Humans look for patterns. Humans make meaning. We want to know what’s going on. Being human means remembering the past and making forecasts about the future.
This exhibition is about what it means to be human on a changing planet with an uncertain future. When faced with uncertainty, humans make predictions, test models, and tell stories. By collecting some particularly striking forecasts about the weather and climate of planet Earth and our place on it, the STRANGE WEATHER exhibition reflects the dreams and desires, memories and models, needs and nightmares that we have about atmospheric patterns. HazMat Suits for Children and Survivaball are both humorous and horrifying—these are artworks that let us try on failed futures. The projects Urpflanze and Climate Bureau offer visions of the future, where scientists and policy makers succeed in shifting our priorities and actions towards desirable outcomes. The value of these forecasts from the future is not their predictive capability, but how they enable us to imagine and test out responses to possible scenarios—mapping what we expect, declaring our desires and acknowledging our fears.
Humans experience weather continuously via our senses. Our bodies take note of the slightest variations in temperature, light, wind and precipitation. The weather is everywhere and always on. When weather conditions are not extreme we may barely pay attention, only taking notice when weather changes dramatically. Terrifying storms power our nightmares. Reviving rains inspire joy and thanks. Sudden gusts of wind can change the way we walk. Even a warm sunny day can make us uneasy if it’s the wrong time of year. Extreme weather drives human emotion and imagination.
The works in this show employ both scientific and artistic methods to investigate weather. Raindrop is a recreation of a 40-year old science lab apparatus that allows us to study a single drop of water that hovers in mid-air. Thinking Like a Cloud draws new connections between the microbes that live in clouds and on the human body. Other projects zoom out and draw our attention to environmental and political changes that are taking place in Humans look for patterns. Humans make meaning. We want to know what’s going on. Being human means remembering the past and making forecasts about the future. Forecasts from the Future CATHRINE KRAMER & ZACKERY C. DENFELD, Curators of STRANGE WEATHER and co-founders of CoClimate 10 — 12 — — 13 the Arctic and in Europe. Our partners at Met Éireann have provided us with historical artefacts and helped us imagine what weather forecasting may look like in 2035. And the future is where things get strange.
Weather is driven by differences in temperature and moisture from one place to another. Climate is the average of these conditions over long periods of time. If weather is, by definition, difference, what makes weather strange?
Strange weather occurs when our lived experiences don’t conform to our expectations or the models we have in our heads. Strange weather deviates from the patterns we have documented in the past. Strange weather differs from climate change because we experience it with our own senses, in real time. Climate change is only documented collectively, over the span of multiple human lifetimes, whereas strange weather is up close and personal.
When taking the long view, weather on Earth has always been strange, and the fact that the climate has remained relatively stable long enough for human civilisations to emerge is unusual. Scientists report that a future of strange weather is inevitable and is accelerated by current and past human activities. We will only know if strange weather is truly anomalous in the long run, but to borrow a phrase from economics, “In the long run, we are all dead”. When anomalous weather events happen during our lifetime we respond by changing our habits, developing new behaviours, artefacts and ways of existing in the world. Stronger storms, massive floods and longer droughts drive us towards the creation of resilient cities, new festivals and novel agricultural practices.
Artworks such as A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting and Archive of Old and New Events document the relationship between a changing climate and human culture by collecting artefacts and imagining new celebrations for emerging environmental circumstances. Human culture is being reshaped to fit strange weather, but can we reshape weather to fit our strange culture?
WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GEOENGINEERS
Humans change things. We don’t exist outside of nature. We are high on the food chain but, like everything else on planet Earth, we exist within the confines of the Earth’s biosphere. Human individuals and civilisations consume energy and material. We often make a mess. Every year there are more of us, and our world energy consumption increases, but we are constrained by Earth’s energy budget. Solar radiation comes in and infrared radiation goes out. Along the way novel technologies, from sedentary agriculture to fossil fuel use, have altered the way we change the planet. We have always been geoengineers, but we have not been very good at it.
Human cultures have a long and dubious history of trying to control weather events and the climate as a whole. This exhibition features The Weather War, which documents some of the more fantastical attempts at weather control from the last century, while I Wish to Be Rain asks if some humans might actually want their ashes to be used for cloud seeding after they die.
Human civilisation is reliant on complex systems that regulate the physical and biogeochemical flows on the planet. Anthropogenic activities have always had some effect on those processes. From the first human to the last, we will always shape the systems that shape us. Assuming that we want to continue the human project on planet Earth, what strategies can we implement to maintain a biosphere that humans can inhabit? On the long scale of human history, our use of fossil fuels will probably become a small part of the story. If we imagine restructuring and powering a civilisation without fossil fuels our attention turns again towards the sun. Towards differences in temperature, wind and precipitation. Ultimately, towards the weather.
Curators of STRANGE WEATHER and co-founders of CoClimate