In Karstein Volle's artwork Cycles -series deals with a future where oil dependency and climate denial prevails, aptly depicting one of the key underlying issues concerning climate change. This work is part of a collaborative conversation on climate change between the artist and myself, representing the futures research perspective from the Finland Futures Research Centre (University of Turku), under a wider curated project by Ilmastokanava. Over the many months of discussions that covered the multitude of ethical implications for the future, often during the process we naturally returned to the subject of dependency of oil - fossil fuel as a key theme and its implications for future generations, especially considering our own children. From this position Volle envisioned through his works a future conversation set in the year 2036 between his grown up daughter and a fuel hungry machine.
In an industrial bunker setting it is a solitary girl that confronts the robotic-economic-growth-machine that is still addicted to fossil fuel, with a window view that revealing a devastated and drowning Helsinki outside. This scene accentuates the critical issue of sea rise that for many parts of the worlds's coastal regions will increasingly be vulnerable and affected, perhaps one of the most tangible aspects of climate change. Symbolically Helsinki under water with only its rooftops emerging offers a vision of how much a changed city it could become in the future, even if it is not probable in the near future. This depicts a clear causal effect of global climate change and brings the issue to Helsinki's doorstep, a city that perhaps has not yet experienced the full potential of the forces at play and especially considering its slow transition to renewable energy .The depiction of the machine as an addict encapsulates the sickness through dependency and denial, brazenly proud of its dependency on oil and the energized rush that it gives, while at the same time deluded in its own addiction fuelled psychosis. The girl meanwhile seems to be talking him down from a bad trip, trying to calmly rationalize the benefits and dangers of its disease, while urging change. Where the machine is manic and drunkenly overly expressive, the girl on the other hand is composed and determined although frustrated. Perhaps reflecting scientist's discussions with climate deniers. It was not her generations decisions that have brought about the diminishing quality of life on the planet, but it is her alone who is left to face them. Volle's images manages to darkly and satirically communicate the effects of inaction and perpetuation of a fossil era.
From the perspective of a futurist the aim often is not to make predictions but to open up the alternative futures, to rather provide several future scenarios where different opportunities and challenges exist. Or perhaps to establish a preferred vision of the future that would be useful to explore. These can challenge our assumptions about the present and offer a way to gain useful information about the future. Rarely do futurists make utopias or dystopias as scenarios, however on the other hand it is the role of the artist to fully explore these darker issues and exactly to explore and communicate these meanings further. And in this role artistic work itself has a vital role to play in communicating and exploring the underlying societal problems of climate change, that often are not tackled in formal studies. This reflects the critical position in a recent paper by Tyszczuk & Smith (2018) that suggested that that the IPCC scenario work on climate change would benefit greatly from the voices and methods from the arts, humanities and culture that are currently missing voices. In this way arts and culture have an important role to play in the needed transformation.
Amos Taylor is a project researcher at the Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku. Currently he is researching the ethical implications of the future bioeconomy.
Tyszcsuk, Renata & Smith, Joe. 2018. Culture and climate change scenarios: the role and potential of the arts and humanities in responding to the â1.5 degrees targetâ. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability Volume 31,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2017.12.007
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