The exhibition of Objects of the Misanthropocene project partners wish to express their sincere thanks to the dedicated staff & trustees of the Illegal Museum of Beyond. We are indebted to their generosity in making a selection of their exhibits available for our special display.
The Misanthropocene announces rapid human-made irreversible alterations in climate and the global depletion of resources likely to cause catastrophic effects for all life on Earth. It represents a geological apocalypse anticipated by many long-standing anxieties about unstable and uncertain futures, as a cautionary tale of its own making, in turn used to make sense of the calamity we find ourselves in now. The human history of living in the Misanthropocene is implicated in living on an endangered, hospitalised, damaged planet that can no longer sustain human futures.
The Illegal Town Plan
Participatory speculation methods employed in Critical Speculative Design utilise the tension between the real and constructed, the actual and fictional, whilst also revealing the role, position, and authority of the speculator.
In one of the most deprived coastal towns in the UK, the economic future of Rhyl is uncertain. Successive local and national governments have attempted to arrest the decline of coastal communities with inconsistent success. Many of the planning and development norms have failed over the previous decades. The Illegal Town Plan (ITP), an ongoing Goldsmith’s Department of Design project (0002013-present), set out to address the despair of local people, and the loss of ambition demonstrated by local planning authorities. The project started as an angry response to the superficial, unsolicited, ‘solutions’ that designer often propose for complex socio-economic problems.
The challenge for the illegal designer is to move through the many encounters that straddle spaces between the ‘proper’ and ‘improper’, amplifying marginal voices in order to stimulate the imaginations of those in power. This particular form of grounded speculation aims to untangle some of the wicked problems that are affecting the town through collective reality detection and amplification creating new ‘images of the future’ to produce preferred alternative futures for Rhyl. This reflects a desire to disrupt and realign the collective imagination, manufacturing a feedback system that brings about social change as a present reality. Speculative insouciance helps to disrupt the complex choreography of truth production, long enough for it to be reimagined into a belief in the reality of newly proposed worlds. This can be employed to create a future so real that a shadow is cast over the present, which creates the conditions for this future to become the preferred reality. This occurs in speculations about our future, as it does in our descriptions of our past.
A speculation to build the world’s longest pier in Rhyl acts as a discursive device for new social realities; gathering together people, ideas, and stories to stimulate and re-engage local action, manufacturing a feedback system that brings about social change as a present reality. The idea of the pier is sustained through diverse transformations that assemble and amplify collective hopes, in order to accommodate the desires of those involved. The pier acts as a place to proceed from, a point of departure, an architecture to move us into the unknown. The form, function, and role of the pier in the project has evolved, collecting and reifying a diversity of hopes and dreams. As discussions of the pier move between worlds (academic, political and social) the pier grows, extending towards the horizon in order to accommodate the desires of those involved.
Image: Jimmy Loizeau & Matt Ward
The science faction of the pier is never ending in its extended times and place. The end of the pier is always beyond the edge of time, over the horizon, existing at its vanishing point, around the curvature of the earth, from which it returns back around to meet itself. This circular motion means the observer and the observed are always moving relative to one another, translating between different times and places. Like the spaghetti of space time drawn out on the edge of a black hole, it goes on for eternity, enabling intersections through time and space. This allows exchanges to take place in which different times and places can become connected and things transferred. It is via these unpredictable portals that objects are relocated between times in the eddying turbulence of time travel. What is communicated in the transfer is subject to all of the usual difficulties of mistranslation that take place in the misunderstandings between different worlds. The pier therefore acts as an erratic time machine, whose unreliability allows for shifts in relationships between the temporality of artefacts, their histories and futures re-written in both directions of travel. This creates the distinction of here and now of the present, composed of vestigial remains of other futures and pasts.
The gaps that result from the collapse of sections of the pier, create discontinuities in the sequence of narrative events. These spaces have none of the stability of the proper, they are the inbetweenness of everyday life; like spoken words, the loss of stories equates with the loss of spaces. The presences of diverse absences are repeatedly destroyed every time an attempt is made to remember what was there. The montage of gaps and juxtaposition is open to revision as an iteration of chance events perpetuated in the sense of something missing, produced by accident. The montage composes, the whole rather than being assembled strategically from its components.
As with the acceptance of our own death, the finality is at the end of the pier. The end comes when infinity comes, our infinite end. This is the finality of the world that conspires with creating gaps, holes, abysses, losses of memory, as the plinths are unable to hold up the pier, we are kicking the planks away to alter the world and create that world. There are always these side shows, but the real event is the end of the pier show. For every event, a pamphlet is produced building into a compendium, and finally into the end of the pier manifesto.
Image: Kay Richardson
The Speculative Design Pier diagram is a liminal analogy that loops through cultural memory as an attempt to explore the speculative design process within the cultural lines of dark age phenomena.
