by Anmol AhujaFeb 01, 2022
A thing of rare beauty, encapsulating life itself in a spectrum of colours and well ordered perspectives, beholds a pining narrative. Outlined in the London-based design studio Superflux’s recent More-than-Human Manifesto and even their operational mission statement - to translate future uncertainty into present day choices - the large scale installation deals with the interconnectedness of the human species with other life forms on the planet, and our duties towards them. In a number of ways, a lot of the Anglo-Indian design studio’s recent works, including The Intersection and Refuge for Resurgence have bent towards that narrative, underlined by an iota of hope and a call to action. That the installation’s relevance grows manifold being housed at the recently opened Museum of the Future in Dubai is only secondary. Its primary relevance comes from the thematic that takes centrestage in The Library’s surreal narration - a collusion of fictional storytelling and speculative design.
The year is 2071, and most of the world’s ecosystems have been laid to waste, irreparably so, while humans cope to live in ways none of us would recognise today. In this scenario of despair, Superflux recounts a hopeful one through their display at Dubai’s Museum of the Future, wherein humanity collectively worked together to “repair, restore, and renew” what once was. Even if signatory, sobering, and in reverence, humans find a way for co-existence; an alternative hopeful future for all species on the planet, urging visitors to this immersive installation to act now, and to act fast.
Housed on the fourth level of the museum building, The Library fills the corridors of the vast space from its floor to the ceiling. Comprising 2400 crystal specimen jars suspended in concentric, rhythmic being, each etched with a unique image of an existing or even extinct life form, the exhibition subsumes the form of a visual encyclopaedia, allowing visitors to be immersed in unforeseen diversity, all concentrated in one place. The sheer scale, the scope, and the number of ‘species’ on display is a humbling reminder of our own place in the vast ecosystems that populate the planet, thus begetting a deeper understanding of the natural order in a setting that remains essentially fabricated.
In a number of ways, the installation reminded me of a DNA codex from the 2013 superhero saga Man of Steel, containing imprints of every being who lived, transposing into every being yet to be born. The concept is manifested here into a literal, physical library, a display of those lifeforms for us to fully appreciate what we had in Superflux’s timeline in the future, or what we stand to lose in the present going down our “business as usual” path.
Apart from serving as an immersive installation, The Library fulfils its interactive paradigm as well. Further intended as a continuously evolving laboratory, the installation allows visitors to use handheld scanning devices, designed and produced by UK-based Marshmallow Laser Feast, to learn more about each specimen, and to find out how it connects with past and present ecologies. A series of challenges designed to have viewers ‘create’ new lifeforms altogether through the digital interface opens Superflux’s speculative design exercise to a larger audience, seeking to not only immerse but to also involve in the participatory process of rebuilding and essentially rewilding. “We hope this participation will encourage visitors to The Library to think about how our complex, fragile ecosystems can be protected, and what contribution they can make personally,” states the design team on their intention behind the digital intervention.
"We need to remember that we are not just on this Earth: we are of this Earth. The interdependence is real: humanity as ecology, ecology as humanity. Both the head and the heart demand this mental leap, this act of surrender,” mentions Superflux co-founder and director Anab Jain on the co-existence propagated by The Library. “Our hope is that in exploring new relationships with our environment and pathways forward, we can catalyse the potential for active hope in others.”
“We might come up with a clever way of capturing carbon or re-introducing species, but as long as we seek to exploit and dominate nature, we will cause more problems for ourselves and the species that we share this planet with,” says Jon Ardern, the other half of Superflux, on the longevity of our current systems.
The Library remains on display on the fourth level of the Museum of the Future as part of The Heal Institute, an organisation created in response to the dramatic effects of climate change that remains committed to applying advances in conservation biology and biotechnology to renew and repair ecosystems. The Museum of the Future experience, including the installation, has been curated by Brendan McGetrick, while environmental and spatial design, coordination, management and production supervision has been carried out by Stuttgart-based architecture and exhibition design firm ATELIER BRÜCKNER.
All photographs © Sandra Ciampone, 2022. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced, or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this article are not licensed for personal, commercial, or public use, or use in the public domain in any other form.