Our current future scenario includes ocean system collapse, where we note that the collapse tends to be on the large predator end of things, while, to a larger degree, the smaller and less carnivorous parts of the ecosystem are less impacted. So unduly large amounts of energy and time are currently spent hunting bluefin tuna for high paying sushi aficionados, while carp, jellyfish and seaweeds are left, in general, alone and are even regarded as plagues. This is, of course not quite true.
In his book Unnatural history of the Sea, Callum Roberts talks about the way that overfishing can lead to a population boom of sea urchins, which then decimate seaweeds, leaving less space for young fish to hide while growing, allowing more sea urchins, etcetera. Our actions have repercussions, things are complex in the networks of ecosystems.
This has resonated strongly with an older question, that of vegetarian seafood. As a good friend put it, the surface of the ocean is not a significant moral dividing line, so a rejection of meat should imply a rejection of fish, regardless of what the Catholic church says about flesh and fish on Friday. However sea vegetables are complex, hard to find and strange to cook with. Not as hard as jellyfish though.
Seaweeds play a background, but important, role in contemporary society. As a source for iodine and other chemicals, as animal feed and as a food additive. However it seems that there are reasons to increase seaweed forestation. One of our speculative characters will follow the line laid down by the innovator Bren Smith, who has restarted his ship-board life by becoming a seaweed farmer after the cod fisheries collapsed from overfishing. This has earned him, among other accolades, a Schumacher award. His example Thimble Island Farm is the basis for the Green Wave development, which aims to encourage many small sea farmers to emerge. In the Netherlands and the UK, many experts (such as Jan Kruisse) collect wild seaweeds, often for high end restaurants, while some small seaweed farms have been set up, feeding into the Dutch Weedburger.
We are unsure how seaweed farming may or may not help with the dead zones, the resulting algal blooms caused, in large part, by the surplus agricultural run-off from fertilisers that are used in overabundance. There is hope that the seaweeds will act as a recipient for the nutrients, absorbing them but not dying like algae and cyanobacteria, causing eutrophication and anoxic (i.e. oxygen free) water that suffocates fish, molluscs and anything else living there. Perhaps seaweed farms can act as a barrier, like the fertile hedges bordering fields and maintaining biodiversity or the free fences providing shade and wind breaks on Australian sheep farms. Perhaps they, as Bren claims, help reduce tidal surges from storms, perhaps they act as refuges for juvenile fish and molluscs, incubating the necessary changes for recovery.
It is interesting looking at the way that we, as a global population, are breaking things and how we might slow that process down, perhaps even to a point where collapse in not necessary. Within the scenario we are currently developing, we can take some guesses and look at ways that various strategies might play out. How will they affect everyday life? With fish and shellfish replaced by seaweeds and jellyfish in restaurant menus, with the ocean often poisonous from algal blooms and the beach unenjoyable, how is life in a coastal town? What are the everyday notices and decisions? How nice is it to live beside the seashore, to be beside the sea?
Lucy Gilliam has set up eXXpeditions with Emily Penn in order to investigate plastics and other pollutants in ocean waters in female only research/sailing crews. EXXpeditions have undertaken to look not only at the presence of pollution in ocean waters, especially in the form of plastics, but also to look at the presence of pollutants in their own bodies. This action brings about a swing of perspective. The dreadful expression attributed to Stalin that the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic, gets turned on its head. Mercury poisoning is a statistic until you are talking to someone who measurably has mercury poisoning and quite likely picked it up by doing ethnographical fieldwork and drinking water tainted by the run-off from gold mining that is poisoning the water of millions of people.
It has been conversations like this that have underlined the developments of future physical narratives, the breaking down of grand narratives and statistics to stories of fictional characters or even actual people. When we see the repercussions in everyday life, the statistics begin to be real.
