Welcome to the Hidden Paths exhibition. To listen to an audio file of the signage text found in the exhibition, click here
To read expanded version of the information accompanying the art exhibition, read below. A list of ‘what you can do’ to advance system change and sustainable futures is provided at the end.
SIGN ONE: Crisis of Imagination: Artists Occupy the Future
“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art”
Ursula K. Le Guin
Do you feel uneasy or scared about the future? Extreme weather, jobs replaced by machines, political systems in decline. These crises are connected in deep and often invisible ways. Extinction Rebellion calls for the declaration of climate emergency. Greta Thunberg and the children’s school strikes call for ‘system change not climate change’. But what does this mean?
Climate crisis begs us to rapidly transform our socio-economic system, before societies and eco-systems across much of our world collapse. Our leaders now talk about low carbon futures on the path to 2030 and 2050. But who is talking about the need to change the economic engine and the values and behaviours it depends on? We can’t tackle the climate crisis without addressing deep-rooted problems of resource inequality, gender, and social injustice.
Our world is held together by stories, with many following a particular story of progress. It’s a tale of capital, a myth that continued economic growth and technology will provide a better future. Powerful interests limit alternatives. And yet, new stories are developing. As democracy deteriorates and climate systems break down, more and more people are waking up. If we can’t re-imagine or visualise the possibilities, then we won’t achieve them.
The System Change HIVE called upon the help of 14 young and established artists and communicators. Tasked to respond to input from experts in 12 weeks of discussions about sustainable transformations, the art brief was to engage in a process of informed radical dreaming about brighter and fairer futures.
How might new socio-economic systems, based on zero carbon and well-being for all, feel and function? What are some of the invisible barriers to changing the current system? What pathways could lead us to a better destination?
This exhibition is a creative response to that journey of thought.
SIGN TWO: Unspeakable: Naming the System and Barriers to Change
The constant creation of wealth is the basis of the current socio-economic system. Increased wealth meant to lead to more schools and hospitals, more funding for research and arts, less homelessness and hunger.
Since the 1930s, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been used to measure whether economic activities in a country are growing or shrinking by attaching a monetary value to goods and services. GDP continues to hold a central place in policies and debates as a key measure of progress and success. Over time, the belief that high GDP means better welfare gave rise to a fetish for economic growth. Today, growth-driven capitalism is more than an economic system – it has become the defining ideology and organising principle of everything. GDP growth dictates the rules of economic efficiency and profitability. It shapes our daily lives and we are left with the sense that no credible alternatives exist. Is more always better?
GDP hides the reality of our daily lives. It makes no mention of inequalities and wealth distribution in favour of the privileged 1%. Or the environmental impacts of growing production and consumption: resources exhausted, waste and pollution, ecosystems destroyed and species exterminated. Despite these glaring problems, it is still used where alternative measures of human well-being are not (Gross National Happiness, Genuine Progress Indicator, UN Human Development Index). Alternative economic theories based on balance of people and planet, prioritising well-being through non-consumption are also shut out of mainstream discussion, e.g. degrowth and donut economics (Kate Raworth 2017).
Our economic system is complex, comprised of many interdependent parts. The system is held together by an often invisible, tangled web of ideas and beliefs, metaphors and prejudices, unspoken fears and hopes. Could the current system exist without the belief in the power of technology and the right of humans to possess and transform the natural world? We must acknowledge and confront the deeply ingrained value system which enables environmental destruction and social exploitation. Only then can we transform the physical environment we created, the institutions we built and the policies we wrote.
Artworks you see responding to NOW seek to explore some of these issues, looking at the hidden values and barriers to transformation.
SIGN 3: Control: the Tragedy of Selling Off the “Commons”
In the 1980s, some oil and gas companies carried out studies of harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Not only were the results not revealed to the public, but the companies also went on to invest hundreds of millions of dollars per year into blocking environmental regulations and climate action. This is just one of many examples where the pursuit of profit has resulted in activities by companies which are detrimental to our health, societies and the environment.
An economy which relies on constant growth will always want new options for making money. In recent decades, one such new option has been the privatisation of services previously provided by the state: education, healthcare and transportation. Another option has been the privatisation of the “commons”, i.e. water and public spaces traditionally owned and managed by a community. Corporations argue that private management of resources and service provision is more efficient, compared with public and community ownership and management. But, where profit is the motive, it can lead to the depletion and exhaustion of a resource.
Privatisation has turned more and more parts of human life and nature into commodities, available only through the market. For some groups of people access to these resources and services is limited. This makes them ever more dependent on the market and the system of wage labour.
