HOPE IN THE HEAT
“The way a society imagines its future matters. And who gets to do the imagining matters.”
Oliver Morton, Planet Remade
Hope in the Heat invited six emerging creatives from the Somerset House Future Producers programme to imagine hopeful futures for the hotter world of tomorrow.
Over the course of eight mentored sessions with Anab and Jon, directors of critically acclaimed speculative design and art studio Superflux, the six Future Producers developed their own perspectives and visions for other possible worlds; from intergalactic intimacy and space travel envisioned through the Black queer gaze, to plant generated poetry and post-colonial herbology.
Hope in the Heat has been made possible through the Emerging Futures Fund, a new initiative from the National Lottery Community Fund in response to conversations that emerged over the course of the year about the future beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
THE FUTURE PRODUCERS
Cherece Lucina, Frankie Rechere, Jessie Zhang, Okocha Obasi, Valeria Toro, Zahrah Vawda
A Conversation with Jon Ardern and Anab Jain
Hi Jon and Anab! First off can you tell us: Who is Superflux?
Superflux is an art and design studio where we imagine plural futures at the intersections of climate crisis, technology and more-than-human politics.
Founded by us, Anab Jain and Jon Ardern, our studio’s work imagines and builds future worlds we can experience in the present moment. By creating new ways of seeing, being and acting, we hope to question the decisions we make today, and in doing so we hope to inspire people to fight for a future worth living for.
What has the process of working with the Future Producers been like?
To start with, it has been an incredible opportunity for us to be given this time and space for such an enriching conversation with the Future Producers. We often include young people as advocates in our work; we worked recently with three young activists for example, and in another project we talked to young people from indigenous communities. All these dialogues, insights, and multiple perspectives always inform our work. However, Hope in the Heat was different because we weren’t trying to create a piece of work ourselves, instead we were engaging in an open, nourishing conversation. Young people have been through so much in the last few years; they’ve seen university fees come in, they’ve experienced climate change first-hand, they’ve been left in limbo during the COVID pandemic, so there’s a lot to learn from them.
Initially we had planned a series of workshops, but after our first three-hour workshop where each of the Future Producers presented their hopes and fears for the future, it became evident that this was such a rich dialogue that we wanted to continue in this way. So, we steered away from rather formal, methods-based workshops and we let our conversations guide the process. In total, we had eight sessions over which the Future Producers developed their ideas and presented to each other using interactive Miro boards. Between sessions, everyone would comment and feed into each other’s boards, so it was a highly iterative and collaborative process.
The latter part of the process was spent developing the Future Producer’s ideas from the abstract, to thinking about how to translate their concerns into a tangible form that could express intent to a wider community. At this point, we took on more of a ‘mentor’ role, sharing our own experience in worldbuilding and creating future based projects to help and guide them.
What is ‘worldbuilding’ and why is this a useful tool in thinking about the future?
A lot of people who practice fiction and worldbuilding think of this as a safe space to imagine better futures - in the sense of what ‘better’ means for each individual, because there is no one future, only diverse and plural futures that will affect us all in myriad ways. So, worldbuilding is really a container where we can collectively ask, ‘what are our hopes for the future?’, and in this case with the six Future Producers around a Zoom Room we asked, ‘what are your hopes and fears for the future?’, which then became the anchors that helped give form to their worldbuilding 'containers'.
Within this container of a ‘world’, there is an opportunity to consider so many different aspects; from looking at how society might function, to what its governance rules are, its culture, social interactions and relationships, aesthetics. In essence, worldbuilding becomes a rich and nuanced framework within which you can situate stories, a landscape where you can discover your dreams, what excites you, and what you want to share.
A lot of the Future Producer’s projects are very optimistic and draw from movements such as Hopepunk and Solarpunk. Can you talk about this?