Arriving at the tiny station of Dumfries, I was welcomed by a fellow meeting his own description:
“You will recognise me from the bright Red Hat with feathers.. If I am late don’t worry yourself, your arrival is my utmost importance”
Tim Dennis, aka Captain Quetzal, is at the core of a merry, enthusiastic, dedicated band of activists, artists and practitioners, who are setting up a very interesting collection of projects in and around the small Scottish port of Palnackie. The central project is the Quetzal Trading Company with a gallery, studio space, carpentry workshop and other activities rounding it out. I had arrived at precisely the right time. The entire group had assembled in the local bar (it is a one bar town) for drinks while a few other finished the preparations. One month previously, the dynamics of the group had become complex, so the workshop was to be closed on the date I arrived. Originally for one month, the planned closure was altered to one minute due to the departure of some of the complexity causes. The entire crew were dressed for the occasion, wonderful Edwardian regalia and feathers in hats, I was by far the most banally dressed of all present. Shortly afterwards we made our way to the workshop, where a small, short ceremony was undertaken, the workshop closed, re-opened, and we all trooped inside, accompanied by horns blasts and smoking incense.
Tim and the rest of the group have a wonderful ability to make people feel welcome. With the very short time of my visit, it was all they could do to get me around to visit some of the partners in their activities. We started before 8am enjoying a cup of tea with the (apparently typically Scottish taciturn) owner of the local truck and skip company who rented them the workshop space, then inspected the harbour, into Dumfries to meet some local boat liveaboarders, a poet, the local chandlery, an ocean going yachtsman who is training them up and Alice Francis, a local artist who is getting a second boat ready for sail cargo.
The Quetzal approach is wildly different from that of the other groups I met. There is nothing international, no fine rums or fairly traded chocolate, no maritime traditions. The goal of Quetzal, at this stage, is to move stuff. Whatever is needed, however possible. Members of the group have experience transporting horses, building ships, driving and repairing trucks, building houses and generally being useful in their communities. The have local suppliers of animal feed and hardware that need deliveries to the Isle of Man, just visible on the horizon. Because there is no ferry service from Scotland, this must all go via Liverpool, a long detour. So the Quetzal approach is: let’s get it there. Cheaply, with some adventure, in small boats using the wind and tide of the Firth of Solway to our advantage. The return trip from the Isle of Man will be used to bring supplies from the small breweries on the island to some local pubs. The group have already bought one building to use as a gallery and studio spaces, perhaps they will be opening Palnackie’s second bar before too long.
The Quetzal is a central American bird that is beautiful but, if kept in a cage, will die. The Quetzal Trading Company is living up to their name.
Talking to a number of the Fair Transport practitioners, it has become apparent that their time at sea is one kind of paradise, but life requires a multitude of them. Echoing the words of the founder of the Slow Food movement, who apparently wanted to be a sailor or a shepherd, a number of the practitioners within the group are looking at finding places to settle down. As TOWT solidifies its basis in Douarnenez, Grayhound's co-skippers have bought a small farm building and large garden nearby. Other people from Fair Transport and New Dawn Traders have also been known to dream about the possibilities of settling down, at least for part of the year.
This development offers several paths forward. Freed from the need for the ship to be home, it can take on new captains and new crew and maintain a level of activity that helps make the investment in that ship possible. Having a solid land base means that storage and refurbishment becomes less of an issue. While the practitioners enjoy the feeling of wet feet and wind in their hair, they also want their fingers in the ground.
Cosmo shared his planned, but currently unrealisable sail cargo project for the inner seas of the Netherlands. Fresh organic produce from Friesland would be delivered diagonally across the IJselmeer and Markermeer to Amsterdam. The market that would receive the produce had offered to pay around 500 Euro above standard delivery rates for the marketing privilege, while Cosmo’s estimated costs were about triple that. However the plan has not been laid to rest, a number of factors could still make the project feasible. Lower vessel rental costs are one simple factor, but the reduction or transfer of crew costs is probably the most significant. There are a number of possible sources. The school would be able to offer training on board for the students. Whether this costs is more or is included, is up to the school. For the summer season, the vessel could take advantage of one of the bastions of sail training, the use of shipboard life as a place to develop “character.” As successfully used in such examples as the Vienna based Noah, groups such as recently released inmates, the unemployed and at-risk youth have benefited from such activities. This would allow the project to spread its costs around, as the Tres Hombres does with their cargo / training / show time split of income streams, to perhaps a cargo / training / social split.
