Artists Enlist the Public in Building Future Utopias in Two Forgotten Cities

Blast Theory collective is working with cities Hull and Aarhus to transform them as more sustainable and economical.

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18 January 2017, 3:35pm

Images courtesy the artists.

Art collective Blast Theory is undertaking an ambitious science fiction project, titled 2097: We Made Ourselves Over, connecting the British city of Hull with the Danish city Aarhus. This isn’t Silicon Valley futurism, where techno-idealists disrupt their way to a future utopia of riches. Instead, Blast Theory is working with the cities’ residents to build a science fiction story as a possible future where all will benefit. Along the way, Blast Theory will stage various public happenings involving artists and artworks.

Nick Tandavanitj tells The Creators Project that 2097: We Made Ourselves Over can be traced back to the 2008 financial crisis. Like many others at the time, the collective’s members were struck by the sense that globalization—its financial markets in particular—had left people completely disempowered, including the people generally viewed as running the show.

“Since then, we’ve been thinking about the future,” says Tandavanitj. “What are the alternatives? How do we get there? And what is a more inclusive way of choosing that path.”

Between Hull and Aarhus, Blast Theory considers the similarities. They see two coastal cities vulnerable to climate change, with out-of-date developments, whose residents are trying to build sustainable economies and infrastructure.

“2097 will find new ways for us to speculate about the future with people,” Tandavanitj explains. “It takes a timeframe that is far enough to see our world potentially transformed but close enough that people now in their 20s might be here to see.”

Tandavanitj says an ongoing inspiration is Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell, which shows everyday men and women reacting with great ingenuity and courage in the face of disasters. What inspired Blast Theory is that people are resourceful and humane enough to keep going at all in some of these cases.

Over the past few months, Tandavanitj says that Blast Theory has been interviewing experts in different fields—scientists working on smart cities and community activists—for their predictions and thoughts on the challenges of the 21st century. The collective is asking attendees to re-imagine Hull and Aarhus with stories, drawings and ideas. These chats are part of workshops with different groups across Hull and Aarhus, which also range from schoolchildren to pensioners.

Blast Theory will throw their creativity into bringing this future world to life throughout 2017. They plan to do so with films, smartphones, and performances. They also plan to release interviews each month, and will discuss locations for shooting films with the people of the cities. Many of these happenings will be kept quiet, as much of the project is intended as a surprise.

Refreshingly, especially for those who believe in science fiction’s potential for envisioning many futures, Blast Theory boldly talks of building utopia. Some might scoff at the very idea of utopian planning, but Blast Theory could care less.

“Science fiction brings the power to make certain things literal and visual in a way that other genres can’t,” Tandavanitj says. “The authoritarian state can be literally represented as an army of faceless baton wielding robots, the consequences of catastrophic climate change can be made to feel all too immediate. Science fiction dystopias with out-of-control technology or terrifying forms of social inequity can reflect genuine challenges or dilemmas that we face today.”

Blast Theory believe they have a responsibility to propose new possibilities, especially because of the political surprises on both sides of the Atlantic this past year. Tandavanitj points to science fiction author JG Ballard’s The Drowned World as a point of reference—how the novel’s characters exist on the edge of precipice (in a world flooded by climate change), but simply keep going with a lack of sentiment.  

“[It] feels like the thing that will actually sustain us in the face of the unknown is the kind of resilience and stoicism shown among Ballard’s characters,” says Tandavanitj. “One of the properties of our global culture is that we can draw on specialist knowledge and expertise from around the world and combine this with local knowledge,” he adds. “In a time where it feels like everything is changing and everything is up for grabs, then we have an opportunity to take control of where we go and become protagonists ourselves in the making of the future.”

Click here to see more of Blast Theory’s work.

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