The New York Times published an eye-opening article in 2018 presenting the results of research conducted by Oxford University climate scientist Myles Allen, revealing dreadful, dire effects by 2040 if climate change is not stopped. Flooded coastlines, aggravated droughts, increasing poverty without drastic, immediate action, the most severe effects of climate change, once expected only several decades in the future, will sooner than later redefine the world as we know it.
With this in mind, what can we expect from the future? What might it hold for us in 2040 if we do not engage in behavioural readjustment, both collectively and personally? This is the ontological question that we seek to delve deeper into with Speculating Futures, a video installation curated by Phi where artists from various backgrounds, identities and disciplines collaborated to sketch out a poignant portrait of what could be revealed to us in a surprisingly not so distant future.
With The New York Times’ article as its creative DNA, the objective of this installation was to create a contemplative space for the audience to meditate on the pressing issue of climate change, leading to — I hope — awareness about our socio-political and environmental issues, thoughtful dialogue, and personal and corporate action. In this regard, as a creative director at the Phi Centre, I had the privilege to reach out to four artists from the province of Quebec to gather their visions of the future. Conceived as a call to action, we curated the three-channel installation with an immersive vision; one in which the public is drenched visually and musically inside five scenarios, encapsulating a spectrum that ranges from the most optimistic visions of the future to the most dire, pessimistic ones. The result is an immersive tableau that bewilders the public in terms of time and space, since the observer is simultaneously confronted by the scenarios which our planet currently faces, and the ones which it will need to face in the future.
During the curation process, I met with inspiring artists whose visions resonate with and fed my perspective on the subject. I was thrilled to work with Miri Chekhanovich, a young Montreal artist recognized for her installations combining video, performance and sculpture, as well as durational performance. A deep meditation enthusiast, she nourishes a strong point of view on the world, acquired through mindfulness and critical sense. With her powerful piece Living with the trouble of current — future waste, she invites people to reflect on the idea that we, humans, detach ourselves more and more from the material world, and that we do not hold ourselves responsible for what is happening to the environment. This separation between the notion of ego and the environment, as she calls it, is portrayed as being one of the causes of what experts call the “waste overload”. Created as a strong and disturbing, yet beautiful, visual manifesto towards human environmental responsibility, her piece invites the public to reflect on the meaning of our interactions with objects and how this behaviour contributes in generating waste. Focusing on our inaction towards waste management, what will the year 2040 look like if we continue consuming unrecyclable products? The question is raised.
The various stories of our futures have not been completely written, for the course of our environmental and geopolitical climates is still in an open end, as it will be determined by the collective behaviour of humanity.
Miri Chek - Living with the trouble of current — future waste
Another artist that captured my attention is Maryse Goudreau with her piece The Beluga Constellation, bringing awareness about the decline of biodiversity as a result of climate change. I was transported by her vision crystallizing the urge of acting on our taken-for-granted perspective of the environment using juxtaposed archival art, made up of data, photographs, videos and recreations of beluga whales, and scenes from tundra where, most probably, research would be abandoned by 2040. By expressing through art the social history of the beluga whale, Maryse’s piece acts as a checkpoint suggesting that analogue image will, I hope, endure and overcome the digital crash. It could also be conceived as an ode to nature recovering and self-healing itself after the disaster it could face in 2040.
I met with Caroline Monnet, a Montreal-based multidisciplinary artist from the Outaouais region who is proud of her native origins, at the TIFF in 2017 when she was presenting her piece Creatura Dada for the first time. Since then, her powerful vision of the ending of the world as we know it, in the form of a vivid, colourful celebration of native women’s power, stayed engraved in my mind. Regal and majestic, native women are depicted in her piece as feasting exuberantly, giving the impression that they are at the helm of the world: what Monnet is suggesting there is a well-needed empowering vision of native women as decision-makers, leaders of the community, and life-givers — as they were once historically perceived. Through this sensitive, profound and powerful piece, she celebrates — and indeed brings back — that respect and force associated with those women who, unfortunately, continue to be the most marginalized women in Canada. Interesting fact: Caroline has also recently been selected as one of the two artists from Canada to take part in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial exhibition.
Caroline Monnet - Creatura Dada
The first and the last pieces, which occupy the very opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum, portray two scenarios: utopian and dystopian, both sharing indubitable beauty as well as a certain aura of sadness and melancholy. To encompass the utopian vision of the future I chose a piece from Fvckrender, a Montreal-based digital artist whom I discovered recently with a defining affinity for sharp architectural geometry, beaming future landscapes and crystalline arrangements. Created with vivid and pastel colors, Fifteen things that will be part of 2040 is a tribute to what we have left, what has gone, and what subsists: it is a glossy vision of the world that soothes me, glowing with new energy and light, a changed world where humans will learn to cherish and empathize with the planet, with new life forms and with each other; where they will be pressured to share their space with unfamiliar beings and respect the traces of life still present.
For my part, I created the very last piece, The Sixth Trumpet, a satirical, conspiratorial prediction of futures towards the year 2040, conceived as the last call before apocalypse. As a reflection of challenges projected to be faced by humanity — technological progress speeding exponentially, data collection algorithms having overwritten humans as quantified selves for surveillance capitalism, identity communism and hyperconnectivity having caused epidemics of psychiatric and behavioural emergencies —, it is presented in the form of a three-channel, immersive audio-video installation with strong abstract and non-linear narratives. Inspired by Russian icons and the large-scale works of British duo Gilbert & George, the piece is made of juxtaposed military archival footage and videos that I have created, generating a mood at the intersection of the past and the future, fiction and reality. I wanted the audience to question their own reality and reflect on the idea that machines, real or metaphorical, have become a threat to our dignity and to our individuality. In order to do so, I conceived the piece as a quasi classic triptych: at the public’s right, a constant stream of instructions, propaganda headlines and information on environmental, geopolitical and financial issues, and at its left, broadcasts of comforting, insightful and intuitive religious-like words of knowledge and wisdom. Inspired by my Chinese origins, The Sixth Trumpet also reflects sinofuturism, the power shift towards the East which we are more and more experiencing.
George Fok - The Sixth Trumpet
The various stories of our futures have not been completely written, for the course of our environmental and geopolitical climates is still in an open end, as it will be determined by the collective behaviour of humanity. Global temperature is rising, causing irreversible environmental damage as well as high potential of global armed conflict. Our options for countermeasures are, however, limited, which is why we need to rapidly transform our current behaviours, such as our economy and consumption models. Let’s change the course of history together. Let’s dream of a utopian future for our planet and act towards it. Let’s do something now. And let’s let art help us achieve this goal.
About George Fok
George Fok is a Hong Kongese video artist based in Montreal and Creative Director at the Phi Centre. His œuvre, which mixes conceptual and commercial work exploring the intersection of visual art, music and fashion, has been shown in global art institutions.