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3D animator and designer Louise Silfversparre explores the long-term remnants of our modern civilization. Humanity has had such a profound impact on nature that it is creating objects that wouldn’t exist if it weren't for our interference – objects that will remain long after we are gone. We are accustomed to talk about climate impact in the near future, yet Louise's work speculates from a different perspective, looking even further ahead in time. Louise recent project technofossils explores the long-term remnants of what is known as the Anthropocene, or the Human Epoch.
The work visualises objects that have emerged in step with human development. From minerals formed by melted plastic washed up on beaches, to radioactive uranium glass created by the first atomic bomb test. Unlike regular fossils, which are derived from living things, the objects that are going to endure from the Anthropocene are called technofossils. Created by or as a result of human activity, if it weren't for us interfering with nature these objects wouldn’t exist. These future fossils will probably remain long after we are gone, left to tell our story when we’re no longer here to do it ourselves.
In your work you build 3D ecosystems, what does the virtual element to your work reveal about our relationship with nature?
I think that the use of virtual elements in my work reveals that nature often can appear as something foreign that we don’t quite understand, at least for me it’s been that way. By adding a virtual element to nature it has become more approachable. I’ve personally felt a closer bond to nature since I’ve started to recreate it with digital tools. Now I feel like I understand it better, how complex and unpredictable it can be.
At the same time I think the digital tools that create these virtual elements sometimes allow us to imagine an almost unattainable dream of what the environment could be. Suddenly we have the toolkit we need to build perfect worlds with healthy green fields that go on forever, rippling waterfalls and flowers in explosive colours. That is all very nice but that is rarely the reality. The reality is that well functioning ecosystems are becoming increasingly more rare and landscapes like the one I described are a naive dream of what we expect to find outside - rather than something that we’ve actually experienced.
The virtual elements reveal that we’re trying to rebuild our relationship with nature but also that we might have way too high expectations of what this relationship will look like.
The objects you create explore the long-term remnants of the anthropocene, similarly, the 3D imagery you create become fossils themselves. Can you comment on the dynamic between virtual footprint vs ecological footprint and how you situate your work within this?
Since the term technofossil is a broad and rather abstract term, my work that deals with technofossils as footprints can definitely serve as a footprint in itself. I would say that the difference between a virtual and an ecological footprint is that the ecological one unveils information about how our civilisation has evolved, while the virtual footprint works more as a digital storage of our hopes and dreams and of what we wish to become. My work ends up being more of a virtual footprint since the purpose of it is to engage people to affect our common future. The actual minerals that exist in nature are the real ecological footprint, not my interpretations of them.
What do the technofossils reveal about our current world and the traces we will leave behind?
The technofossils show very clearly that our civilization has had a profound impact on the environment. Nature is now creating objects that wouldn’t exist if it weren't for our interference – objects that probably will remain long after we are gone. My work displays a relatively small effect of the Anthropocene era given how extensive its sanctions are. A technofossil might seem insignificant but one day it could represent a whole civilization. A mineral that has been formed by melted plastic washed up on beaches, or radioactive uranium glass marbles created by the first atomic bomb test; these are the kinds of things we’re leaving behind for future generations to find.
Nature used to be an impartial source of knowledge when it came to earth's past, a history book in itself. The rings of a tree revealed its age, a rock could prove that the continents used to be one giant landmass - etc. In the Anthropocene era, humans and nature's destiny has become one, we have changed and evolved simultaneously. The annual rings of a tree are no longer determined only by the age and environment of the tree, but also by climate change - something that humans are largely responsible for. Technofossils being the result of both humans and nature, could be the history books of the future.
The work you create focuses on errors of human activity. What inspired these technofossil scenarios and how have they informed your working methods?
What sparked the idea behind the whole project was a book called Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Reflections on the End of a Civilization by Roy Scranton that I read a while ago. The book deals with the theory that we must stop hoping that the climate crisis will suddenly resolve itself, stop believing that our civilization has a chance to survive, and only then we’re capable of doing something about it. He means that only when we give up hope is there hope. For me, it is a new way of tackling the climate crisis, a way I personally click with. Scranton often mentions that we must look at the problem as a united civilization and not as individuals, because once everything is over, it doesn’t matter what we as individuals accomplished or not. In the end, we will not die or be remembered as individuals, but as a civilization - therefore it is time that we begin to act as one.
This project shows what we as humans are leaving behind, the only trace of us is what's left in the environment. I created a future scenario without people like the one Scranton envisions, but I didn’t want this to be too obvious. I decided to position my work in an abstract time since the thought of a dying civilization can feel quite heavy and hard to envision. The environments that we see the technofossils in are deserted, but with no trace of destruction. Maybe we’re looking into a foreign future, maybe we’re seeing the minerals the day they were created - but regardless of when, the viewer will hopefully get a feeling that something has happened that will affect all of us, if it hasn’t already.
The technofossils are such beautiful artifacts, can you comment on the aesthetic value of creating such mesmerising objects with such a drastic ecological impact?
I have been asking myself this question a few times during the process of the project. By recreating these objects that all derived from something negative with 3D tools, enhancing their visual characteristics and making them feel tactile - do I beautify a problem? Does the real meaning of their existence get lost behind an appealing exterior?
I have definitely enhanced some of the minerals natural qualities but all the technofossils that I’ve chosen to portray are in themselves beautiful. I believe that the contrast between something that is beautiful and at the same time frightening, captivates people. I decided to see this as a strength and not an issue. I hope that my 3D interpretations pull the viewer in, that it makes them curious of how and why these objects exist, but the information is what makes them stay and decide to learn more about this specific issue.
Your work translates as a design of responsibility. How may digital design contribute to tackle current issues and/or provide solutions to it?
Digital design is a great tool to work with to bring light to important topics since one can make the work accessible to a big audience by adjusting it to digital platforms. I think since many of us are accustomed to receive news and updates via social media today, a design project done with this in mind will make it easy for most people to comprehend fast, which in turn helps the project to spread.
For me personally, my role as a designer is not about inventing new philosophies or coming up with groundbreaking ideas. It’s about visualising existing information that I feel is important to bring forward.
Eventually, the information will hopefully reach someone who can do something more concrete, and if not, I have still helped to spark a conversation about it.
How do you position your work? Do you see your work as a form of activism, a wake up call, a simulated nightmare of human destruction? Or something else entirely?
I see myself as a messenger of facts rather than an activist. Throughout the process I’ve tried to stay as neutral as possible towards the subject. I feel that it is more efficient getting your message across if you let the audience make their own interpretation of the work instead of just telling them. In this case it is quite clear anyways, topics like plastic waste and nuclear weapons don't really have a positive konnotation to them, but I want the viewer to be able to come to that conclusion by themself. You don’t have to say everything you want to convey, people understand more than you think and sometimes just presenting facts can be enough.
If you were a technofossil, what would you be?
That is a hard question since pretty much everything can qualify as a technofossil, as long as humans have been a part of the process of making or deforming it. My first thought was that the object most suited to represent me as a person would be my computer, since it contains pretty much my whole life. But then a computer could apply to anyone, so that didn’t feel like a very personal object to pick.
I’ve decided that if I were a technofossil I’d like to be a champagne cork. Cork in itself as a material is not a technofossil since it grows on trees, but when you treat it to fit in a bottle it suddenly has the possibility to become one. Most times champagne corks are sturdy and practical, but every now and then they interrupt the peace with a loud noise and an explosive energy. Only for a little while though, then they go back to being a regular cork again. I feel like I can relate to that cycle.