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UKSFN Conference 2024: Guest reflections



At the 2024 UKSFN conference, we were very lucky to welcome Geraldine Cox and Steven Camden who took part in our opening and closing remarks respectively. Geraldine, artist in residence at Imperial College London, looked into the future to explore the Festival of 2050. Steven, a spoken-word poet and writer from the West Midlands, took inspiration from the day to compose a special poem for the day.



By Geraldine Cox

In 2050 festivals abound and explore many themes. I’m going to outline some of the features. But first I’d like to offer a note of perspective. For things have changed in recent decades. We used to think of Earth as a great planet, a boundless provider that supported an infinity of needs and desires. Now, we’ve learned to think of our home as a delicate and finely balanced spaceship and this has changed everything we do.

Back in the old days we powered everything by setting fires to some ancient remnants, black solids made from old trees and liquids that were once tiny sea creatures. The fires were everywhere but mostly hidden from view. The enormity of the burning amounted to over 600 Earth volcanos continuously exploding. Now, we’ve learned that the activities on a spaceship are best powered directly by the Sun, which sends us enormous light energy and drives the wind and rain; and the moon which animates the tides. Gaily painted wind turbines and sunlight capturing cells fill our lives and even the youngest children know the value of this celestial energy. At the festivals we usually have a section called celestial energy harvesting and we decorate wind and wave turbines and look at new designs and community schemes for harnessing sunlight.

Life on the spaceship is more cramped than it used to be. Some parts became too hot to live in because the pollution from the fires trapped the heat of the Sun. Other parts have been lost to flooding from melted ice. And for our health and happiness trees, plants, and animals are dedicated vast areas. To be content in our reduced space, we have learnt to be kind. All children learn what it is to be truly kind and there is justice and fairness everywhere. Before voting, people are asked to close their eyes and pretend that they do not know who they are. We are always looking for ways to create such rituals of kindness
and the festivals often explore these ideas in many ways from plays, poetry to discussions and design workshops.

At last, we’ve compiled a manual for Earth, and everyone must know at least the main stories: The water and carbon cycles for example, healthy soil structures, how plankton produce the oxygen we breath, and the vital work of insects. The essential principles are usually on display at festivals and updates to the manual are widely publicised. In this way we all have an understanding of the spaceship’s processes and how everything is interlinked. Other species often attend our festivals, and we spend time in dialogue with them from soil microorganisms to coral to whales.

The most complicated and powerful object on the spaceship is the human brain. In the 2020’s we thought vast knowledge and processing power to be the definition of intelligence and built computer systems called Artificial Intelligence. Then we realised we knew so little of the malleable fallible machine between our ears. The artificial systems are helpful for sure when we need to gather and explore large amounts of data, or decode the languages of other species, but now the focus is on the potential of the human imagination, its brilliance and empathy. Everyone is conscious of the unique potential of each mind, and we take care about what we put into our brains and how we operate them. We are the sculptors of our own brains, and Mind is always on the festival agenda.

You’ve probably sensed that a strong philosophical thread runs through events. Travelling through the eternity of space gives us perspective. We know how short the human life is and appreciate the precariousness of our existence. That nothing can be taken for granted. This has become an important topic and a developing artform to consider the arc of our own lives.

Living on a spaceship requires everyone’s talents, and this is one of the roles of the festivals, to give visitors the opportunity to experience and try many things, to discover and celebrate diverse talents and interests and to ensure they blossom. So, festivals are rich and dynamic inspirational events covering many themes, too numerous to mention in the 5 minutes I have. Though I will say that food is tremendously important, particularly since we stopped eating animals. Every festival offers the latest ideas for growing and preparing delicious fresh food. We’re keen to show that you don’t have to eat processed food if you live in space.

I’m happy to say that in 2050 festivals happen in every community on the spaceship. Everyone in the alphabet of life comes – artists, bakers, carers, doctors, engineers and earth watchers, florists, gardeners, homebuilders, imaginaries, joy experts, kite builders and kids, light catchers, musicians, neurologists, opticians, poets, quantity surveyors, robot builders, sun scientists, teachers, universe dynamicists, vets, welders and wind chasers, X-Ray analysts, yellow specialists, and zebra scientists. To name but a few! Often distant communities join by electronic links to see what we can learn from each other. Last year our friends in Morocco, who send us almost 20% of our energy generated from their Sun and wind, introduced us to their poetry and ran a course on desert life with painting and experiments.

At every festival we explore, celebrate, and nurture the magnificent beauty of spaceship earth and its diverse lifeforms. Please join us.


Natural Intelligence.

By Steve Camden