The Archive of Old and New Events merges fact and fiction, imagining a range of human responses to climate futures. We aimed to create social fictions rather than science fictions, eschewing scenarios dominated by technological trajectories and instead envisioning a range of human responses to a rapidly transforming climate. The events and festivals we’ve archived are materialised in objects, stories and artifacts arranged into collections and exhibited in suggestively minimal museum displays.
The production of this project involved researching future climate scenarios and impacts to specific ecosystems, human communities and cultural traditions. The project was then developed in two parts. The first examined existing festivals whose future incarnations will be significantly marked by climate changes. These are festivals like the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, the Cambodian Water Festival and the Dutch ice skating race, the Elfstedentoch. We collected artifacts from these events to create the Archive of Old Events, which also documents possible trajectories for the demise of these events. The initial playfulness of this process – looking at celebrations around the world, dissolved into some confronting realities. The Cambodian Water festival celebrates the bounty of the Tonle Sap River and the delicate interplay between different aquatic ecological systems and weather phenomena and already has been frequently cancelled due to floods and other climate disruptions. Ongoing impacts to any part of this system will result in catastrophic consequences for the survival of vast populations of people in the region, dwarfing the expected loss of this cultural event itself. The emotion of confronting change and loss across a range of futures should have been foreseeable, but actually took us by surprise.
The Archive of New Events that envisions new gatherings and rituals based on anthropogenic climate phenomena, and in this second part of the project there was room to imagine some strange and unexpected responses to future environmental conditions. We felt it necessary to maintain a balance between the utopic and the distopic, the playful and the menancing, all whilst maintaining a sense of (sometime black) humour. Humour is a powerful antidote or vehicle for journeying into the possibilities of future natures. Our choice of cans of spam that sit aside Google’s branded picnic rug for the Festival of the Sulphur Sun, are reminders that the likely catastrophe of geo-engineering would also likely inspire bizarre responses. Reminiscent of a Monty Python gag this event also warns of a blander, less productive food system.
Experimental design has a unique capacity to construct glimpses of possible futures. When these are not over-specified, they work as rich dialogic opportunities for iterative conversations about where we’re headed and how it could be different. The design challenge with the Archive of Old and New Events was how to present in-depth research in way that was both didactic and evocative. How to create an archive that both translates meaning and is also sufficiently ambiguous to allow space for the viewer’s imagination to embellish and collaborate with the vision presented? The fictional news items became a useful trope, as did the use of photos and comics to accompany the archive items themselves. We discovered after many rewrites of the museum-style item catalogue entries, just how much could be said with so few words. When it comes to alluding to possible futures, less is definitely more.
Our hope is that the Archive is received as a series of suggestions and starting points for conversations. We would like to see others add to the archive through the extrapolation of recent weather phenomenon and an imagining of our cultural adaptations and community responses. Having undertaken this task we recommend it as a creative and potentially cathartic means for developing rich social climate scenarios that confront the future. Its also allot of fun. We’d love to see some of these events re-enacted to take design objects out into the world of performance, provoking a wider audience to imagine trajectories and engage constructively in shaping a culture that is responsive to the strange twists and turns of the natural world.
The Archive of Old and New Events exhibited at the Science Gallery in Dublin in 2014 and will show at the Australian Design Centre in 2015.