The Illegal Museum of Beyond
Image: Jimmy Loizeau & Matt Ward
The Museum is housed in the University at the end of the world’s longest pier, forever extending away from the shoreline, just out of reach, on the far side. The university is a series of mutating viral spaces that infect young minds and alter their neurobiology with the fury of an endangered parasite.
Images: Jimmy Loizeau
The museum and its exhibition halls are formed from its legal precarity and transformational uncertainty, constructed from fragile systems, such as glass houses, circus tents, festival stages, beach huts, and illicitly interesting structures. The pier’s fallible structure puts the safety of the museum and its collections at risk. As the pier continues to extend further out to sea, on longer and more precarious legs, there is an inbuilt potential for structural failure. This results in areas of the museums stores being vulnerable to collapsing into the sea. The spilled collections become caught up in tidal currents and float away to distant islands, some are carried away in the stomaches of large sea mammals. Others sink directly to the bottom of the sea, only to be retrieved by child divers earning pocket money by selling salvaged objects to tourists. This illicit trade in stolen artefacts is policed by the museum and there retrieved items returned to the collections.
The Illegal Museum of Beyond houses the pre-eminent museum collection of objects from our future/alternative worlds, representing the histories of futures already long passed that have not yet existed. Its most spectacular encyclopaedic collections have been assembled to represent our broken futures of the Misanthropocene.
Sometimes specs, fibres, dust, but also valued objects in pristine condition, cherished through time and now cared for to the highest possible standards. These are a material presence of all that has been lost, assembled as neglected things, curated as the archaeological and geological vestigial remains of lost ages of affluence. They represent the material evidence of missed opportunities to act in the interests of those who come after.
The museum gathers these objects in a present that is forever extending through time. They bear the consequences of being maintained as a concatenation of interventions that render their fabrication as museum objects invisible, imbricated in the many desperate lives that came after. They act as a lost memory of what was and what we have now become.
The Museum of Beyond was awarded its coveted ‘illegal’ status in 2035, after the initial hard fought institutional battles were resolved in claiming dominion over the Anthropocene as a priority collecting area for 21st century heritage institutions. The ‘illegal’ status enabled the museum trustees to advocate for a more radical insurgent role for the museum, its collecting policy, and its support of specific guerrilla political campaigns. This was made possible by the introduction of time travel technology as part of the museum's core function, which has enabled the Illegal Museum of Beyond to take an active role in the perturbing accounts of the historical developments of humans on our planet. This has however been dogged by the technical complexities of time travel that is notoriously imprecise.
The museum has developed a unique expertise in the analysis of the misunderstandings that take place in the translation between worlds. This provides the evidence for one of the key campaigning issues for the museum’s trustees; to highlight the uncertainty of the knowledge production process about past and other worlds that are routinely fabricated within other museums and collections. As a challenge to the unprofanability of museums, as sacred places for the construction of identity and narrative, the trustees of the Illegal Museum of Beyond are dedicated to profaning the unprofanable.
Our ambition remains to fully communicate to our visitors, a comprehensive understanding of the intentions, values, meanings, and justifications for the actions of those that came before. The extraordinary scales of temporal endurance and spatial diversity represented by the Illegal Museum of Beyond collections, reveal turbulent patterns forming in this genealogical transfer of understanding. This creates a challenge when reinterpreting certain truths about events that took place within the prevailing understandings of that time and place. This has led to conflict with those that are uncomfortable with giving up the authority to affirm the truth of the narratives presented by the museum. This was seen in the domination of a specific subset of human (privileged, affluent, white, female) now challenged by a more dispersed categorisations of human, which have inevitably led to a more diverse multispecies pluralities of curatorial privilege. Our current priorities are to oversee a transfer of knowledge production from human to non-human intelligent life forms.
The Illegal Museum of Beyond is a speculative future museum that exists at the far edges of the Anthropocene. It creates a physical reality for the future worlds generated in the Illegal Town Plan. Representing a structured reification of future worlds in a way that can be more readily experienced. The exhibits reflect objects that inhabit a specific dystopian future world, selected from fictional and non-fictional accounts of the Misanthropocene (published literature, film, music, gaming, etc) presenting artefacts and conditions for existence in various multiverses. Situating museum speculations in environmental humanities and ecocriticism of the Anthropocene, provides a retrospective critical gaze on our uncertain present, from the perspective of a certain future.
The speculative insouciance of the time travelling museum object, relies on the believability of this future world, and the credibility of the museum exhibit, to a contemporary audience. Asking how ‘real’ future people (who are familiar to us and share our basic moral framework) might respond to a diminished future, can give equivalence between our intergenerational obligations, and our urgent obligations to our contemporaries. This version of the heuristics of fear, populates the consequences of our current decisions in the everyday lives of future people, whose world is broken by us. Despite the many intriguing contradictions, the vast temporal and spatial scales of the Anthropocene help to free us from its homogenising anthropocentric focus, and allow us to step outside of current constraints in comprehending problems and taking action.