In our economic system, nature is not valued as a living being but instead in terms of the ‘services’ it provides. Viewing nature as a business opportunity gives unrestricted power to corporations to use and destroy resources. Reclaiming the “commons” means limiting the rights of corporations to do this. Positive examples of attempts to rebalance these rights emerge across the globe. Various communities, from the indigenous people of Brazil to international groups in Germany, are rising to protect the lands and nature from exploitation and destruction. This reclaiming and rebalancing also means collectively questioning what nature is, and what role we can play in it.
SIGN 4: How will the seeds of system transformation grow?
Changing an economic system is difficult. Powerful interests fight to maintain the status quo and protect their interests. And we have all, to a greater or lesser extent, become dependent on the system. Many of us follow the rules defined by profit-driven corporations because of the convenience and comfort promised by consumerism. But, more often than not, the monopolies dominating the market leave us with no choice but to play by their rules.
The current system pushes us to surrender our self-reliance in even basic tasks, like food making. Slowly but surely, we are stripped of our autonomy. Many of us have grown to accept the current reality as the norm, or even as the best system. But there are alternatives, and this is exactly when they are most needed.
Around the world, communities have come together. They have created alternative currencies and collectively-managed initiatives that serve the people, not the god of money. They are fighting against the commodification of everything through ‘demonetised exchange’; sharing, gifting and time banking. Right now, people are working together to protect and restore surrounding ecosystems, grow food and re-learn to care for each other. Being and doing things differently to growth-oriented capitalism helps to rebuild human autonomy.
The system can feel ‘too big to change’ until we break it down. Changing personal behaviours, food system and products, limiting consumption, minimising the use of harmful or toxic materials, is critical. These changes both protect the environment and give us more space within the current system. But, current system dependence can’t be fully overcome through individual action alone. It requires joint, collective effort.
Transformation happens in real places to real people. There are many advantages to local-led, bottom-up changes; empowering local people to solve local problems. At the same time, these need to be connected to the bigger pictures. If we are to meet climate targets then key shifts need to happen at all levels, including political. Social justice is central to these shifts, highlighting the needs of vulnerable or marginalised people, who may be impacted more by climate and sustainability policies.
SIGN 5: Transforming TIME and WORK: unlocking better systems
The economist Keynes predicted in 1930 that by 2030, thanks to technological progress leading to greater individual wealth, everyone would be working a 15 hour week. Despite recent technological achievements and widespread automation, most people haven’t seen their labour burden decrease. Instead, technology has been used to fuel economic growth through expanding production.
A shorter working week is critical for a transition away from the current growth-addicted system. It would mean sharing available work and also tackling the pursuit of higher productivity, that results in overwork and stress. It could provide a healthier work-life balance, allowing more time to recuperate and for participation in community projects and democratic political processes. Plus more time to learn necessary skills; growing food, joining community-owned renewable energy projects, fulfilling caring responsibilities.
Slowing down and reclaiming leisure would help decrease the environmental impacts of production. Renewable energy is characterised by lower productivity than fossil fuels. But, in a future where energy is produced from these sources it is possible that we would have to work more, not less. It is unlikely that in a zero carbon future we would be able to sustain the energy-intensive technologies we have grown to depend on. In the current system, many people could not afford to work less if this impacted their salaries. In response, ideas like Universal Basic Income are being trialled in some countries. It aims to give everyone the minimum means of meeting basic needs, as a mark of human dignity, and to allow a transformation.
Without transforming our relationship with time and work, it will be extremely difficult to open up pathways to socially just, zero carbon systems. A broader reconsideration of work is needed. In particular, to care and reproduction work done predominantly by women and poorer groups of society. Sharing this type of work across the genders and social classes is needed to challenge the patriarchal values that underpin the current system. It also fundamentally challenges the centrality of wage labour in human life and self-identification.
The right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays were once considered ‘utopian’ – could we imagine and champion a right to meaningful, sustainable and fair work?
SIGN 6: Technology and New Zero Carbon Systems
Faith in new technologies is key to sustaining economic growth. Always faster, more complex, more powerful and constantly improving. But can technological progress solve the problems that it helped create? Can more advanced technologies fix inequalities and stop environmental destruction? The energy efficiency of many technologies has improved recently. But, as yet, there is no evidence of absolute, global and permanent decoupling of environmental pressures from economic growth. Instead, environmental pressures have been increasing year-on-year, despite technological progress.
Our belief in technological solutions has failed to bring us a solution to the ecological crisis. A radically different approach to the use of technologies, and our relationship with them, is needed. We need to consider more simple, low-tech solutions which require less energy and materials and which are accessible to everyone. In the current system, technological progress has been monopolised by global, profit-seeking corporations who ignore the societal and environmental impacts.
The Maker Movement is emerging worldwide in response. It seeks to democratise technology through a DIY and open-source culture of technology creation, maintenance and use.
