An item entitled Drift Towards Disaster in a recent issue of the Weekend Australian Review deserves wider attention (Allen, 2017). What makes it different from so many other treatments of ‘growth,’ ‘the environment’ and ‘human impacts’ is that it refers to an installation from the Fondation Cartier in Paris and currently at the Art Gallery of UNSW. An introductory video by Paul Virilio deals with recent population upheavals (said to be 36 million in 2008 alone). This is followed by ‘a curved diorama on which changing projections convey some idea of the reasons for these vast population displacements.’ Further sections cover environmental changes such as global warming and sea level rise. The whole installation brings together a vast amount of information in visual form and, in so doing, provides a way of coming to grips with, and powerful critique of, our collective addiction to endless growth and development.
It’s been clear for some time that prevailing cultural values actively defocus vital concerns regarding the primary earth economy. The latter are routinely displaced by a near-exclusive focus on detailed analysis of the secondary human economy. This is seen daily when we observe how often news broadcasts conclude with ‘sports’ coverage or ‘business and finance.’ As if these were somehow the last words on the day’s news. This installation demonstrates yet again that we have the technology – but apparently not the courage or insight – to provide the public with high quality, up-to-date, vital information about the shifting conditions of the primary Earth Economy. Since we depend on the latter for our very existence it is surely more central to our collective wellbeing than the latest footy scores or updates of stocks and shares. Relevant ‘big picture’ information is available in abundance, but its value widely overlooked.
The world of art and design apparently has greater degrees of freedom than our current broadcast media – which helps explain why the ‘Drift’ installation was conceived as an art project by New York designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Yet arguably it also has wider uses. As a credible worked example we should learn from it, improve on it and start looking for places where others can create and appreciate this type of work, the better to digest its many implications. A review of the installation by Patrick Hartigan acknowledged the value of Virilio’s introduction and the information contained in the display. He also drew attention to the preponderance of ‘disembodied facts’ and the need to question assumptions lying ‘beyond the data stream’ (Hartigan, 2017). These are fair criticisms that can help inform future iterations of this high tech art form.
A university gallery is a good place to start but the applications are obviously wider. The underlying idea can take various forms and serve many different constituencies. Hopefully, therefore, it will not be too long before carefully curated variants begin to spring up in schools, town halls, community centers, libraries and the like. Who knows, the occasional slimmed-down version might even make it onto the evening news!
Allen, C. Drift towards disaster, The Weekend Australian Review 4-5th February 2017, pp. 10-11.
Hartigan, P. Reflective surfaces, The Saturday Paper, 18th February 2017.