Alternate Futures, Alternate Delivery: Anticipation, Podcasts, and Remote Stars
Over the last month, I’ve been reflecting on a past exhibition project that I contributed to called Together We Average As Zero. The exhibition opened in February 2020 and came to an abrupt close on March 16th as the whole country slowed for the first COVID-19 lockdowns. The exhibition was a response to a visit Buckminster Fuller made to London, Ontario in 1968. It was meant to be a precursor to another exhibition exploring the same event, titled From Remote Stars, at Museum London. The second exhibition, however, was delayed as a result of COVID and is now set to open two years later on March 5, 2022.
Together We Average As Zero, Installation View, 2020. | Source
A few weeks ago, a podcast mini-series developed to accompany the exhibition (also titled From Remote Stars), was released. The series outlines the origin of the exhibition and the thematic undercurrents which it explores by weaving together interviews with artists, curators, historians, and scientists. For me, this podcast prompted a deeper reflection on the many ways that knowledge about a particular topic can be mobilized, how the people behind the research drive the final content, and how alternative modes of storytelling might enhance how visitors experience exhibitions and who they reach. As stated in Episode 1: London, ON. 1968 to Present: “history is made up of the stories that we chose to re-examine, and if we don’t dig more stories back up to re-examine we can get trapped within [a] closed loop.”
Buckminster Fuller standing on a Dymaxion Map. | Source
Over the course of three episodes, the podcast serves as a primer to the exhibition. Different than an audio guide, it goes beyond the exhibition itself, taking a deep dive into the story of Buckminster Fuller’s visit to London, fleshing out his techno-futuristic theories and their gaps in relation to current ecological research, and providing rich context and interviews with contributing artists. For example, the podcast introduces Fuller’s prescient idea of “spaceship earth” – the idea that the earth, just like a spaceship, is a self-sustaining system equipped with a finite amount of resources for which we are collectively responsible. For Fuller, our lack of care for the earth was a design problem, something we could invent our way out of through sustainable interventions. These ideas came before a broader awareness of the climate crisis and they provide an interesting starting point to think about current climate issues: where Fuller’s ideas hold up, where they have been undermined and surpassed by current science and ecological knowledge, and speculative futures more generally. A web of information is mapped throughout the podcast, laying the groundwork for the themes explored by the twenty-two artists featured in From Remote Stars, ranging from regionalists working in the 1960s to contemporary futurists imagining many speculative futures.
Mary Kavanagh, Hands to Hold, 2019. | Source
It remains to be seen how the podcast will interact with the exhibition and how it might support visitor interest in and comprehension of the material. In any case, using a podcast and an exhibition in tandem provides an interesting opportunity to reach new audiences, tell different stories, and form new cross-disciplinary partnerships. In thinking about delivery methods, where do exhibitions fall short? And how can this be supplemented through other formats to help the public better digest the themes embedded in art and history? In this case, From Remote Stars provides a useful forum for reflections on the history of London, ongoing discussions about sustainability and climate change, and narrative formation – building a sense of anticipation for what the long-awaited physical exhibition has in store.