Humans collect and interpret measurements to understand the world and exercise control over chaos. We rely on mechanisms of measurement – such as a meter, the speed of light, or a photographic record – with the assumption that they establish a truth in which we can believe. However as traces, proxies, and indices, measurements are fragile and prone to manipulation and misinterpretation. Tools are almost as malleable as the ideas they produce; the promised indexical pars pro toto correlation between measurements and their interpretations has been increasingly exploited in pursuit of human agendas. In the context of a complex problem, such as climate change in the Anthropocene, this relationship has become increasingly political.
Useful Fictions is a week-long symposium and a public participatory art project in Paris. It is a platform to embrace complex problems by modeling radical openness to research in which tools, laboratories, studios are shared between artists and scientists to expand concepts for ecological thinking. Useful Fictions proposes to see the calculation of a catastrophic future not as an inevitability but as an invitation to innovate and effect change. Bridging the divide between urgency and agency, the project gathers a coalition of artists, designers, humanists, and graduate students to work with globally acclaimed climate scientists in their laboratories to build future machines and write absurd fictions.
This project invites critique of the human-centered narrative that dominates and defines contemporary cultural consciousness. The issues we are faced with challenge us to reclaim knowledge creation by examining the idea of proxy and measurements in ways that will expand anthropocentric lenses. Through the use of both critical discourse and practice-based research in art, design, and science, as well as case studies in climate science and related contextual research, we will ask: “What controls the manufacturing of our systems of belief? What stories do we tell ourselves? Can we imagine differently?”