The first thing I would do is hire a team of DOE artists in residence. We need ideas and creativity. These artists would fulfill a role similar to the NASA art program that began in 1962 which was critical to filling the American imagination with the possibilities of space travel, the adventure, the future, the wonder. In the 50 years since Earth Day, an enormous number of column-inches have been written about our deteriorating environment (and more recently deteriorating climate) but not enough about visions for what success looks like for humanity. The DOE artists-in-residence would go to work showing us what the future of cleaner electrified building stock would look like, how much cleaner our streets and air will be with electric cars and new electric transit modes, including electric flight. We’d see verdant pictures of the future of regenerative agriculture and an even more productive carbon sequestering food system that also makes more space for wildness and national park and recreation areas. You might find it odd that the first thing I’d do at DOE is make art, but this is critical, we need a shared vision of where we are going, one of abundance and success and of the U.S. winning, if we are to get the popular buy-in and acceptance we need to address climate change in earnest and at scale.
My unedited responses to Theo’s questions for the article in full are below.
Paul was an incredible artist, activist and a wonderful friend to my dad – I’m so glad he’s getting this recognition now.
How did you know Paul Peter Piech?
He was a good friend of my father – who ran a small picture framers in Porthcawl, where Peter had settled. Peter came in most weeks – initially to get things framed, but also after a while to sit and chat with my dad while he worked. This was the late 80s I think, as I was still in comprehensive school. I also worked after school and weekends in a local printers, and Peter would occasionally come in there for photocopying.
What we he like when you knew him?
Well – at one level he was this very friendly, curious obviously intelligent old man. A bit of a Yoda figure in a way! He was also probably the first American I’d ever met! He spoke like the movies! He was very indulgent of my questions and didn’t ever talk down to me. He knew I aspired to work in graphic design at the time and was studying art, working at a printer’s after school etc. and he was very encouraging. It was also one of those things where for the first time I saw my dad talk to another grown-up and have proper debate. They’d argue (good naturedly) for hours about anyting – politics, religion, philosophy, science, art – and often Paul would get the better of my father!
Were you aware of his background working in advertising and did he ever talk about it?
No not at all – I only really knew of that through my Dad. Paul was more interested in talking about human rights, philosophers or art – which I think he saw as central to his ‘second career’. I only later really learned about that side of his career, unfortunately mainly in obituaries.
What do you remember most about him?
I remember an incredible energy and restlessness alongside huge curiosity and kindness. I was very lucky to have met him in such a formative time in my life – and his influence on me was enormous. I don’t know if it’s down to him that I ended up living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan twenty years later but I like to think he set me on my way.
How can meaning make a difference? It doesn’t seem to be the kind of physical property, like temperature or mass or chemical composition, that could cause anything to happen. What brains are for is extracting meaning from the flux of energy impinging on their sense organs, in order to improve the prospects of the bodies that house them and provide their energy. The job of a brain is to “produce future” in the form of anticipations about the things in the world that matter to guide the body in appropriate ways. Brains are energetically very expensive organs, and if they can’t do this important job well, they aren’t earning their keep.
Colonising the future: If Speculative Design builds competency in thinking about future alternatives, the design community needs to ensure that it is aware of the structural inequalities that allow for a privileged voice. I think it’s become painfully obvious that we don’t need any more white male billionaires telling us how the future looks, therefore by moving Speculative Design outside of the “academy” we need to make sure it’s reaching people who don’t normally have say over the future. We should aim to empower alternative views about how the world could be.
“Through gaps in the cloud layer she could see the light-but-dark blue of the Terran sky, subtle and full.
It looked like a blue dome flattened at the center, perhaps a few kilometers above the clouds—she reached up for it—although knowing too that it was just a kind of rainbow made it glorious.
A rainbow that was blue everywhere and covered everything. The blue itself was complex, narrow in range but infinite within that range.
It was an intoxicating sight, and you could breathe it—one was always breathing it, you had to. The wind shoved it into you!
Breathe and get drunk, oh my, to be free of all restraint, minimally clothed, lying on the bare surface of a planet, sucking in its atmosphere as if it were an aqua vitae, feeling in your chest how it kept you alive!
No Terran she had ever met properly appreciated their air, or saw their sky for what it was. In fact they very seldom looked at it.”