Although we all deny it, the end is near: 50 years left, perhaps 100, or 200, who knows. Extinction impatiently awaits the biosphere. The temperature of the planet will soon increase 1.5 degrees (the limit agreed upon at COP 21 in Paris in 2015), and by the end of the century perhaps it will rise another 3 degrees. The inevitable melting of the polar icecaps, which have already lost a third of their area according to NASA satellites, will inundate the majority of the world’s largest cities, while extreme weather conditions will continue to devastate agriculture and decimate the collective immune system. The consequences of the Anthropocene, which some critics now prefer to call the Capitalocene, are already tangible, yet life goes on as if nothing can stop us. This year Houston flooded, California and Portugal burned to a crisp, and the near erasure of Bangladesh during the monsoons seemed just another blip on the screen.
The exhibition "Después del Fin del Mundo" at the CCCB in Barcelona attempts to hold one’s interest in the topic not through the conventional guilt trip but by treating climate change as a trigger for creativity. You enter a chamber surrounded by video projections of sea waves and listen to the gentle voice of Kim Stanley Robinson, a much admired science fiction author, welcoming you to think like a jellyfish, think like a forest, even better think like a planet. Then you encounter a series of curved panels prepared by Benjamin Grant who has assembled satellite photographs of places on the earth that have been significantly altered through human agency. The tight installation unfolds like the rings of an onion making one struggle to see the pictures, which from an abstract point of view present stunning compositions, ranging in content from landscape interventions such as mining for uranium in Niger to intensive cattle feed lots in Texas to more urban scenes such as the endless grid of La Plata versus the phantom refugee camp for 250,000 of Dadaab in Kenya, to vast scenes of production like the invernaderos in Andalusia and solar farms in Gujarat, India. The labyrinthine set up forces you to look closely at shots taken from a great distance, rendering what would normally seem like beautiful, harmless patterns on the earth as potentially catastrophic. This feeling lends itself the point picked up by Timothy Morton in his performance as the “Minister of the Future” (it is not clear if he means a religious minister or a political one) that you should not feel guilt as an individual for contributing to global warming but only realize that you are a constituent part of “a hyperobject dispersed through time and space called the human species.”
The tension between aesthetics and moralization runs throughout the show as we walk through basins tinged with colored water watching a multi-image film about cloth production in Indian sweatshops, or witness food being grown in domestic settings under ultraviolet lights, or consider Charles Lim’s documentation of the production of artificial islands in Singapore, or marvel at the flight of air-filled solar balloons designed by the Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno. Things reach a catharsis in the theatrical piece called “Win><Win” by the Berlin-based group known as the Rimini Protokoll. You enter as part of a small audience of 15 into a little theater facing a disk which initially appears to be a mirror, another group of the same size has entered the other side of the mirror five-minutes earlier. As the discussion asks for audience participation about survival considering questions of climate change the mirror slowly dissolves to reveal a tank full of jellyfish and you learn that they have the highest survival rate of all species, the only animate species that can be traced back 670 million years, and the only one that will continue to live once the biosphere becomes uninhabitable. As their predators have been disappearing through overfishing and changing sea conditions, they are becoming the dominant species of the sea, just as humans have come to dominate the land. This lesson in humility intensifies as the back screen dissolves to reveal the other audience rising like a school of jellyfish to leave.
Think like a jellyfish starts to make good sense.
Richard Ingersoll for Arquitectura Viva