Apparently the future arrived quite a while ago. It seems I missed its entry. But it's here. And I'm here. Two awkward strangers, forced to share a slightly-too-small space. Neither of us quite sure how to feel about it all. Though I suspect I am the least indifferent of the pair.
The scene meets the eye soft and deep olive green:
completely convincing; a faultless argument, made with ease; a serene and
simple certainty, settled in a sea of convolution; an unconscious cradle that
coddles, that cares, that comforts. Deep, soft, olive green.
But really it ranges from pale-grass yellow to glass-bottle
green. Sun-bleached emerald to gunmetal-rock and countless shades between.
Lonesome bushes of sage and sea mix with crisp sand and orange-sunburn-dirt. And charcoaled sections – spark-scorched – mingle with worn patches where giant
knees and feet have scuffed and left their dusty russet mark.
Beware the perfect colour. The perfect colour is not
one colour at all.
Let me explain something that's been on my mind. I’ll try to be clear.
I am surprised that there hasn’t been a stronger creative response to our global environmental predicament, the self-destructive course of our civilisation, the general state of the world. In fact, when I stop to think about it, I am shocked.
Collectively, we are tearing the life-support systems from beneath ourselves and future generations. This is well understood. I won't repeat the science here. I won't remake the arguments. The issues on countless fronts are more alarming than ever. The trends are clear.
Yet you could be excused, upon entering a music store or the fiction section of a book shop, for instance, for thinking that there was nothing extraordinary underway in the world - 'nothing to see here'. Aside from a handful of niche examples of responsive art, there is a whole lot of silence going on.
And the impact of this silence, I think, is profound. We are surrounded by a cultural fog; a soft, warm miasma that is at once symptomatic of the challenges we are living through while also reinforcing them.
I intend to explicitly explore this topic more on this blog over time. At very least, it will be a useful way for me to process some of the important thoughts and feelings that inform my work.
In the 1960's, a Silent Spring was what people feared. Today, I'm troubled by the idea of a Silent Fall - and I intend to chart a different path.
Note: I am interested to hear from other artists - particularly musicians - who are exploring this terrain, or from anyone who can point to good creative examples. I know of some (here, for instance), and will write more about them in future, but would love to connect with more.
I do not know the names for clouds. But I know what I
Today a pod of drooping white whales hung low in the
sky. Some silent, some sighing. A mobile mass, heading off showers of krill, following
the course of the wind.
I watched as their presence turned tall towers of
convective air, bundles covered with blankets, into submarine coral mounds –
shadowed, mysterious. Watched as it turned bird flocks into flying-fish
schools; surfing the high air, skimming the low slung cetaceans’ upturned
I watched this underwater, overland show play itself out
on a layered stage with a bright, back-lit glow. Someone spying from the hills
behind would have seen me sitting patiently underwater - a stone sunk heavy and
calm, settled driftwood in a valley on the ocean’s floor. They would have observed the cool current gently ruffling my hair, seen my light shirt buoyed by the salty surrounds.
And they would have seen me
linger as the scene eased itself apart; almost-real whale flesh returning to formless vapour, water to air.
But they certainly could not have detected the small twinge
in my chest. Nor watched my eyes close softly over. Nor seen me
sense that if I sat there long enough, the very same end would be mine;
almost-real human flesh turned sand or soil, blown on wind, washed in waves.
NASA's latest mission recently launched. Apparently
we’re heading back to Mars to search for ‘signs of life’ with arover named Curiosity.
To me this enterprise feels almost
like a parody. The more I learn about the planetary crisis unfolding around us,
the more it colours everything I read. With that in mind, news of NASA's
mission presents as absurd, with the craft's name deeply ironic.
When taken in the broader context of our
times, it is actually symbolic ofhow limited and specific
our curiosity is. And it
shows how powerful social inertia can be; how willing we are to continue
unquestioningly following the pre-charted path to 'the future',
despite all new evidence.
Human missions to Mars began in 1960 and
have continued relatively regularly since then. So this voyage is just the
latest in a line of many – following our gaze and our dreams out beyond our planet’s atmosphere, into the mysterious void above. But at what point does
this sort of activity become redundant, misguided or distracting from more
critical things? As the poles melt and our planet enters an ice-free future,
will we still think it is heroic to send ships into space to ‘explore’?
The purpose of the mission, on the
surface, is to find ‘life’. I would expect, with around one
quarter of all mammal species on Earth presently at risk of extinction, with
the fabric of our own planet’s life being torn apart around us, that our
inter-stellar exploration for minuscule signs of ancient life might become a
This is a reminder of how powerful
yesterday’s dreams can be. We have told ourselves for decades that our strength
and intelligence is measured by our highest achievements in space; that by
'stretching ourselves' in this way we can achieve collective greatness. More than
that, the idea of humans exploring and conquering 'the final frontier' sits deep within our culture – with
decades of novels, films, television shows and other tales shaping our collective imagination.
And yet, driven by such ideas, we’ve found ourselves in a place where our actions no longer match reality. How can we let our past dreams
persist unexamined in the face of all that we know? These days we need to act with more humility, with a renewed sense of our smallness in the scheme of things. Those, ironically, are some of the things you might expect to get from a visit to space.
Despite possible appearances, this isn't really a dig at
NASA or science or space travel - rather an exploration of a different kind of awareness. Considering this
example makes me wonder what other activities and future visions are similarly
redundant – that we just haven't called ‘time’ on yet.
At what point do we say that our 'curiosity'
- our seeking, searching and reaching upwards – may be aimed in the wrong direction
or might be the wrong kind of inquisitiveness? At what point does it start to
look like we’ve, to borrow sporting parlance, taken our eye from the ball? I’d
suggest that moment came a long while ago now, for a whole range of human pursuits.
Yet in some ways things are starting to feel less like a sporting event than some kind of strange pantomime. Perhaps that's why, as the NASA craft heads off into the sky searching forLIFE, I am tempted to cry out, “It’s behind