‘Are we just secretly yearning for an endless summer? Perhaps. Imagine a constant, moderately hot climate when we’ve harnessed, and now endlessly enjoy the energy of sun, waves and wind. Never mind winter sports, or hell in Cambodia. Imagine a whole continent modelled on the permanent California dream. Forget the wild fires, or growing homeless populations. Imagine the tropical renaissance of southern Europe, and the ever-better quality of life in a winterless northern Europe. Ignore the severe drought outside tourist-ridden cities, or a few crazy storms like they used to have in the Caribbean. 

Picture ever-fizzling burgers by a luscious, constantly recreated, J.G. Ballard-like seaside. Dismiss what was once the Netherlands, or the wind-turbine crowned offshore walls restraining climate refugees. Envisage the perpetual holidays provided by AI and a few massive twists of geo-engineering. Disregard the unexpected consequences of more fiddling with the planet’s surface. Visualise a pleasant, fully operational, Internet-of-Things-driven endless summer. Never mind that it is just for a few of us. You win some, you lose some. Are we to blame if we secretly wish for a technologically ensured, corporately maintained endless summer?’  The Endless Summer by Pedro Gadanho

Basim Magdy, Our Prehistoric Fate, 2011 Courtesy of the artist and Gypsum Gallery

These are the opening words in a book that collects artworks from four exhibitions appearing across Europe throughout the summer, and beyond. Starting at MAAT, Lisbon’s recently opened Museum of Art Architecture and Technology, the Eco-Visionaries project then takes shape in Sweden’s Bildmuseet, at HeK, in Switzerland, and at LABoral, in Spain. This is not a travelling show, but a sum of curatorial takes on one scorching, extreme subject: how do we tackle ongoing ecological alterations from the fields of art, architecture, new media and design – especially when we admit that the planet has entered a new, eventually ephemeral geological era that goes by the trending tag of ‘Anthropocene’.

If after the Industrial Revolution, humanity indeed developed the destructive power to spark climate change at a scale that is increasingly harder to deny, are we now ready to deal with it? Or, as the Lisbon show co-curator Mariana Pestana has put it after mounting scientific evidence: if we were able to design a new mass-extinction event – after the last one wiped out dinosaurs 65 millions years ago – are we also ready to design a way out of it?

Eva Papamargariti, Precarious Inhabitants, 2017 (video stills) Courtesy of the artist

The Eco-Visionaries project started with a genuinely optimistic outlook. After all, besides the colonising technologies with which we’ve extracted all possible resources from the surface of the planet, we’ve also apparently solved humanity’s needs along the way. Conveniently ignoring that humans are part of a larger eco-system – which has not exactly benefited from technology’s benevolence – the optimists, especially of the economical, just-in-time, libertarian type, will point out that we’ll again dominate the know-how required to save the world.

Enter large-scale unpredictable geoengineering, the magic overnight shift towards renewable energies, and even the swift and dreamlike escape to Mars. It’s like that fantastic old joke about the guy – by now certainly a white, homophobic, racist male in some administration board – falling from a fifty-storey ivory tower, who says to himself: until now, everything good. Or the other cosmic joke being played on short-sighted amalgamators of immense wealth, when they finally realise their children will not be able to eat money.

Carolina Caycedo, Serpent River Book, 2017 Courtesy of the artist

At this stage, when tackling the idea of what an eco-visionary may be, we at MAAT have considered that the exhibition – if not the cultural arena at large – could no longer sustain a polite, subtle aesthetic view on climate change and all its associated calamities. While each day we are bombarded to numbness by bad news about the topic, we are also very humanly bound to forget, repress and eliminate the global, interrelated dimensions of the problem at hand. It is a question of psychological survival. But soon, in-between rising sea levels and drought, flash flooding and thirst, plastic vortexes and ocean acidification – to mention only the water-related issues – it will also become a question of physical survival. Thus, it is about time we take the subject head on. And in your face. So, in MAAT’s selection of art and architecture ‘after the Anthropocene,’ we’ve welcomed schizophrenia, alternating optimism and pessimism – between disaster and ideas of mitigation and coexistence, between catastrophe and possibilities of adaptation, between dark critical views and fictional visionary scenarios.

Rimini Protokoll, win >< win, 2017 / Commissioned for the exhibition After the End of the World curated by Jose Luis de Vicente

Within the 40 artists, architects and critical designers represented in MAAT’s version of Eco-Visionaries, a film by Superflex nonchalantly depicts a McDonald’s restaurant being flooded; a conceptual project by Design Crew for Architecture welcomes giant domes where plants sweeten salt water for agricultural irrigation; Colombian artist Carolina Caycedo exposes the exploitation of rivers; and Turkish artist Pinar Yoldas makes sculptures of future species that live off plastic and integrate it into their biological constitution. But one immersive installation by a German theatre collective, Rimini Protokoll, may stand out as a reminder of art’s power to suddenly change your worldview. Beautifully arranged around a jellyfish tank, it reminds you that the future may not necessarily belong to humans. And this is an impactful catharsis. While it does not release us from the responsibility of mending our errors and envisioning a better future, it does free us from the anxiety of focusing only on the survival of the human species. When you accept that the planet’s ecological machine may simply eject humans and move on to a new era, you are finally beyond the dichotomy of pessimism and optimism. As Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi recalled at a panel discussion in Lisbon, ‘this is the end, my beautiful friend.’ And you may simply enjoy the summer, and lead a good life for the rest of your days.

Eco-Visionaries timetable:

MAAT, Lisbon, until 8 October, maat.pt

Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden, 15 June – 21 October, bildmuseet.umu.se

HeK (House of Electronic Arts), Basel, 30 August – 11 November, hek.ch

LABoral (Art and Industrial Creation Centre), Gijón, Spain, opens spring 2019, laboralcentrodearte.org

Eco-Visionaries – Art, Architecture and New Media after the Anthropocene, published by Hatje Cantz, May 2018, hatjecantz.de

Design Crew for Architecture, Freshwater Factory Skyscraper, 2015 Courtesy of the artist
Pinar Yoldas, P-plastoceptor (organ for sensing plastics) from Ecosystem of Excess, 2014 Courtesy of the artist and White Circle
Malka Architecture, The Green Machine, 2014 Courtesy of the artist