The collection of stories and ideas, histories and experiments met with on these transiencies have been fed into the backstory for the Turnton piece that we developed and that will be described in the next chapter. However the experience also shed light on an emerging world of practitioners that are merging new and old techniques and technologies with the social lubricants of trade, travel and transport to enable new ways of thinking about how the world can and should work.
As we took the ideas of the transiencies and developed a scenario and then a storyworld, we had to incorporate a range of other inputs, ideas, influences and matters that help make the world make sense. The following few pages summarise that process and describe the resulting installation.
After the major parts of our transiencies have been accomplished, summarised and brought into a shape we moved forward into a creative process to explore possible futures informed by what had been collected during them. In the following we will bring in some logs written during the Futuring Exercise done between April and June 2016.
But perhaps we should first revisit the idea of a futuring exercise. Futuring Exercises, in our understanding and practice, encompass the development of possible future scenarios leading eventually into experiential futures that can be explored by an audience. They encompass creative processes of exploring futures facilitated as a collective, participatory exercise. We apply simplified techniques, methods and tools, established and tested by professional futurists, leading into scenarios and storyworlds, which sketch and describe parameters as well as details of a possible future. Within the pan-European Future Fabulators project our partner FoAM published a second edition of their Futurist Fieldguide, which is perfect source for basic techniques. See the early chapter for some more of our thoughts on these matters.
Over the last few months there has been a lot of "slow travelling" in our plates, transiencies as we call them, a term deriving from a former pan-European project we have been involved in: The Resilients. Residencies in motion, move and stop, stay a little while, gather impressions, information, opinions, anecdotes, voices and leave again, just to repeat the procedure of collecting more references on another place.
"Data" collected during these transiencies includes, among so many other ideas, attitudes and investigations, inquiries on how possible futures are forecast by marine biologists, ocean experts and carbon dioxide specialists as well as a range of experiences and challenges of currently active fair-transport and feral trade initiatives and activists.
In addition to the transiencies, fair transport experts were consulted and invited to our laboratories, non-fiction books and papers were read, documentaries watched, radio-features listened to, statistics, analyses and diagrams decrypted, all along the lines of a current state-of-the-art on trade, water and transport.
Months of gathering and processing loads of often dark and disturbing data, details and prognoses of our prognosticated futures. Though our learning was positively enriched by initiatives fighting against the current states of extractive and exploitive methods dominating the politics and economies around the world. It is good to know that energetic and ambitious alternative thinking and acting exists, as we dig into the details of current trajectories.
Even though our research was still ongoing, we kicked off a first multi-day futuring exercise. Despite or rather because off all the shocking, dark and disturbing data, details and stories we collected, we concentrated on how a definition and interpretation of luxury could look like in possible futures.
After consulting our first and foremost handbook, the Futurist Fieldguide - edited and published by our long-standing partner in futuring questions FoAM - we chose a method that we have never tried before for a futuring exercise: CLA - Causal Layered Analysis. Containing some features that allow a rather subjective and narrative approach to possible futures, it focusses on in-depth analysis of current issues before identifying alternative situations, in particular futures.
The analysis happens on four levels: litany, social or systemic causes, discourse / worldview and myth / metaphor. Litany identifies current issues, assumptions, facts and data. At the next layer the social or systemic causes underlying the 'litany' are analysed. At the discourse layer, dominant worldviews and mindsets are examined, which give rise to the issues. The deepest layer looks at the foundational myths, metaphors and archetypes that influence the unconscious and/or emotional undertone beneath the issues. - FoAM, Futurist Fieldguide
After understanding the layered causes of an issue, the method suggests looking at alternatives – either within each layer or beginning with a new myth/metaphor and working up through the layers to create an alternative scenario. From this alternate scenario, new possibilities can be distilled and translated into solutions, policies, and other types of actions that one can begin implementing in the present.
After several sessions concentrating on how luxury is seen, defined, talked about and practiced - including developed worldviews which allow these definitions and finding archetypes, legends and myths the worldviews are grounded in, we started to shift several parameters to see how alternative futures might look like. A first framework, a skeleton of some possible futures has been worked out - for further details there are more sessions to come - preferred futures need time to be imagined.
