I was having a conversation earlier today with Aidan Moesby, a Newcastle-based artist who has been spending some time at Kaleider. As we ranged over our interests in environmental and place-based art, I use the phrase “grieving the future” in the context of my Little colouring books and climate change, and Green|Blue: Drop Slow Tears, and flood risk and aftermath. Aidan immediately picked up on it so I tried to explain where it comes from, for me…
In The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann describes the ‘royal consciousness’ first of Pharaoh and later of the kings of Israel and Judah: the dominant culture which denies the reality of change, endings and death; characterised by affluence, satiation, numbness, stasis, self-preservation, and oppression. Sounds familiar?
The role of the prophet, then and now, is first to become aware, and then to imagine the alternative: “In this environment, the task of the prophet is not initially to lead a movement toward social renewal, but to lead the people in creative, artistic, public lament.”
Lament and grief pierces through the numbness. Compassion for pain and suffering, of others’ and also of our own, brings us up short. Because change and death are real, only those who live through grief are able to move on into new beginnings. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Conversely, those who do not face the endings are not able to see and embrace the new beginnings.
So ‘grieving the future’ is for me about shining a light on the reality of the impossibility of infinite economic growth on a finite planet; the reality of climate change; the reality that we are not in control of nature (and nor are we stewards, but rather part of and stewarded by nature). BUT there is also the possibility of something new, different, and creative, if we use our imagination.
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As a bonus, here are a couple of quotes from Brueggemann that I like:
“Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that make it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet [and artist] to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
“Hope, on one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion; and one does that only at great political and existential risk. On the other hand, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.”