Looking toward the future, right here on Planet Earth
Latest iteration of the Aspen Space Station initiative considers a ‘utopia redux’
Artist Ajax Axe wants us to think about the future. The year 2222, to be exact. The West burnt a century ago. People abandoned the land. The forest, left behind, grew back.
Enter “The Burnt States Federation,” an imagined cohort of “scientists, ecologists, natural philosophers” who return to explore and study the region and grapple with a question of the existential variety.
“We’re trying to understand: How can we maybe repopulate this region in a more sustainable way than our ancestors?” Axe said in a phone interview this week.
The premise is a driving force behind “The Wild Future Outpost,” this year’s iteration of the Aspen Space Station initiative that encourages people to believe we might still stand a chance to create an ideal future right here on Earth. Programming launches Saturday with a strategic brainstorming session on solutions for a sustainable future; art installations, dinners, book clubs, workshops and other events on the calendar through September.
“Our attempt right now is to bring the community back together to talk about the future, to create ideas and programming and opportunities for people here to feel like this place is working for them as a community again — that we are coming together and creating a vision for a shared future that people feel included,” Axe said.
Aspen Year 2022: The Wild Future Outpost
Saturday, July 23 from 5-7 p.m.
“A war room strategy session for anyone who thinks NOW is the right time to start working on new ideas for the future.”
Earth Force Climate Command Pledge Day at Intersect Aspen
Sunday, July 31 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Join the Earth Force Climate Command, pick up wildflower seed bombs and take the Future Proof Exam at the Aspen Ice Garden.
Open to the public.
The Wild Future Feast: Kairos Futura Fundraising Dinner
Tuesday, Aug. 2 from 5:30-9 p.m.
“A private wild feast prepared over the fire and from foraged ingredients.”
The Burnt States Federation Members at The Fire Pod
Thursday, Aug 4 from 4-7 p.m.
View artist Chris Erickson’s Fire Pod and interact with “wild futurists” at the Red Brick Center for the Arts.
Open to the public.
Into The Wild: Secret Art Mission and Premiere of Portraits Of An Other NFTS
Saturday, Aug. 7 from 7:30-10 p.m.
An NFT art show featuring digital portrait by film director and photographer DJ Furth.
Registration required; must pass the Future Proof Exam (link available online via thefutureisonearth.org).
Wild Future Book Club
Thursday, Aug. 11 from 8-9:35 p.m.
Meet to discuss the book “A Brief History of the Future.”
Wild Food Lab
Friday, Aug. 12 from 5-7 p.m.
“Experiment with wilderness cooking and foraged ingredients” at the Wild Future Culinary Lab. Registration required.
Sunday, Aug. 15 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Experience artist Clarity Fornell’s interactive “Future Ritual” installation.
Registration required; must pass the Future Proof Exam (link available online via thefutureisonearth.org). Participants will be blindfolded and taken to a secret location for the event.
Beyond Fire and Fear
Saturday, Aug. 20 from 4-7 p.m.
“A Biology-Based Design Future Workshop with Biologists and Artists in conversation about the Future of the West.”
Climate Collapse Happy Hour
Monday, Aug. 22 from 4-6 p.m.
Drinks and brainstorming on “how the Hell we’re going to transform climate collapse into something positive.”
Open to the public. Location to be announced.
Are You Afraid of the Future: Scary Stories About the Future Campfire Night
Sunday, Sept. 4 from 7:30-10 p.m.
A future-focused campfire night.
Party Like It’s 2222
Friday, Sept. 9 from 6-9 p.m.
Celebrate an “Aspen Utopia Redux” from the perspective of a “future nomad” Theme is “solar punk.”
Open to the public. Location to be announced.
It’s part of the broader-scope efforts of the Earth Force Climate Command, which is based in Aspen and includes artists, activists, thinkers and organizers who are focused on finding solutions and building community.
This year’s Wild Future Outpost will feature 11 artists, up from four at the Aspen Space Station in 2021, Axe said. After last year’s debut on the backside of Aspen Mountain, programming is expanding to multiple locations both in and out of town.
(Some are more secretive than others: Participants will need to register and land a high-level score on the philosophical “Future Proof Exam” to get the coordinates for select events, and for one, attendees will wear blindfolds in transit to their final destination.)
A “utopia redux” is also part of the premise this year. Organizers want people to think about what that ideal future on Earth looks like here in Aspen — “the world’s most successful failed utopia,” per one of this year’s slogans, Axe said.
Some seven decades after Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke first envisioned a community that celebrated the mind, body and spirit here in Aspen in the mid-20th century, what’s left?
Axe sees Aspen as “a victim of its own success,” and a manifestation of Elizabeth Paepcke’s 1987 assessment that this place may become “a pâté which is so rich that none of us can digest it anymore.”
“There’s numerous different kinds of utopian attempts at creating communities all over the United States, most of which were not successful,” Axe said. “Here was incredibly successful, in terms of what they created, but I think it left a lot of people behind.”
Hence the redux, which is as much a local ethos as a global one. The Earth Force Climate Command also has projects in Kenya and Greece, with plans to expand programming in other places, too, “to get people together, and in a creative way, try to do world building around the idea of making a local future,” Axe said.
“If we don’t have a North Star, a direction we want to go as a community — both here and everywhere else in the world — we’re like a boat without a sail,” Axe said. “We’re just going to be sort of going around in circles, and nothing is achieved, and we don’t go anywhere, and that’s what you see in so many places all over the world is that without any direction, we just fail over and over again.”
The space station metaphor is an example of that “North Star,” Axe said. Visionaries touted the wonders of space travel in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, with messaging that would drive the otherworldly exploration of the next half century, and then some.
“We were given a vision and a direction to go in, and so that’s the vision and direction that we all went in — was that we’re going to leave Earth and go to another planet, right?” Axe said. “It’s a collective fantasy storytelling that happens on a subconscious societal level, and it transforms how we look at the world.”
Now, with present-day billionaires engaged in an escapist space race, the principles of the Aspen Space Station try to reorient the message that’s a throughline in the project.
One: “Stay on Earth.” Two: “Enjoy it.” Three: “Stop thinking we can torch this planet and then escape to another one.”
“This project is asking people to look around them and say, ‘What if we have to create our fantasy future right here in our own communities?’” Axe said.