It could have been “some horrendous sort of competitive artistic soup bowl where we’re all just starting to be complete bitches to each other”, according to the Scottish singer-songwriter, KT Tunstall.
But in the end, cooping up a bunch of famous musicians, comedians and other assorted artists on a boat trip to the Arctic turned out differently. They did get emotional, but about the beauty of the ice - and the overwhelming evidence that pollution is making it melt away.
The resulting artistic angst will be unveiled for all to see in a documentary called Burning Ice to be premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this week. “I had a bit of a tear in my eye,” says Jarvis Cocker, from the rock band, Pulp.
“It’s inscrutable, but there’s something very, very beautiful about it and it’s been doing its thing for millions of years and it shouldn't stop because of something that we did.”
Tunstall and Cocker were taken on a sea tour of Greenland by Cape Farewell, a London-based charity that is trying to encourage a cultural response to climate change. They were accompanied by North American singer-songwriter, Martha Wainwright, the British comedian, Marcus Brigstocke, the Japanese musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and others.
The trip made a big impact on Tunstall. “I’m still sort of speechless about it,” she says. “I still don’t really know what it’s done to me, but I know that it’s done a lot.”
She sings a song about how “there’s something going on” in the Greenland town of Uummannaq. “I fell in love with the world more than ever because it just totally surprised me,” she says. “It made me more passionate about going, yes, we can’t fuck this up.”
Cocker was inspired to write and record a song called “Slush”. It goes: “And if I could, I would refrigerate this moment, I would preserve it for all time. And I know I don’t stand a snowball in hell’s chance…so let’s sing Auld Lang Syne.”
Martha Wainwright says that she wanted to create a new protest song. “The sense that I get is big change needs to happen and it needs to happen from the top down rather than the bottom up.”
There was controversy on the trip when the Italian artist and engineer, Francesca Galeazzi, decided to stage an event on the ice at which six kilograms of climate-wrecking carbon dioxide was released from a gas cylinder. This was attacked as an “act of vandalism” by some of those on the boat.
She argues, however, that art is meant to be challenging. “I’m fully aware of this negative gesture,” she says. “I think people need to take full responsibility for their actions and at the moment we’re not doing that.”
Of course environmental groups like it when celebrities get engaged with climate change, but they are wary about the pollution they can cause. “They should be mindful that their own activities can be environmentally damaging,” warns Stan Blackley, the new chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“If any of the celebrities involved in this film wants to do a carbon-neutral gig to help Friends of the Earth Scotland, then we'd be delighted to show them how it can be done.”
According to David Buckland, the director of Cape Farewell, the trip had successfully inspired the artists. “What is amazing is that pretty much every artist that’s gone up, be it architects, writers or whatever, have actually made something which is quite significant.” he says.
Burning Ice is being presented at the film festival by Take One Action, a group that promotes activist films. “Thousands of Scots have turned out to our screenings about climate change, and there is clearly a growing appetite to engage positively with the challenges,” says the group’s director, Simon Bateson.
“Our audiences have pledged to cut some 50 tonnes of emissions, a powerful signal from the Scottish arts. Films like Burning Ice have that power: to entertain, to provoke, and ultimately to inspire audiences to go a step further.”