Caught by the River

A Postcard from COP: Day 1

Anna Fleming | 2nd November 2021

As the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference commences in Glasgow, Anna Fleming sends a first-day dispatch from Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s artwork Encampment of Eternal Hope — a hub for events that will amplify Indigenous voices, encourage critical thinking and facilitate exchange with local communities, artists and activists about the climate emergency.

Day 1 
The Encampment of Eternal Hope and the Serpent of Capitalism

For COP26, I have travelled across to Glasgow where I will be based in The Briggait helping artists Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich with their installation, the Encampment of Eternal Hope. While the world leaders gather in the conference venue further down the River Clyde, we will host different climate discussions. In partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Wasps, Walker and Bromwich have been working with Indigenous organisations from Colombia and across the Americas. All of these parties will come together in The Briggait for an eleven-day programme of talks, workshops and performances that amplify Indigenous voices and facilitate exchanges between local communities, artists and activists about the climate emergency. 

On the first day a team of volunteers assembles for the opening performance. Students, activists, pilgrims, artists, fathers and daughters form the motley crew who have come to march the Serpent of Capitalism through the streets of Glasgow. 

The Serpent is a powerful symbol. Walker and Bromwich drew the concept from creation myths across the world where the serpent is a symbol of healing, fertility and transformation. It is the giver of life, but it can also be destructive if angry. In this performance of the old myth, the Serpent is brought to life as a 100-foot black inflatable. A mesh skin covers the beast and on this outer surface glittering gold words are emblazoned. CAPITALISM. In this creative and playful re-imagining, the Serpent of Creation has been co-opted by capitalism: we parade the beast through Glasgow, asking the Serpent to shed this tired old skin.

Twenty-two volunteers lift the Serpent and as we march the beast through Glasgow, people amplify the power of the piece. Fluorescent envoys – the police – flank us, stopping the traffic and keeping the peace. Mothers with pushchairs and pilgrims with banners walk beside us. A team of drummers leads the head, another follows the tail; both beat out infections rhythms that set our bodies dancing. 

The power grows as we turn a sharp bend, the twenty-two serpent handlers manoeuvring the beast like an articulated lorry, and we march up an enclosed pedestrian street where the marching cacophony bounces off the walls. We are on Buchanan Street, the consumer centre, lined with gleaming shop fronts, bustling this Saturday afternoon. We march past shoppers who stop and watch, pointing, smiling, frowning, phones held aloft to take in the spectacle of the Serpent of Capitalism parading through Glasgow. Energy is running high. We are ready to start the climate conversations.