The Guggenheim Harnesses the Power of Art to Weaken Apathy

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Rem Koolhaas’s “Countryside, The Future” exhibition at The Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

In times of despair, we look to our leaders to implement reforms and enact changes that will heal any pain we have felt or divisions we have drawn. Some of us may even read books or watch movies that warn us of the mistakes that future generations have made and the atrocities that have resulted. Yet, what many of us fail to acknowledge is the power of expression and the ability that people across different cultures, languages, religions, and eras have had to showcase themselves and their societies in the timeless form of art. Indeed, it is this abstract, yet purposeful, form of expression that provides a new perspective to the problems we face, depicting not only the lives of those in eras past, but also the potential of what life may bring to mankind in the future. Now, more than ever, in light of numerous existential crises, mankind must once again harness the power of art in the quest of securing a brighter future, for not only those living in the present, but also those seeking prosperity in the future.

When scientists and researchers describe a world unsuitable for mankind, there are still too many who deem such evidence as being insignificant; they believe that a world other than that of their own depiction is merely a fallacy. Yet, with the consequences of inaction so dire, is accepting ignorance an option our society is willing to take? It shouldn’t be, and it won’t. Every day, there are people around the world who already understand the effects of ignoring climate change and its potential for destruction: communities are flooded, ecosystems are destroyed, and lives are lost. Clearly, the time has passed when simply giving a speech and preaching action can be claimed as effective. For, if people are neither willing to listen nor empathize, then they must be forced to see — not for the sake of winning an argument, but more importantly, for the sake of catalyzing real, life-saving reforms.

Recently, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City showcased an exhibition entitled, Countryside, The Future. Outlining the social, political, and environmental issues of our time and eras past, this exhibition analyzes how society has changed throughout history and altered the natural landscape of the planet. To me, even more striking than the changes that have occurred in the past are those bound for the future. On display is a life-size woolly mammoth ahead of diagrams and images of the rapid thawing of the Earth’s surface, together, presenting a stark image of what lies in store for humanity. While unconventional, this display is an example of how art, in any form, can illustrate to observers what words often cannot. Indeed, the impending effects of climate change, evident by what has happened in the past, are unmistakable, with the mammoth’s extinction acting as simply one warning for the future.

What species are next to become extinct, and how will our lives change? Or, will mankind be next? If we are, can we truly change this dire trajectory? None of these questions can be answered by me, but they can be asked. And, if one is to solve some of the most challenging feats of our time, then one must not be afraid to begin by asking questions. Yet, while one can begin by asking questions, change cannot end with the enlightenment of simply one individual, but rather must inspire the makings of a movement. So, the task is now on us, not only to write essays and make speeches, but more effectively utilize one of the most impactful and reflective forms of the human mind: art.