Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. People in the end will understand. Kotoko Wamura
Living After the Apocalypse is a curatorial proposal I conceived and developed when I was invited to submit a conceptual framework for an art and architectural biennial in 2011. While I was writing and preparing the proposal an earthquake happened in Japan and the city of Fukushima and its surrounding areas were flooded by a Tsunami and covered by the radioactive fallout following the collapse of a nearby nuclear plant. Certain that the events would make my proposal even more relevant, I kept on working and tried to explain what the title meant, what the biennial would have been like, and what type of events would take place.
Useless to say that the proposal was not chosen.
I have enough experience to understand that work is never wasted, at some point or another with enough time somehow my themes or approaches will become relevant or someone will acknowledge their importance.
The focus of the proposal is incredibly relevant today, nine years later, and will continue to be relevant in years to come. The blind and self-centered optimism that has characterized the past thirty years, the arrogance of anthropocentrism, the certainty that this is life and not a fragile instance of it, appear to have continuously led human ingenuity to the point of collapse.
Granted that the theme I had chosen for the biennial was complex, I did not feel that there was any pessimism in it—although this was one of the reasons for its rejection. On the contrary, I felt that there was a positive approach seeking solutions and resolutions to humanity’s problems, using technology and ensuring access to it, changing and shaping behaviors through design, altering and understanding the roles of art, architecture, and engineering not as knee-jerk responses to disaster but as tools able—if not to prevent possible disasters—to at least allow people’s standards of living to continue after the apocalypse.
Living after the apocalypse was the main focus of the proposal. How can we continue to keep on living by retaining the same standards of life, and perhaps even try to improve them? Is it possible to reduce the impact of a catastrophe to zero or even take advantage of it? Can we reimagine the disaster in financial terms as an opportunity for gaining knowledge, expertise, and also financial remuneration since research has its costs? This was a tangential element since the only way to attract sponsors is to show them how they can monetize from any given situation, and I thought that this would interest international brands in design, architecture, and engineering technology. I had not calculated the myopic perspective of most CEOs: nine years is an eternity in contemporary speedy terms of the now already consumed before it finishes happening.
These days I believe the curatorial proposal I wrote nine years ago would have a very different reception.
In the proposal the concept of living was meant as continuing to go about one’s business without disruption or with minimal efforts. It was a way of considering contemporary dystopia not as an unfathomable accident but as a certain disaster that would happen sooner or later in the timeline of one’s existence. Therefore, the concept of living was opposed to the concepts of surviving, scrounging, stripping, lingering, sustaining oneself, clinging, pulling through, and all the other synonyms that would imply a basic barely remaining alive.
Living After the Apocalypse was meant as living with harmony, living with comfort, and living with joy. The proposal had at its core this idea: let’s assume that global warming will happen, nuclear disaster will plague the earth, earthquakes and tsunamis will strike, and that pandemics are normal, and let’s see what we can invent to redesign public and private spaces accordingly and what role art can play as a cultural and creative human endeavor in this context. Let’s see if we might continue to live without mass culling, the solution of most disaster movies and some ‘politicians’ over the centuries.
Today, at the time of Coronavirus, it would have been rather useful to have a reimagined structure of our society with emergency response technologies ready to be deployed. For those venture capitalists out there, who do not venture very far, these are technologies that could be sold to anyone who might want them and could pay for them at their dire moment of need, or could be sold at a fraction of the cost, or simply donated.
Italy, since after World War II and its transition into a republic, has had numerous earthquakes and still it is incapable of deploying emergency hospitals, let alone constructing them quickly and efficiently, or re-imagine at the time of the pandemic that it may not be necessary to create hospitals but that it might be sufficient to transform people’s bedrooms into small ICUs, wherever and whenever needed. The technology for medical pods or a similarly fashionably designed bed that may function as night-bed and medical-pod providing constant information to the central database of the health system would be both an incredibly efficient system of surveying the health of the population as well as ensuring immediate medical care at the slightest symptom. This would go hand in hand with ethical issues to be addressed regarding individuals’ privacy and access to data but at the same time it would inform the action of the health system itself making it efficient, prompt, and reliable.
By the way if you wish to have a medical pod during the coronavirus pandemic you can purchase it from Armadyne. The medical pod, for those who are fashion conscious, is stylishly designed by Versace.
Medical pods for homes as substitutes for beds could have been designed, tested, and perhaps created to ensure perfect sleep but also to monitor some basic vital signs while people sleep and provide AI reports and alarms whenever necessary. The hospital would become the place where to go for extreme cases and home the more natural place where to recover. We would not be assisting to the current panic and dysfunctional scenes of pandemia taking place in underfunded hospitals in disarray. Just a thought, the medical pod could analyze daily vital statistics and report on the health status of people—without the mad rush to scrape together kit tests that we are witnessing presently. The house and its functions would be reimagined and restructured in order to keep a population healthy, in shape, and able to live with tailored care and medicines.