As we seem to be fed up with negative, dystopian future scenarios, we decided to draw a world that allows positive visions, even though including some non-reversible consequences of our recent and current behaviour. Yes, we allowed ourselves to be naive and dreamy! "Change was our only chance" together with "Yes, we can do this as well" (“Wir schaffen das auch”) were created as the rallying cries dominating our images. Both slogans were fictionally derived out of some delayed post COP21 reactions as well as the (hoped for) repercussions of the Panama Papers, becoming eventually relevant after glaringly obvious environmental and social disasters also effecting industrialized regions. We imagined that this would force alterations in the global, economic pace as well as the general public view of social fairness.
In short, we did not want to imagine that humanity would change anything until environmental degradation had hit some stage of development that it was no longer possible to be a denialist, and that we, collectively, had managed to make some desperately needed changes in our socio-economic structures.
This chosen starting position has lead us to a framework of parameters, including amongst others, the implementation of radical recycling, public welfare economics based on real costs and the disempowerment of profit orientated wheeling and dealings. Sustainability on all levels (economically, environmentally and socially) replaces extractive economies and striving after endless growth. Of course we are not saying every single person in the world follows these new rules, since we need to have some frictions in our future-fiction as well. These circumstances triggered fundamental changes in the nature of transport, trade, manufacturing and investments. Perspectives on clean and renewable energies and resources shifted drastically. Labour underwent a re-evaluation, values in general were adapted.
We are facing a future world, which potentially allows a balanced co-existence of all people alive in an environmentally and economically thoughtful setting. Yes it is a fabulation, and yes it is a dream. So what? What can be wrong with a vision trying to bring back some sort of vigour and passion into a everyday which very often only gives us a chance to fear what a near and less near future entails?
Here we are, facing a possible future based on a global public welfare economics and sustainability on all levels (economically, environmentally and socially). This vision might even be preferred, if we disregard the fact of the environmental and societal disaster events that have eventually triggered the social changes taken as the skeleton for our setting. Ocean collapse with toxic coastal waters, transport collapse, climate change driven water level rise to mention just a few.
We worked on litanies including possible headlines for newspapers, repeated opinions and slogans, as well as possible myths in such an altered world. Litanies were developed that would reflect some changes and bring in some of the ideas that we would like to have reproduced in the world. Some examples that we developed:
Such litanies include not only some slogans from activist groups but also twistings of existing slogans. Such litanies bring a tail of connected meaning with them, helping us to create detailed imaginations of what could be happening in this world. We then shaped necessary institutions, interest groups and organizations that might be of relevance. Some examples of institutions and organisations we see for a possible future in a climate and system changed world:
The next step is to begin to populate the world, creating a slice into a specific community. This involves finding and defining stakeholders, developing job descriptions, scopes of duties, tasks and passions, determining individual characters active in these circles.
Imagine an economic system, which doesn't run for profit but for generally sustainable developments and designs. Imagine a policy, clearly controlling (if not banning) the mining of raw materials and focussing on waste prevention, renewable energies, recycling, reusing and restoring. Imagine a transport system unshackled from fossil-fuel energies. Imagine the consequences of such a transportation in terms of global trade, manufacturing and labour conditions. Imagine an order along which ecological restoration and the examination of correctly implemented sustainability (socially, environmentally as well as economically) became the only areas of responsibilities of military task forces. Imagine toxic patches of oceans, infested by piles of plastic and other toxins, hosting only a minimized and inedible fish stock with the exception some special types of jellyfish. And imagine the effort to fight against such facts.
For all those and even more imaginations we portrayed fictional characters playing roles in that framework of a possible future. One favourite one is the highly talented jellyfish cook. She is a young woman, migrating to Europe from a coastal region of China when she was a baby. She started her own little snack bar in a harbour environment, the bordering ocean is badly damaged, the sea-level risen, yet still allowing the use of the area. Her little pub became a social hub for all the residents and transients. She established a strong network with all adjoining, mainly organic farmers, using their products in her kitchen as well as trading them if costumers interested. But she is only one in a long list of characters.
