Strange Ecologies and environmental living

As a part of the Strange Ecologies group exhibition at X and Beyond, two documentaries will be screened about the future-vision archetects Eugene Tsui and Paolo Soleri

Published: March 5, 2017Words: J.Scott Stratton

Awidescale paradigm shift in our view of future human environments and ecologies it bound to happen. It’s not a matter of if, but when. The real question is whether it will happen in time for us to acclimate as a species to the global changes to our environment that are inevitably going to occur. As it happens with most great leaps of cognition, the radical ideas that spawn change often come from acts of creativity, artistry, and imagination. The question then becomes, how do we take these crackpot ideas, leaps of innovation, and solutions that fit outside the societal norms and present them to the masses as “logic” rather than “fiction”.

These are some of the questions that are being proposed at the current exhibition at X and Beyond called Strange Ecologies—a group show about, “extraordinary environments, about ecosystems of outlandish transformation and otherness, and about how these environments challenge our thinking, perception and knowledge.”

It is an collection of works broken into four categories: Cosmic Encounters, Planet Earth Revisited, Media as Nature and Environmental Living—which present various interpretations of our ecological evolution as a species.

This is exactly what we need in a time where right-wing nationalism and corporate greed are denying the inevitable truth of our changing environment—not only within the white walls of a gallery space, but in the large halls of congress and parliament. But as I stated before, great instruments of change will most often be found in the hands of an artist before a politician.

The exhibition of Strange Ecologies has been running for nearly a month. I’m a little late to the party when it comes to covering the exhibition as a whole, but the focus of this article is on one particular event presenting under a subcategory of the Strange Ecologies exhibition: entitled, Environmental Living.

Two separate documentaries about two prominent architects whose works can be seen in the show—who often work with conceptualizing and visualizing futuristic structures—will be screened within the exhibition space.

Eugene Tsui, mostly commonly known for his 1991 proposal for Ultima Tower—a hypothetical two-mile high, self-sustaining, super-skyscraper capable of housing over a million people, began a bit of an internet meme with his idealistic future vision combined with his almost Cosplay style of dress.

And the late Paolo Soleri, whose future visions were more utilitarian and functional, often proposed city drawings and plans that looked like a cross between a Ridley Scott storyboard and an Orwellian nightmare.

In an effort to understand a little more about the exhibition, and specifically the section of Environmental Living, I reached out the the head curator of X and Beyond Jacob Lillemose with a few questions.

Can you give me a short background about the Strange Ecologies exhibition?

It’s a reflection of two years of work at X AND BEYOND and a personal life fascinated by science fiction imaginaries, media theory, animal life, animal horror, survivalism, the Cosmos, surrealistic design … Moreover, the exhibition deals with ecology as a process of continuous and sometimes radical transformations and the effects these transformations have on human—and non-human—life.

Can you give me a little background into the sub-category of environmental living?

Basically, it’s a section of the exhibition that talks about how to built for a new future. A future where building is not a burden to the environment but an integral part of it. A future where architects learn from the non-human environment. I think for a ready for such a paradigm shift in our conception of architecture, and I definitely think we need it.

It is stated in the press material that their work has two distinct style, how do you feel those styles compliment each other?

Tsui is a dreamer, a flamboyant designer of fantasies. His vision of ”evolutionary architecture” reads like a trip to Earth as a alien, yet magical place. Soleri is more brutal in his vision of an architecture for human life and society on a planet haunted by polution and overpopulation. But his ”arcology” (architecture + ecology) is also science-fiction in the sense that is leaves petty pragmatism behind to suggest a way of building that comes to us from our future.

How do you feel the works of Tsui and Soleri add to the collective whole of the Strange Ecologies exhibition?

They ask the simple, yet essential question, how do we built and how do we go on living as a species in a world of extensive transformations. In a sense they embrace Strange Ecologies as a condition and turn it into a method for reinventing architecture.