Yes, this is really interesting because it feels synchronous with the directions our own practice is taking. In the past, we've often adopted an approach that draws inspiration from speculative realism. Our project Mitigation of Shock, for example, which had different iterations in London, Singapore and Germany, invited audiences into an apartment where we are living in a climate-altered future. Recently, though, we have been inspired by other genres like mythology and fantasy to explore possible worlds that are not direct representations of our current world. We want to open up poetic aspects of these other worlds that might feel enigmatic, exciting or magical. Our two current projects, immersive installations Refuge for Resurgence and Invocation for Hope, are mytho-poetic imaginings of more-than-human futures.
With the Future Producers, we made a conscious decision not to confine the conversation to a particular output, but to let their ideas and imaginations guide the approach and narrative form. It’s been interesting to see the parallels emerge, and the shared theme of the more-than-human. Valeria, for example, was really inspired by Solarpunk and built this whole speculative world inspired by that aesthetic and manifesto, and at the same time grown from her own lived experiences. From the beginning, Frankie was interested in mythology and weaving these beautiful alternative creation narratives. Cherece and Jessie were conjuring these magical new relationships with nature; post-colonial herbologies and plant-generated poetries, while Okocha was envisioning this queer utopia on Mars and Zahrah was thinking through the possible futures of our food systems here on Earth! We have been so lucky to work with such a talented group of artists and thinkers.
There’s such a rapid speed of change today; the speed of technological advancement, the speed at which we're altering the climate and our planet. We're at a point where we will have to change radically and I think it’s at these points we look for something bigger. That's what these archetypal stories do - they speak to broader perspectives. It's a way of stepping out and trying to gain some sort of perspective within this.
You also have the whole recent phenomenon of post-truth. Exacerbated by the onset of Covid, people are more wary than ever of facts, be they from scientists, politicians or the media. The traditional places where we have looked to provide the answers are no longer satisfactory. So, people are turning more and more to things like spirituality, to conspiracy, to mythology and fantasy, astrology and folklore; these are the stories we tell each other, the narratives that bind us together. So many of us are searching for guiding principles.
What did you learn from the Future Producers?
Kim Stanley Robinson often calls himself an angry optimist, because there's so much wrong with the state of the world, but you can channel that anger towards something hopeful. That idea inspires us. With the Future Producers, there’s less anger, (perhaps they’ve not yet become so cynical), and instead there’s this kind of fearless optimism, which has been unexpectedly surprising. They were also very unrestricted in their imaginations, which was a good reminder. By the time you are an adult, if you want to practice imagination, a lot of that is about unlearning your educational journey.
We’ve seen the Youth Climate Strikes and young people becoming so vocal in talking about the challenges ahead. The Future Producers care so deeply, not just about our collective futures, but also about safeguarding our ancestral pasts, our indigenous histories, about recognising our human place in the world. They are really self-aware of the present, of what they might be able to do with their skills to inform a better future.
It was also encouraging to see how they all supported each other, sending links and recommendations throughout the process. There was a real comradery, an eagerness to learn from one another, and also an openness to challenge their own thinking.
Can you remember what your hopes and fears were when you were in your twenties?
JA: I think that climate change and the ecological emergency, even then, was on my mind. It was also the early days of the internet and we were all really hopeful about that. We didn’t think about a lot of the problems that technology could bring with it in terms of misinformation, fake news. We didn’t account for the influence of the profit motive.
AJ: I think I was just wide eyed and curious. I grew up in India and I never could have imagined the scale and rate of change that I have seen there in the last twenty years. It’s incomparable to anything that’s happened here in the UK during the same timeframe. So, I think for me this has been a reminder that, whatever you imagine the future could be, it can actually be so radically and rapidly different. Always expected the unexpected.
JA: I don’t think that my dreams for what I wanted for the future have changed that much, in terms of a more equal society or living harmoniously with our planet. I do think, though, that as you approach the future yourself, you realise just how much more complex these things are. How everything brings challenges and opportunities, and how things that may feel resolved, as you approach them, can open up to deeper levels of challenges to be addressed.