As we have a preliminary skeleton of our possible future, some first, dominating values, beliefs and world-views, as well as several institutions and organisations, inhabitants, residents and stakeholders, we started to sketch possible appearances of this conjectured future. As our final objective is the translation of this process into a physical narrative.
We entered that next process step with two rather simple questions: what tools, materials, machineries do the characters need for their existence and where do they operate, work and/or live?
Through that process we not only deepened our understanding of what each character is standing for, but, through intensifying why they are doing what they do, we even re-shape and develop the whole future scenario. We accent certain aspects, find conflicts and frictions, which either need to be taken out or intentionally emphasized. We draw connections between individual characters and work up details in their back-stories.
Bit by bit we modelled possible physical appearances of certain relevant fragments approaching possible representations of basic values in our sketched world and collect ideas for placing traces for our absent characters. Through verbal descriptions, supported with poor sketches as well found footage we moved towards a possible atmosphere and a basic look of a staged and tangible version of the possible future in a climate and system changed world.
The large scale physical elements that were developed for the first iteration of the piece are the bar, the harbourmaster's office, the ocean, access to the algae farm and the pollinator's balloon basket.
A physical narrative does not exist in a vacuum. In fact it exists very much as a site-specific intervention, an arrangement of the elements of the narrative in a given physical space. Often we are so strongly influenced by the space in which a narrative is first constructed that it becomes difficult to install it in another space. The character of the walls and floor, the ambient temperature, angles from which light can be shone, all these influences and more come together to help us create the physical narrative as it is installed.
Building a town square in a given room is, to say the least, a challenge. The gallery space in RIXC is at least relatively neutral, it has high ceilings and one main open space within which we could assemble the parts of the story. The square is adjacent to the sea, with the door to the harbourmaster's office immediately adjacent to the fence that should keep the casual visitor from coming into contact with the poisoned ocean. The ocean undulated with simulated waves underscored by the sound of water lapping on the harbour walls. By using a nonlinear scaling of the ocean, we were able to compress the first few nautical miles of coastal waters into the six-meter space available at the end of the gallery.
The harbourmaster's building and the bar were constructed as theatrical flats, coated with concrete based rendering and painted to give a proper feel of masonry and a solid building. The pollinator's balloon basket lies on the opposite side of the room, the natural fibre suspension ropes hanging loosely from above where the imagined balloon remains suspended, just out of sight. The balloon is tied, like a ship, to an immense rusty steel bollard that underlines the maritime flavour of the city. The fourth corner of the room has the entrance to the Seaweed Farm, with a bundle of sea-slime coated plastic rubbish hanging from the fence.
The room was kept dark, the time is early evening and the moon is slowly rising. Maintaining the dark feeling of a post-cheap electricity world where illumination must be kept effective while maintaining readability of street signs, newspaper and other written details, required a long process of fine-tuning. Some light was less illuminating such as the sweeping cone of the lighthouse perched above the harbourmaster's office, beaming out to sea, or the shadow of the moon's glow that had passed through some kind of loading derrick and sailing ship's rigging before being cast upon the façade of the bar.
The storyline details themselves were most apparent in the accompanying written material. A newspaper, 24 pages of the Turnton Gazette, was to be found lying on the outside table in front of the bar, as was the menu and an advertising brochure for the travel and aid organisation Travel Without Borders. The Gazette included headlines and some full articles, a summary of the relevant news, where interviews with the balloonist, reports of pollution mining and developments in various regions close to Turnton could be read about. The public was invited to take some time to sit and browse the newspaper, using the physical relics and the textual details as a way to piece together their interpretation of the Turnton world. Posters on the blank concrete wall adjacent to the sea announced the New Neighbours Integration Bureau 20 year celebration, another poster announced the exhibition in the Turnton Historical Museum reporting on the tumultuous times that preceded the current, fundamentally changed, epoch. As the visitors to the space left, they entered the door to the museum, returning to 2016 and the everyday worries that this year has included. The current world as a museum of a past that the future finds somehow uncanny and misguided was the best way that we could find to reflect on a world where, from that dystopian but somehow optimistic future, “Change was our only chance.”
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