Ruins of an Extreme Present


Social history begins at the end of man’s identification with nature and his exaltation as a separate entity. Approximately 500 years ago, western culture appointed man the centre of the universe. Values like individualism, productivity, success, time, and profit began to carry significant importance.1

According to the Christian lineage, ‘God created man in his own image‘ (Gen. 1.27), man was created in the image of a divine entity. The dogma of Reformation taught man to use everything -himself included- in a utilitarian manner, as a means to the achievement of a personal or non-personal goal.2 These are two of the main factors that laid the early psychological foundations for the establishment of the forthcoming sociopolitical system.

Consequently,In this context, humans placed themselves at the highest rank in the pyramid of living beings (giving rise to what has been termed as “speciesism”). Based on this premise, man became the sole legislator in the universe both ontologically and ethically. A dualism of subject / object was formed: building upon our perception of man as ‘subject’ by virtue of his ability for rational thinking, everything else was ostracized in the sphere of ‘objects’3 The values of individualism, productivity, expansion and progress, became the guiding principles of our relation and interaction with nature.

In our view, the diagrams of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme reveals that western post-1950 exponential acceleration of human activity and changes to the natural environment represent the most ego-driven era in the history of humankind.4  Similarly, we notice that our current condition is underlined by an assemblage of humans, technology and fossil fuels, organized by capitalist relations. Human-centric thinking has rebranded nature and the planet as an ecosystem of services with economic values and causes. As a result, we experience distortions in biological and geological substratum and an ongoing climate crisis. Despite the above, we insist on living in a state of mechanical euphoria, imagining capital as a divine force and ultimate driver.

Humans are the protagonists in this complex system that ironically, goes beyond human constructs, creating intricate and inter-related changes, both visible and invisible (digital, hyperobjects, political abstract processes etc) that we cannot understand or control anymore. We design on the macro-level of nature, manipulating the planet, the geology, the weather. This is equally evident at the micro-scale of our bodies: we even managed to design our DNA (CRISPR).5 The impact of our designing practices will be excessive on the world of tomorrow. It will be left in glaciers, rocks, oceans and sediment, and remnants of it will be buried, forming part of the rocks of the future (Anthropocene).6

To some scientists, the end of the world has already taken place7, global warming is already upon us and we are facing the end of earth’s capacity to sustain human life. Before humans had a chance to define themselves within the context of the fourth industrial revolution, they were found in the post-human phase.

So, what does it mean to exist in an epoch dominated by humans?

‘Ruins of an Extreme Present’ is a group-exhibition featuring 7 artists/designers and 6 studios whose works interpret, question and react to established political, social, ethical and ecological phenomena.

Using contextual and speculative design as a cultural power, the exhibition imagines dystopian futures and visualizes this strange, liquid present which carries its past and future traumas.

The experience of these great transformations alone causes diverse emotional responses. Further psychological burden is added due to the fact that these global problems become depoliticized and charged on the individuals, leaving them helpless. This gives rise to feelings such as loneliness, loss, grief, doubt, nostalgia, violence, anger, pain and anxiety, the impact of which becomes even more severe in an environment of change and uncertainty.

If we cannot imagine a possible future, how can we invest in it?

We need to use design as a tool for distancing ourselves from our human present and look at its ruins from the future. Once we have achieved that, we need to come back and reinvent the Anthropocene by imagining the new Anthropos. A new de-centred being with a radically different consciousness of coexistence that will take part in a profound re-distribution of power and knowledge.

This new Being does not implicate a resolution by means of yet another kind of Utopia. The hope rather rests on an attempt to create better futures or at least, if we don’t succeed, a more charming ending.

Research and writing by Un.Processed Realities.
Editing by John Sklavounos, Aphrodite Koufagela & Yiannis Mouravas.

Special thanks to Orestis Goulas for his contridution  

stop 1

‘The prospect of catastrophe is particularly difficult to avert since Modern civilization owes its morbid (rather a suicidal potential) to the selfsame qualities from which it draws its grandeur and glamour: to its inborn aversion to self-limitation, its inherent transgressiveness and its resentment of and disrespect for all and any borders and limits-especially the idea of final, ultimate limits’. (Zygmunt Bauman Liquid Fear 2006)

stop 2

If Design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of the bourgeois models of ownership and society, then we must reject architecture; if architecture and town planning is merely the formalization of present unjust social divisions, then we must reject town planning and its cities – until all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary needs. Until then Design must disappear. We can live without architecture.” (Adolfo Natalini, Superstudio, AA London 1971)

stop 3

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what -amid the situation- are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”    (Italo Calvino le Città Invisibile)

1.    Erich Fromm, “Escape from Freedom” ,1941
2.   Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason”, 19413.
3.    Descartes, René. "LIII". The Principles of Philosophy
4.   Earth System and Socioeconomic Trends category of the Great Acceleration of the           Anthropocene from 1750 to 2010, International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
5 .  Antonio Regalado, “China’s CRISPR babies: Read exclusive excerpts from the unseen original research” MIT Technology Review, December 3, 2019
6.    Clive Hamilton, “The Anthropocene”, Encyclopedia of Ecology (Second Edition), Volume 4, 2019, Pages 239-246
7.     Timothy Morton, “Minister of the Future” CCCB Lab Interview, 14 November 2017

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