When the Barbican museum in London reached out to the Institute of Digital Fashion (IoDF) to create a work for their new multimedia exhibition Our Time on Earth, which envisions a radical new world where human beings live in harmony with the planet, the creative cohort saw the opportunity as a natural fit. Founded by Leanne Elliott Young and Catty Tay, over the past two years IoDF have been making a case for technology to craft a better future, whether that be by creating the first gender nonconforming avatar or crafting couture in 3D. They've also masterminded immersive experiences using AR and VR technology, and co-created a report on inclusivity in the metaverse. This May, their latest interactive work with the queer ecologist Brigitte Baptise will be open to the public as part of Our Time on Earth.
'This felt like a dream to spend time delving into what identity, queerness and our natural world has in common but also to dissect that and imagine a future where we live beyond the binary', Elliott Young says. 'This work chimed with the core pillars of IoDF to use technology as a democratic tool for change, to consider diversity in inclusion, and to question the futures we want to incubate.' Visitors to the exhibition will find IoDF's interactive work about half way through. Step past the line on the floor marked 'INTERACTION AREA', and you'll find yourself face to face with two rather celestial beings. Twigs and spurts of plants make up their bodies; arms and legs which are mapped to the visitor suggest a human body, but they're not quite human, nor animal. They're a celestial, futuristic being entirely, created using 3D and body mapping technology working closely with Target3D. The intention was to show that identities can become increasingly fluid, which IoDF see as essential to helping all species to survive the climate emergency.
'This work chimed with the core pillars of IoDF to use technology as a democratic tool for change, to consider diversity in inclusion, and to question the futures we want to incubate. The work configures and maps to your body but unites with the individual next to you, it disconnects and regroups, parts grow then die (mimicking the natural cycle) they disappear and re-form as pollen or star dust becoming only the constellations in the space', Elliott Young explains.
It took 9 months to take this work from concept to fruition, resulting in 'an experience that showcased these deeply philosophical and hopeful messages of how queerness and our natural environment can teach us so much', IoDF say. 'Nature gives us expression beyond common syntax and semantics. We wanted to create an emotional environment that was reactionary and involuntary, linking the hormone networks of plants to the blush of humans.'
Queer Ecology sits alongside 17 other works in the exhibition which encompass global viewpoints. Design studio Superflux created a dining table which encourages a 'multi-species mindset', where all guests, including humans and birds, sit at a banquet united, with cutlery made from a manner of found materials including wood and metal. Another work in the show, The Future is Ancestral, explores a wholly indigenous global culture in opposition to the Western lifestyle which works as its an isolated microcosm, taking from the earth and its people rather than working in tandem with it. 'Although they comprise less than 5% of the world population, indigenous communities protect 80% of the Earth's biodiversity', the exhibition tells visitors.
Urban transport networks are reimagined as living plant canopies, and there are also examples of materials made from living cells such as mushroom leather (Mycelium) and seaweed spun yarn exhibited in the winding series of spaces which encompass the themes of Belong, Imagine and Engage. 'The conversation about the climate crisis until this point has focused on depicting the scale of the problem – an approach that, while valuable, often evokes a sense of shame, helplessness and even paralysis. But we know that many brilliant artists, designers and technologists are creating ways to help combat the climate emergency. We wanted Our Time on Earth to carve out space to imagine a constructive way forward', say guest co-curators Caroline Till and Kate Franklin.
Our Time on Earth is open at the Barbican in The Curve space until 29 August 2022, and was curated by Barbican International Enterprises with guest curators Caroline Till and Kate Franklin, and was co-produced by Musée de la civilisation, Québec City, Canada.