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Within 24 hours of returning from Field_Notes – Deep Time, our recent residency in Finland, we noticed Plantago Major (also known as “white man’s footprint”) in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for the first time. A week prior, Oliver Kelhammer spotted this plant on the trail outside the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. He describes Plantago as a “cosmopolitan.” He explained this is a notable species that can adapt, and even thrive, in disrupted environments. Its seeds stick to the bottoms of shoes and travel the world, with humans, to colonize new habitats. Plantago Major has potent medicinal and healing properties. Our newfound abilities to recognize this plant in our NYC backyard was the first of many realizations that we had been on a major journey that will inform and shape our work for months to come.
During our time in Finland we (smudge studio) served as “hosts” to five other participants that collectively composed the “Deep Futures in the Making” Field_Notes group. Our charge was not a simple one. We were to consider, embody, and perhaps even lessen the gap between human time perception and the geological time/context in which we are embedded as a species. Through the generosity and thoughtful insights of our group members over hours of conversation in the station’s seminar room, over meals, over tea beside a fire in a traditional Kota, and on walks alone and with others, we feel that we actually gained some traction on this daunting subject.
One of our most generative outcomes was to arrive at the following question, “What does it take to imagine and act in relation to deep futures”? Our group wondered, together, what kind of humans might we have to be/come to actually act in ways that relate to a future we won’t be around to see? What does it take to not just leave the task of caring for that future to those who come after us? What kind of practices, skills, affordances and might we begin to cultivate now, to ease future generations’ burden to adapt to the remarkable changes that are presently in-the-making?
It’s a rare opportunity to have the pleasure, and charge, to think so intensely about such an intimidating subject. The far future’s relegation as obscure subject quickly transformed into a remarkably relevant and urgent task for “now.” While other groups at the station seemed to wake before dawn with clear plans and schedules, as hosts of our particular group, we wagered that, in order to bridge the “gap” between human life today and in the far future, we would need to personally cultivate an experience of time that is more “open” and “expansive” that what we allow ourselves during our usual “busy” lives. We decided to invite a cognitive shift to occur and a relevance of the deep future to be sensed by asking group members to activate the art-making practices that are most meaningful and comfortable to them, and use them in service of this shared question. They would extrapolate from whatever art practices they are now engaged, use those practices as “sightlines” into imagined deep futures, and report back via field notes.
The fragility of the tundra, the unmistakably clean air and water, and the durability of the wall of rock looming over us (named Saana), lent material ground to our task. Much of this environment is very likely to change with the opening of the North Sea Passage, and as migrations of people seek cooler latitudes and distance from rising seas. Kilpisjärvi became an aperture onto the changes occurring nearby and far way on the planet, and a context for grounding our discussions and serious concerns for the short and long-term.
By the end of the week, we sense what was produced inside the space and time of this residency will relay beyond, offering potent new trajectories to our own practices. Rather than attempt to summarize what was generated, we offer four brief points as relays from our “Deep Futures in the Making” group:
• deep futures in the making are unknowable—but we know that change, as a material force, is certain to continue to unfold form here at increased speeds and intensities
• it is import to find ways to navigate change as it occurs
• the challenge is not to fear change, but to become curious about it
• there emerged within our group, a shared desire to invent practices that are gracious towards futures in the making
Reflecting on this list during the past week, it seems these points describe states of mind and being that aren’t so unlike the adaptive qualities of the Plantago Major, which thrives in both the changing arctic and the changing urban streets of New York. The abilities to move, to find “home” in various disruptive conditions, and to do so while carrying with us graceful affordances (such as the healing properties of the Plantago Major) is something we can all aim for in the days and years to come.
Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, trail on right where Plantago Major was sighted, FOP 2013
* also, back in New York, tonight we launch Look Only at the Movement at Parsons. Please join us in the Bark Room, ground floor 2 West 13th Street. We hope to see you there and are happy to report that the project was recently featured in Places: Design Observer.
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