SIGN 7: Glimpses of Life in Possible New Systems
We know that we cannot continue with ‘business as usual’. The current system poses an existential threat to human civilisation. It is destroying the web of life and drives ongoing exploitation and inequalities. We know that we could have started to change earlier, but we did not. It is time to grieve over what our civilisation has already destroyed and will never be able to bring back. We have to find the honesty and strength to face the fact that we and the planet are bound to see more losses and damage. We must start changing now, because we do not have more time to waste.
‘There is no alternative’ is a convenient lie that only serves powerful interests. We, collectively, created the current system along with its institutions, habits and beliefs. It is our construction, held in place partly by our own limited thinking. The power to change it is also ours. We can create a better system that is not only more sustainable, but is also happier, more meaningful, more caring.
But what kind of a system could it be? Would we have to set limits on personal use of energy and materials? How will it work when we abandon fossil fuels entirely and produce all energy from renewables? How would we prevent the reproduction of social inequalities and ensure fair redistribution of wealth? How will our diets need to change and how will this be encouraged or regulated? How should we change the relationship with our neighbours and people living on the other end of the world?
Re-imagining new, post-capitalist systems is not just about giving things up. From mental health, to re-claiming more leisure time, to improved trust and social capital – what new pleasures and meaning might emerge from new relationships with work, money, and nature? What new rituals or social codes might emerge and how would daily life change?
SIGN 8: Multiple Pathways – a Virtual Museum of the Future
There is not one, but multiple pathways towards a different, sustainable system. The history of the last century shows us that norms and values can shift quite quickly in society and trigger knock on effects in political and legal systems, for better or worse. What combination of different changes, forces and events could lead to rapid change towards sustainable futures based on well-being?
You are about to experience a virtual reality created by a group of artists to explore ideas around pathways towards brighter futures. The virtual environment is a museum of the future. This creative device allows you to explore artefacts from our current system. This aim is to remind us that pillars of our present society and economy that feel unchangeable are in fact not permanent. By exploring these artefacts, some of which you can also find in the physical exhibition, we invite you to imagine how our relationship with these things should and could transform.
By interacting with the experience you will unlock three audio pathways offering an informative commentary that imagines how we might get to a shared destination. The pathways focus on transformations in money and economy, in society, and in our relationship to nature.
Speculative creative genres like Afrofuturism have shown that projecting ourselves into a future free of the contemporary oppressive practices of our societies can be activating. What we can imagine, we can make happen.
“Hidden Paths”: is a work in progress created during our time together in Brighton. This virtual Museum of the Future is a place to archive our capitalist reality and open up to the paths onwards. We invite the listener to imagine how their relationship with money, the environment and community can transform through interacting with the objects in our virtual Museum.
By interacting with the experience you unlock audio pathways that give glimpses of possibilities onwards. These hold lively monologues from real activists speaking from their experience of working for cultural change.
For this political piece it was vital for us at the Hive collective to engage with the VR in a way that enabled empathy and solidarity with existing struggles rather than encourage a disconnection from reality with a fantasy future. By placing real activists speaking their hopes, their work and their struggles at the heart of the experience, we want to invite a solidarity space.
You are welcome to sit in discussion in this room with other gallery visitors. Take a moment to be with the multiple problems we face and open to the pathways you sense. Like Donna Haraway’s tentacular wild vision expressed in “Staying with the Trouble” the futures we can sense are messy, and uncontainable. We do not know how they will grow, but we can turn up creatively within the mess.
SIGN 9: Re-imagining values, relationships and ways of life
Changing the system also means changing ourselves. Collectively and individually we will have to rethink and re-imagine:
|What we value in life,||What well-being means to us,|
|What is success?||What we expect from the future and our children,|
|What jobs we would like to do,||What skills we need to develop,|
|How much we need to work,||Who inspires us,|
|Who our role models are,||How we engage with politics,|
|Who we vote for,||How our political system works,|
|The role and rights of corporations,||How we relate to each other,|
|How we deal with those that refuse to change their high consumption behaviours,|
|How and where we travel,||What we eat,|
|and much more…|
What would be your priority changes? And what aspects of human identity will need to change to reach and maintain a zero carbon society?
LAST WORD- WHAT YOU CAN DO
Feeling anxious or in despair? Or excited to get involved? There are many places to channel your energies constructively.
Want to speak to government and impact change? Join forces with your local Extinction Rebellion Chapter:
Switch to renewable energy providers immediately!
Vote with your wallet – the quickest and easiest first step to changing our energy system. Bulb, for example, makes this switch very easy:
Want to take going post-carbon to the next level? Check out Community Energy England – the voice for community energy across England:
Communityenergyengland.org If you are based in Brighton, considering joining the hugely successful Brighton Energy Cooperative:
Want to experience a resource-based, truly fair sharing economy of the future? Check out your nearest initiative via:
System change, not climate change?
Read more about the global picture via Global Justice Now. This campaigning organisation brings together lots of groups campaigning on economic justice and solidarity issues and will signpost you to your local group: