The Old Future Is Gone
Boiling water for a cup of tea does not change the climate, but billions of hot drinks, millions of car rides, and thousands of air flights everyday do. One of the tasks of art is to assist us to grasp such concepts and situations, whose magnitude or nature renders them ungraspable within our limited anthropocentric and individual point of view. But like a single light left on overnight, a single work of art or even an art event, will not make much difference. A persistent and multi-layered approach is needed in order to not only perceive the condition we are in but also, and more importantly, to be prepared for the changes that will come.
The Old Future Is Gone works around four lose themes:
I. REVERSING PROMETHEUS
According to Greek Mythology, the two brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus created all living creatures. Impulsive and unthinking Epimetheus gave all physical virtues, like speed, muscular strength, agility, sharp senses, and sharp teeth and claws to other animals so humans were left without the necessary features to survive. Prometheus asked Zeus to give them the gift of fire as a means to compensate for their physical weakness, but the father of Gods refused. With it, he warned comes the rest of the package, civilization and what it entails. Nevertheless Prometheus smuggled fire out of Olympus and gave it to humanity along with language, skills, tools and organized society. And as a consequence of this impudence the box of Pandora came soon after.
The myth of Prometheus is apt. It highlights the separation of humans from the rest of the biosphere acknowledging our inability to survive without advanced – or primitive for that matter - technology. Prometheus’ intention to raise humans up to the level of gods became a metaphor for the project of modernity, seen as a relentless progress towards the emancipation from need, from the demands of everyday toil, and ultimately from the earth.
And it also identifies fire, whether a source of warmth in a cave or in a combustion engine, as the basis of civilization. But burning carbon might also be our downfall. Removing carbon from the soil, mostly in the form of coal, petrol and natural gas, and pumping it back in the form of CO2 into the atmosphere, from where it was being absorbed for millions of years by plans is the main cause of the climate crisis. Ashes, pure carbon, have acquired through the ages a cultural signification that, intuitively, captures our folly, and the futility of anthropocentric utilitarian progress. Nothing captures visually the desolation of our times than images of burnt out forests and the ruins of war.
We are still naked and vulnerable without civilization. Reversing back, even as little as the pre-industrial era, is not possible, so we need to seek alternative paths. The obvious opening for us is to move forward into a less materialist, less aggressive, more relaxed and balanced life, by necessity technologic al but in a more sophisticated, and not violent fashion - to the ecosphere and to our selves.
II. DOWN TO EARTH
One of the attributes given by Prometheus to humans was the upright bipedal posture, looking up towrds the sky and and not down to the ground. But we are humus, not Homo, not anthropos, we are com-post not post-human, sprawling symbionts crawling on earth along with the rest of our fellow creatures. We belong to the earth, to Gaia and its other thousand names, we are chthonic, we rely on the land and the sea, and despite all efforts for a bondless emancipation, despite our Icarian dreams, we are forced to lower our gaze and look at the mess and, at the same time the opportunities available in a world that will have to change by necessity.
Like our reliance on burning carbon, the great Mesopotamian severing must also be reversed. This is a term borrowed from Timothy Morton who traces, among many other philosophers and scientists, the beginning of the separation between humans and nature with the invention of agriculture at the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia 12 or so millennia ago, a process that was neither inevitable, nor universal. The exhibition will adopt and encourage a merging of the natural and the artificial, the new and the old, the human and the non-human, the electronic and the material.
III. THE SEA
The sea has been a constant source of excitement, fear, mystery, inspiration, love and mistrust for humans, partly like the sky but more real, tangible and profound. Mythical monsters and deities inhabit the inaccessible depth according to all cultures. At the beginning it was a border, but then it became a convenient route for commerce, soon to be exploited by colonialist power, it was the abyss above which the slave ships sailed with the cargo of shame and the place where thousands of impoverished, dispossessed, hunted, and uprooted souls drowned in search of a refuge from war, famine and torture.
And seas and oceans are at the heart of the environmental crisis. They absorb most of the global warming and they are subjected to aggressive research for mineral and fuel extraction. Marine biodiversity is eradicating fast while life near the coasts is in a precarious state, because of the sea level rise and the extremity of the weather phenomena which occur more often near the oceans. They encapsulate the global character of the crisis, since they belong to nobody. The sea defies the agrilogistic geometry (see note) of divisions among countries, individuals and corporations.
It is a crucial element in our discussion because through the vastness, unpredictability and the uncanny of the oceans we can perceive, through a mental association, the vastness and unpredictability of hyperobjects like global warming or the Anthropocene. Mute and enigmatic, the seas turbulent nature is a key for a new perception of our new condition. Like the waves which are subjected to no geographical boundaries, so our predicaments transcend not just spatial but also temporal borders.
IV. HEALING THE PHANTOM LIMBS
Standing aside in safety staring at the terrifying power of nature is no longer possible. We are inside the storm, nature is out of our control, her forces are unleashed as we watch the changes coming in slow motion. We have never left nature, it is still with us even in the form of a phantom limb, that although lost some time ago, we still feel that it is there. It would apply to a Guinea Bissau native and to an urban nerd who lives in flat, surrounded by plastic furniture, eats microwave food in plastic and communicates with the rest of the world with a screen and a keyboard. This imaginary fence between humans and the rest of nature must be dismantled. Sapiens emerged from the soil, the woods the wilderness along with the rest of the animals, but developed this sense of separation, as they managed to manipulate nature in the form of agriculture for their own benefit alone, following thereon a trajectory with destructive consequence as the great technological acceleration took over.
First came the exploitation of nature by man. Then the exploitation of woman by man, then the class system, and colonialism in the last few centuries. And now, for the first time, exploitation and injustice transcends not only social and geographical regions but historical periods as well. The last few generations, especially the last two, have devoured the resources of future generations, which is comparable to what the West did to the rest of the world.
So, if in order to survive we need environmental balance, by deduction, we will need social balance too. Linear 19th century solutions, though useful, will not suffice - it will be a long and complex process. The Old Future Is Gone will be one of the many art events from now on that will try to suture images, sounds, materials, spatial interventions in order to help conceive a new configuration, new relationships between society, the environment, other species, social groups, and generations.
Re-imaging a new civilisation congruent with nature, will be at the centre of our concerns from now on.
NOTE: Timothy Morton, an environmental philosopher, uses the term "agrilogistics" to refer to the interconnected systems and processes involved in industrial agriculture and its associated distribution networks. The term combines "agri-" from agriculture and "-logistics" from the field of logistics, and emphasizes the industrialized nature of modern agriculture and its impact on the environment, climate, and social systems.
Its meaning is based on three philosophical axioms:
1. The Law of Noncontradiction must not be violated.
2. Existence means constant presence.
3. Existence is always better than any quality of existing.