Eco-Visionaries

 

Are we just secretly yearning for an endless summer? Perhaps. Imagine a constant, moderately hot climate when we have harnessed, and now endlessly enjoy, the energy of sun, waves, and wind. Never mind winter sports, or hell in Cambodia. Imagine a whole continent modeled on the permanent California dream. Forget the wild fires, or growing homeless populations. Imagine the tropical renaissance of Southern Europe, and the ever-better quality of life of winterless Northern Europe. Ignore the severe drought outside tourist-ridden cities, or a few crazy storms like they used to have in the Caribbean. Picture ever- fizzling burgers by a luscious, constantly recreated, J.G. Ballard-like seaside. Dismiss what was once the Netherlands, or the wind turbine-crowned offshore walls restraining climate refugees. Envisage the perpetual holidays provided by artificial intelligence and a few massive twists of geo-engineering. Disregard the unexpected consequences of more fiddling with the planet’s surface. Visualize a pleasant, fully operational, Internet of things-driven endless summer. Never mind that it is just for a few of us. You win some, you lose some. Are we to blame if we secretly wish for a technologically ensured, corporately maintained endless summer?

The Endless Summer, (excerpt), in Eco-Visionaries, Art, Architecture and New Media After the Anthropocene,Hatje Cantz, 2018. (See full essay here. See Portuguese version here.)

 

Unless the legitimacy and lure of a celebrity institution suddenly creates an appetite for new iterations in this exhibition’s bright trajectory, after Lisbon, Umea, Basel, Gijon, and Madrid, the Eco-Visionaries project will be enjoying its last opening tomorrow at the Royal Academy of the Arts, in London.

I’m still curious to see if the appearance of this five-version curatorial endeavour in the context of media-heavy, attention-grabbing London will somehow revert my disappointment when the exhibition’s first instance, at Lisbon’s MAAT, engaged a considerable audience of 120.000 visitors, but zero media impact.

One should understand that, for me, back in the Spring of 2018 –in what seems like ages ago– that disturbing indifference emptied out the project’s main goal of triggering what felt like an urgent debate around the climate crisis.

I’m sure that all those visitors – actually amounting to one fifth of Lisbon’s population – left with something important to muse about.

But null media reaction totally flunked the target of taking the exhibition’s message outside the museum’s walls. In itself, that fact was enough to make me realize that, when it comes to social impact, indeed “the museum is not enough.”

Eco-Visionaries-3At least, the Eco-Visionaries book still features in must-read lists, such as this.  

Perhaps Naomi Klein was right. Perhaps the awareness of encroaching environmental disaster had yet to accelerate in the public consciousness from 2017 onwards. As now has become much more evident, Klein was certainly on target when she exclaimed that this crisis “changes everything.”

Today, after only two years of extreme weather events, increasingly bleak IPCC reports, the first national declarations of climate emergency, Greta Thunberg’s moving speeches, the Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise movement, but also the steady deflation of climate denial to the base level of Donald Trump’s ridiculousness, many more people are certainly coming to the conclusion that we are all in this together.

Everybody is called to action out of their own fields, from scientists to journalists, and from artists or architects to economists or policy-makers.

Back in 2017, I was slightly concerned that Eco-Visionaries was too easily slipping from the initial optimism of its title, to the pessimism derived from a deeper acknowledgment of the engulfing state of things.

Now, however, on reading David Wallace-Well’s The Uninhabitable Earth, I reverse back to the idea that Eco-Visionaries was indeed optimistic – as somehow it still managed to linger in a hypnotic state of bittersweet schizophrenia between dismal and hopefulness.

As many are now repeating, Antonio Gramsci had already pointed to the formula that is now required to face the enormous challenge of ecological imbalance: pessimism of the intellect allied to the optimism of the will.

And then, even as Wallace-Well’s cascade of horrific fact-finding aligns accurately with the science I’ve been soaking at Harvard University and the MIT, it is also true that, when it comes to the environmental crisis, never before have I felt so positive to kick my addiction to “the good life,” and so inspired to do whatever I can do to improve things around me – wherever I may be.

 

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