Though ARTECHOUSE curators couldn’t have known this while preparing their “Renewal 2121” exhibit, which would present a futuristic rendition of cherry blossoms in the city 100 years from now, this year D.C.’s cherry blossoms bloomed earlier than ever before. While we welcome the spectrum of pink flowers all over the city, it’s hard not to feel that existential dread of a world that is too warm, too fast.
“It made sense to take [the idea of] our connection to the natural world one step further: into consideration of the consequences of our actions on the environment,” says ARTECHOUSE’s founder and chief creative officer, Sandro Kereselidze. “If we don’t respect nature now, what will it look like in 100 years?”
The exhibit, which opened on March 15, will run through early September. In the exhibit’s main room, the floor is empty except for three large hazardous waste drums filled with blossoms. On the walls are immersive projections: a futuristic city filled with drones, empty alleyways with Yoshino cherry trees breaking through the concrete roads and views of a city from above. The screen shares messages like “an average American generates 15.5 metric tons of CO2 every year” and “an estimated $124.5 billion worth of masks will end up as waste.”
Though the data is staggering, curators want visitors to leave feeling hopeful.
“Our ultimate goal is to help visitors reevaluate their actions and inspire them to act once they leave our space,” Kereselidze says.
In some of the projections, plastic bags, cardboard boxes and empty soda cans fall around your silhouette, but at the same time, flowers bloom close to you.
“The viewer [is] a positive force in this futuristic world,” he adds. “Their presence and movements help trees grow, turn trash into flowers, clear pollution to make way for butterflies and more.”
A separate hallway offers a different immersive experience: a break from the projected world we recognize but also can’t. People hover their hands over light bulbs, cups and bowls, which light up to their presence. The experience reminds visitors that we don’t know our full influence over nature — even our hovering presence changes the world around us. In another room, drones follow you as you walk across a bridge. Society expects more automation in the future. Robots, drones and machines will become a part of our daily interactions: a “possible future where nature is pushing past the concrete and the plastic,” Kereselidze says.
Back in the main room, butterflies and drones fly together across the walls. In one projection, Yoshino cherry trees break through concrete roads, grow, blossom and then disintegrate. The streets stand empty until the trees push through again. Visitors can watch this cycle over and over: the blossoming, the disappearance, the regrowth. It is hopeful to watch nature reassert itself. But despite its resilience, the part where it disappears doesn’t have to happen at all.
“More than anything,” Kereselidze adds, “we want visitors to understand it is in our hands to build the future we want, and actions we take today can make that a reality.”
Back outside in modern-day D.C., blossomed trees line the road, petals are smashed on the sidewalk and the flowers are already turning into something new.
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