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Prof. Xavier Cortada: DO NOT OPEN - a (Warning) Project about Climate Change and the World of Tomorrow

Image: cortada.com


"DO NOT OPEN" is a participatory art project, organized and lead by Prof. Xavier Cortada.  Its goal is to provoke a first-hand awareness  on climate change and the way it affects our life and the life of those coming after us. Because it is true that for many people (or should we say for most of the people) climate change is still something distant, something chimerical, something that is not relevant to them - not now, not in this moment. Yet, Prof. Cortada proves us wrong. He makes us, or actually let's say, he helps us see, admit and acknowledge the personal (and global) effects of climate change.  Because this is the only way a change could be made. Not via impersonal narration, but via personal interpretation.

 Prof. Cortada asks the participants to write letters to the future, focusing on the climate change which effects we experience today. Then the participants should put the letters away and leave them unread, until a future time. The result is the acknowledgement that climate change is real and that our today is what will form the next generations' tomorrow. ..

image: cortada.com

Do Not Open 

a poem by Xavier Cortada

We are pioneers and runaway slaves and political refugees making new home.
In a strange place built on water.
With hurricanes.
And more.

We've witnessed destruction and loss.
But now face our greatest challenge: Water is rising and it won't recede.

We must summon courage, share wisdom with those who will follow.
We must tell them who we are. We must explain what we saw. We must show them how we responded.
We must help them navigate the greater chaos. To come.

We must write it all down. Seal it in an envelope.
For them. To read.


Tell them not to open it for a hundred years.
Or perhaps half that time, if you think they can't wait that long.

Or maybe sooner;
In 25 years, when everyone will accept that the problem is real.
They will listen to us then. They will finally understand.
We will all unite
As Antarctica comes to town.

Or tell them
Do not open for two hundred years.
When they will yearn most to hear from those of us
who once walked on land.


"I ask residents , - says Prof. Cortada, - to write letters to the future. I do so because today, many of their neighbors aren't willing to listen. Today, too many are in denial about the human impact on global climate change. For many, denial comes easier than visualizing the future impact of rising seas on their community. Our words fall on deaf ears.

So, instead, we must write it all down, keep it in a safe place, and share it later, when others are willing to listen.

Although the letters are intended for people not yet born, the true audience is those breathing in the present.

Sure, the future will be curious.
The future will read our letters and want to know why we couldn't show restraint when facing insurmountable evidence of our role in creating this global crisis.

The future will be incredulous.
In the 2100's, our great-grandchildren will read the words we wrote them and want to understand why we didn't do more when so much—everything– was at stake.

The future will be furious.
A century from now, our communities will read what we penned and want to know how, on our watch, ecosystems collapsed, biodiversity plummeted and so much of humanity suffered.

The future will benefit from insights, but "DO NOT OPEN" isn't for them. It's not about them. It's about us.

I'm less interested in them being able to hear us. And more interested in us being able to see them. By writing to them, we name them. By writing to them, we can't deny their existence. By writing to them, we create a connection to them.

Being able to connect with our progeny raises the stakes for us now. It lengthens the "care horizon" beyond our lifetime. It provides a path to hope, purpose. It encourages us to do all we can now to protect our planet, its future generations and the animals we coevolved with."

image: cortada.com


Walk up to the "Do Not Open" wall in the exhibit.
Close your eyes: Imagine your city in the future. Imagine how rising seas will impact it and those who will live here then.
Think about what you would like them to know. Think about what you believe someone living in 2041, 2066, 2116 or 2216 will need to hear from someone living in 2016.
Unclip a blank piece of paper and envelope from the wall and use a pencil to write it all down: Tell them who you are. Tell them why you are writing to them. Sign it. Date it.
Fold the letter in two, kiss it, place it in the envelope and seal it.
On the outside of the envelope write only one of these four phrases:
"DO NOT OPEN: 25 years"
"DO NOT OPEN: 50 years"
"DO NOT OPEN: 100 years"
"DO NOT OPEN: 200 years"

Clip the sealed envelope to the "Do Not Open" wall with the words facing out.
Stare at your envelope for 25 seconds, 50 seconds, 100 seconds, or 200 seconds.
Think of how your words will be received in the future.
Walk away

For more information on the project check cortada.com/do-not-open

You can watch Prof. Cortada live with his exclusive presentation at SGEM Vienna GreenSWS Vienna Art.

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