It is rather sad to see Italy, but also Britain, the US, Germany, and the rest of the world being taken over by something that was predictable because it is cyclical and because there are no organizations in place to stop or at least slow down its viral trajectory. This phenomenon opens up larger socio-political questions that both as an artist and curator I feel I should ask: How long will it take populations to understand that there is and there always will be a will from the upper classes to cull the masses? Is it not yet clear that the European project has to either evolve in a fully functional federation or disband, since in its current form of selfishly absorbed nation-states it is unable to respond to the challenges of the twenty-first century? How long will it take US citizens to understand that public services cannot be privatized because the short-term interest of the private sector to cash-in does not coincide with the general interest of the public to ensure the development and success of a people? Finally, I expect that many art organizations will start now to ask what is their role and the role of the artist in a time of pandemic.
This is a question that I can answer: the role of art institutions and the role of the artist is that of having the courage to shape cultural and aesthetic agendas ahead of time by envisaging the future and presenting projects that are challenging, unusual, and thought-provoking and able to provide the viewer with multiple scenarios of aesthetic thinking and knowledge. The role of art institutions and artists is certainly not that of running after fashions, corporate diktacts, and audience’s entertaining and pandering.
In my proposal, Living After the Apocalypse, I wanted to institute a prize for the former mayor of Fudai in Japan, Kotoko Wamura, who out of sheer vision, memory of previous historical events, and unwavering foresight supported and willed the construction in the 1960s of a 50 foot sea wall able to withstand the strength of the tsunami and its waves in 2011. His vision was considered a folly, which he achieved nevertheless, and for which 3000 people are still alive today. The prize was supposed to be awarded to the most daring and visionary ideas coming from artists, architects, designers, and engineers.
Living After the Apocalypse (The Proposal 2011 © Lanfranco Aceti)
Living After the Apocalypse started from the assumption that humanity is no longer able to avert environmental catastrophes: harsher weather conditions, sea levels rising, pandemics, earthquakes, tsunamis, and human made disasters. Therefore, how could we redesign, build, and create communities that are able to survive the collapse of a centralized and inept (at best) system of management of services and production?
The proposal for the [name withheld] biennial, Living After The Apocalypse, embodies a message strongly focused on human agency, following cultural traditions of pro-active and farseeing engagement, in opposition to visual imageries of mere survival—as in traditional dystopian visual representations that are only able to offer and fetishize visions of collapsed and dysfunctional architectural, urban, and social landscapes.
The curatorial concept for the exhibition and the conference, the two main outputs of the biennial, wishes to launch internationally a positive message of empowerment and human agency. By stressing the word ‘living’ the exhibitions, conference, and art/cultural events will place emphasis on contemporary art, architecture, design, and engineering as the key factors that—by envisaging the future landscape and focusing on retaining living standards in the face of contemporary crises (economic, social, political, and environmental)—will make the difference between succumbing to the disaster, mere survival, and living after the apocalypse.
The biennial will launch the message that foresight, advanced thinking and planning, research, and creativity can lead the way in pre-empting future crises and developing new architectural models, service systems, cultural frameworks, aesthetic thinking, and technologies that can ensure living standards even after the apocalypse.
The biennial will reject the idea that the apocalypse is a disaster that society has to succumb to or that cannot recover from. It will launch a series of initiatives (research groups, project incubators, exhibitions, and cultural events) that by uniting contemporary architecture, arts’ creativity, advanced technology, new scientific thinking, and innovative social models can provide alternative solutions to the traditional representations of inevitable disaster and doom.
The biennial will acknowledge the ability of foresight and planning of visionary architects, artists, designers, and engineers who are able to imagine and present a future of life in spite of pending theories of doom. The biennial will seek to empower these visionaries and at the same time acknowledge the possibility that humanity, as a collective global force, will not be able to avert the current environmental, social, economic, and political crises that sign the current post-postmodern world. Therefore, those who can should think, invent, create, and act.
Focusing on the spirit that characterizes the hosting country and allows it to present itself as a safe haven, the theme of this curatorial proposal is to present the hosting city and the hosting country as the locus where architecture, art, science, media, and technology meet in order to deliver a positive message of future sustainability despite and in spite of current global representations and experiences of doom and conflict.
The images in the post are from: Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp, 2013.
The images in the slider are two sketches of Anemone: The Data Gate.