Currently working on various “speculative” approaches to performance and design including the project on Queering Mythographies (with D. Makisimov) consisting of performance interventions relating to the material heritage of antiquity (e. g. “Queering the Museum, Copenhagen, August 2019), speculative explorations of ‘dark ecologies’ as well as research into acts of citizenship.

Kristine Samson, Roskilde University

Kristine Samson, PhD. Ass. Professor in Visual Culture and Performance Design, Roskilde University.  Renowned urbanist and recurrent participant in the public debate on urban planning and transformation. Has written extensively on informal and tactical urbanism, spatially performed citizenship and performative urban cultures. Visiting scholar at Columbia School of Architecture and Planning 2009, and Performative Urbanism, Lab for Spatial, Social, and Scenographic Experimentation, Concordia University, Montreal, 2018. She is engaged in the cross-disciplinary research project, Affects, Interfaces, Events with a subproject on Evental Urbanism and is currently working on ecology, coexistence and ‘reparative futures’. Her curatorial work includes several performative events including Fluid Sounds for PSi – Performance Studies International, Copenhagen, 2015.

Madeleine Kate McGowan, Other Story

Madeleine Kate McGowan (DK / IE) Cand. IT, (ITU), BA in Visual Culture (KU) & Performance Design, RU. Lecturer, filmmaker and performance artist. Founder of Other Story (2015), a prizewinning ongoing documentary project, comprised of short films presenting personal stories in a world of monumental change. Through McGowan’s filmwork and performance work, she seeks to open encounters with the more-than-human and the complexities of the climate crisis. She is an active public speaker in several countries and her films and performance work has been widely featured across the world, such as ARoS - Aarhus Kunstmuseum (DK), Kunsthal Charlottenborg (DK), Danish House in Palestine,  Nikolaj Kunsthal (DK), BFI - British Film Institute (UK), Oaxaca Filmfest (MEX), HAL Atelierhaus Leipzig (D), Souriyat Centre (Jordan), Nivaagaards Malerisamling (DK), The Royal Danish Theatre and the National Museum of Denmark.


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Isin, Engin. 2018. “Mobile Peoples: Transversal Configurations.” Social Inclusion 6 (1): 115–123.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1978. Collected Philosophical Papers. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Hingham: Kluwer.

Massumi, Brian. 2018. 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value: A Postcapitalist Manifesto. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Sheller, Mimi. 2018. Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in the Age of Extremes. London: Verso.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.




How to Cite

Haldrup, Michael, Kristine Samson, and Madeleine Kate McGowan. 2020. “Toxic Climates: Earth, People, Movement, Media”. Performance Philosophy 5 (2):252-59.