Blog #123: Imagining our Future - with and without Doom&Gloom

June 8, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
Sometimes, when reading the news or simply when looking around and noticing how behind we all are in safeguarding our environment, I do have moments of sadness. I wonder how our future - and the future or our children and their children will look like, I wonder about droughts and floods, I wonder about people and animals and how we all will live together on a planet that may well have to feed more than it has the capacity to sustain. I am not alone with these worries - visual expressions underpinned by scientific insight exist all around, including the Doomsday Clock, created by Atomic Scientists in 1947 and annually adjusted, and the World Overshoot Day, expected for 2023 on August 2nd, or the Stockholm University’s  Planetary Boundary Diagram. The Environmental Movement does not like us to speak in terms of doom and gloom, mainly perhaps because research tells them that hearing too many of such narratives can lead to apathy. Christian environmental groups take it a step further, looking for hope in prayer, scripture and action, trusting that there will be a tomorrow, of some kind.
If there were a tomorrow is in fact the title of an exhibition that I stepped into this week, offered by Vienna’s World Museum (Weltmuseum) through next January. Its theme is Science Fiction - a genre in literature that we typically associate with imagined yet non-existing technology and its impact; we tend to think about space ships or fantasy dragons, and some of us may be aware of the writings of futurists or utopians such as H.G. WellsJules Verne, or Hugo Gernsback.
Foto:What ideas about the future do people hold who have experienced environmental traumas and colonization? The exhibition gives voice to indigenous artists who offer views of alternative pathways ahead.
This exhibition is rather different to what we tend to think Science Fiction is about. Firstly, it takes a broad view of the means that people use to imagine the future, well beyond visionary works of literature and poetry, showing us an eclectic mix of, yes, books and graphic novels such as superman or star wars, as well as paintings, films, sculptures, and installations. Secondly, and perhaps most touchingly, the theme of Science Fiction is explored well beyond the well known writers and film producers but instead gives voice to artists hailing from groups who had their environment and as a result their future stolen by industrialisation and colonization. In fact, looking at some of the exhibits - for example those building on 500 years of the indigenous experience of destruction in the Amazon - I was struck by how much healing and hope there seemed to be in imagining, describing and building an alternative future, perhaps more even than in the technology-focused science fiction of western authors of the last century..
An exhibition worth going to? Definitely! It has its own website that tells you something about the different artists featured, grouped under topics such as Space Mosque, After the Apocalypse, or Brave New Worlds. But personally, I find the website a bit confusing, just clicking through things conveys information but not the sentiment that one experiences when actually being in the room with statutes, paintings or with the voices of artists recorded as they tell their own personal view of the future. Will it give you consolation that yes, there will be a tomorrow? Probably not. But it will connect you with more and different perspectives of people who all must feel or have felt the kind of worry or sadness that comes with wondering whether there will be a tomorrow.
A visit at the World Museum does not come cheap - a ticket will set you back 16 Euros - but of course you can take a moment and explore all the other sections. And if you go there before the early July, you can even check out Fruits of Labor, a tiny little exhibition running through July 9 that finds a way to use art to document nature’s destruction in China. Most amazing to me were pictures of pollinators - actual people who do hand pollination, flower by flower, in a particular valley - simply because insects, most notably bees, have been destroyed there.  The pictures are amazing documents of what a massive ecological imbalance of nature can lead to - a future that if only as a beekeeper I definitely have no intention to imagine.
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