Although this is officially the first month of the residency, thoughts have been bubbling from the start of the year – the initial thinking that went into the application, through thinking about how to share those ideas for the launch, and then into starting the research process now the residency is live. As this is about a network, there has been no physical change of state. But I’ve noticed a shift in attention – my radar for the climate and the future-related has been (re)sensitised. Further, two weeks before officially starting, the relationship of British culture to the future underwent a seismic shift: a vote took place for a kind of ‘no future’. I don’t mean by that that the vote to leave the European Union was a kind of cry of despair (although some have perceived it that way), but that whilst the vote was about the future, no one had made a plan for that future. What resulted therefore was a kind of minor implosion across the political spectrum. Whilst the Department for Energy and Climate Change has vanished in the brexit fallout, and climate change recedes in visibility as a political and social concern, never has it been clearer that our ability to survive, resist and thrive depends on our capacities to imagine our future. There’s evidence that how we imagine the future partially constructs it [link to article Joe posted via twitter]. Art is partly about defamiliarising, and reconsidering habit, norms, and the unthinking acceptance of the status quo. Brexit has forced this role on politics – with great risk of tipping us into short-termist xenophobic inwardness – but also with great potential for a recalibration of what matters. Art can also construct, envisaging alternative ways of doing things, enlarging our capacity to imagine, stepping into the breach where there is no plan. Never has the need for such imagining been so acute – and therefore so political. Yet thrust into the maelstrom of urgency, the kinds of short-cut to efficacy that is often willed for artworks, could reduce the capacity of the work to resonate differently. How to make works that address these acutely urgent political questions of our future – whilst retaining a kind of autonomy that invites a different kind of engagement and thought?
The questions that drive my research for this residency revolve around two intersecting areas, both relating to how we understand ourselves as human subjects. Firstly I’m curious about our embroilment in systems – are we really as independent of those systems as the human agency implied by dramatic works would have us? I’m interested in how we are beneficiaries of some of the very financial structures that counteract the values and actions that we undertake elsewhere in our lives. I am fascinated (and disturbed) by the largely non-transparent interconnectedness of our current financial, social and environmental situation. I plan to investigate the economics of climate change, and in particular, the implications of alternative economic models for how we conceive of ourselves socially and culturally. Secondly I’m interested in exploring experts’ future scenarios – geographers, scientific modellers, sociologists, economists. What I want to work out is: how would we live within those scenarios? What would our relationships to one another look like? What would our challenges and conflicts be? Can we find a model for human achievement that moves away from concepts of growth or development or progress?
Politically, I can imagine an outcome to Brexit that would address the deep underlying economic inequalities, the loss of a sense of identity [see http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n15/john-lanchester/brexit-blues], and which would present a decisive shift. If economic stimulus were structured towards creating a green, de-carbonised economy – if the country were put on a ‘war’ footing to design, manufacture and install or implement the technologies and social practices that would mitigate climate change – we might find the purpose we are seeking, with tangible effects and concomitantly a renewed sense of how we might connect to the global picture. Somehow although this seems eminently sensible to me, it appears unimaginable to the mainstream. And I wonder if it comes down to how we conceive of ourselves as (successful) humans? World Factory [see http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/world-factory] suggested to its audiences that it was ‘up to you what it means to win’ – and perhaps that is now what is at stake on all fronts. At what scale do we want to win? At an individual level, or collectively? The question is urgent. How might we imagine success differently – and with that, our relationship to the planet and each other?