The Past is an Arrow into the Future
The Past is an Arrow into the Future seeks to connect weather and history, both in the regularity of their cyclical reoccurrence and their stochastic untimeliness. Envisioned as a multi-channel sound installation (with visual elements), this work could also be adapted for radio/podcast or live performances. Set in the middle of the interbellum period, from the onset of the Great Depression to the election of the National Socialist Party in Germany, it interweaves granular individual narratives from the lives of politicians, cultural figures, and everyday people of the time, interposed with descriptions of weather conditions/events of the period taken from meteorological records. The latter is employed as a device to not only move the narrative from one geographical locale to the next, but to allude to causality as a complex, far-reaching phenomenon, even in its most local manifestations.
Although this work is at its core a historical investigation, on a theoretical level it engages in a fundamental problem of contemporary historiography, as well as social and natural sciences. Humans, said Gregory Bateson, are genetically programmed to look for patterns in their environment, and this is also true for historians, economists, political scientists and others who often rely on historical analogy to explain current events, citing systemic invariance and cyclical repetition. Thus, a notable effect in contemporary efforts to grapple with the re-emergence of governments, political parties, and populist movements demonstrating pronounced anti-democratic/fascist tendencies has been the attempt to analogize between the present historical moment and the past, particularly the ascendance of fascism in the Europe of the late 1920s, when an admixture of historical resentment and economic upheaval created the conditions for the supersession of democratic forms of governance.
The work of climate scientists offers a possible corrective to this over-reliance on analogy. In modeling different outcomes to global warming, climate scientists are charged with, on the one hand, predicting future changes to weather patterns and the severity of future weather events based on anthropocentric transformations in the earth’s atmosphere;and on the other hand, must look to the historical record for averages and means to provide proof that the manifestations of global warming today are systemic rather than anomalous. Yet, weather itself is an inherently unstable phenomenon, and the environmental scientists of the early 1970s, who sought empirical evidence for the theoretical model of the ecosystem as a regular and orderly set of conditions, discovered instead an utter lack of regularity in the natural world—a condition of total flux.
These two forces of stochastic complexity and invariant regularity are the two poles around which our comprehension of the contemporary world situation oscillates. The conceptual and narrative challenges my work proposes is to incorporate each pole within its narrative structure.
Text: Michaels Baers
Michael BAERS received his PhD from the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in 2014 from its dedicated artistic research department. He has exhibited his artistic work internationally in many prominent art institutions including the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt am Main, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and the Van Abbemuseum. Since 2010 his work has focused on the cultural outcomes of conflict irresolution in the Middle East and North Africa. Since 2013 he has conducted research on a unique photographic project that emerged from the war between the people of Western Sahara and Morocco, Necessità dei Volti. This has involved lateral research into media theory and visual studies, as well as the history of western North African. Previously Baers has researched cultural politics in Israel and Palestine, in 2014 publishing online with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt a lengthy graphic work about the 2011 Picasso in Palestine project, An Oral History of Picasso in Palestine. He has also published comics and texts on contemporary art and artistic research, cultural politics, and urbanism, contributing to a variety of publication projects and internationally recognized journals, such as A-Prior, the e-flux journal, and Vector – critical research in context.