Utopia. Or oblivion. Futurist and architect Buckminster Fuller believed humanity faced those two stark choices – either we learn to do more with less or we exhaust the world’s resources.
More than 50 years after Fuller visited London as an early evangelist of sustainability through design, Visual Arts students have staged an exhibition that examines the man whose name is synonymous with the interlocking triangles that make up the geodesic dome.
“Each student in the class has put together individual projects showing utopia or dystopia, and thinking about what the future world would be like under climate change,” said Jasmine Sihra, Museum and Curatorial Studies student. “We’re trying to think about how the past informs and relates to the present and the future.”
Together We Average as Zero run through March 12 in the Artlab Gallery.
The exhibition’s title is drawn from a Fuller quote about the complementary differences of humans and that we must recognize “it is success for all – or none.”
Fuller, an eccentric inventor and polymath, is best known for promoting the geodesic dome as an ideal durable, sustainable architecture of the future. His signature work was the iconic dome built as the U.S. pavilion for Expo 67 in Montreal.
Despite never having completed a university degree, he was awarded 47 honorary doctorates during his lifetime. He travelled from city to city to spread the word that ‘Spaceship Earth’ could be a place where everyone worked together to share its bounty and from which we could seek other worlds.
In 1968, his lecture tour took him to a packed Alumni Hall at Western and to dinner-party conversations with London artists Greg Curnoe and Jack Chambers.
“He was what’s known as a ‘techno-utopian’ who was always working to understand how we can do more with less. Geodesic domes do more with less. They’re strong, portable, and flexible – it’s a metaphor for something that could survive climate change or a time of chaos,” said Visual Arts professor Kirsty Roberston, Director of Museum and Curatorial Studies, and supervisor of the undergraduate students.
This exhibit takes a critical look at where Fuller was on the right track and where he may have missed the mark. “We also ask, should we even colonize other planets? If we already ruined this planet, why do we get to ruin others?”
The nine students created individual projects and managed different aspects of the exhibition, including writing essays, graphic design, promotion, marketing and fundraising. “It’s an experiential-learning course. We’re putting a lot of theory into practice,” Sihra said.
Her project invites visitors to sit in an armchair while wearing headphones that include nature sounds and excerpted readings from utopian literature.
Other projects examine questions of nature, communication, climate change, permanence, definitions of utopia, even the role of speculative fiction in communicating ideas with non-Earth lifeforms.
Student Brontë Cronsberry’s project includes their translation of Fuller-isms into lincos, a mathematical and biological language that could be used in making contact with extraterrestrials. Also on exhibit is a selection of cue cards Cronsberry made to identify and categorize their large collection of books of speculative fiction.
A key part of the exhibition is a walk-in-sized, metal geodesic dome. Integral to this piece is a messy assemblage of materials used to build the exhibit – a symbol of the detritus that humans create, and which remain on Earth for us either to ignore or address.
A video of Fuller’s Expo 67 dome – which caught fire in 1972 when workers inadvertently torched the acrylic covering – plays flames over the smaller Artlab dome. The Montreal structure now operates as a Biosphere Environmental Museum.
The Artlab exhibit is a precursor to Robertson’s upcoming Museum London exhibition From Remote Stars: Buckminster Fuller, London, and Speculative Futures, from May 16-Aug. 30.