Art explores the technology of closed worlds
From spaceships to office buildings, we’re surrounded by attempts at closed systems. Look back at Closed Worlds, which featured 41 prototypes from 1928 to 2008.
Stepping into the Closed Worlds exhibition at UTS Gallery feels like stepping off Earth and straight into space. Surrounded by cylindrical satellites suspended from the ceiling, VR headsets, images of retro spacecraft and enormous graphs that chart biological and technological systems, it's easy to forget you’re in an art gallery and not a science museum.
This award-winning exhibition, curated by Lydia Kallipoliti, posed a set of deceptively complex questions: what do we need to survive when there is no way to contact the outside world? How can we survive, and thrive, if food and energy cannot be brought in? What happens to our waste if it cannot be sent out?
These are questions that already face scientists – after all, as the inhabitants of Earth, we are in a closed system already. But the perfect solutions to these questions remain elusive, and our time is running out.
Closed Worlds presented a genealogy of 41 closed system 'prototypes' created from 1928 to 2008. They ranged from submarines, to systems for space travel, to enormous domes that shroud entire cities and even office buildings.
The centrepiece of the exhibition was the floor-to-ceiling timeline that ran the length of two gallery walls. Using an inventive key of colours and shapes, it tracked each prototype's success in reaching net-zero. While none have succeeded yet, as the timeline moves towards the present it’s gratifying to see prototypes inch closer to success.
To represent the prototypes, the gallery was filled with short, wide cylinders that hovered at head-height. Each suspended cylinder was dedicated to one prototype. Inside, they were stamped with information, pictures, graphs, diagrams and more. Gallery visitors could stand inside, secluded from the rest of the space and encased from the shoulders up in their own closed world.
Each of these cylinders effectively became a time capsule, divulging the social concerns and design conventions of each prototype’s moment in history.
We are more aware than ever that our environment is a closed system as our waste comes back to bite us.
Head of School, School of Architecture
Autonomous houses straight out of The Jetsons dominated the late 60s and early 70s prototypes, while corporate ecology structures, like giant shopping centres in the middle of a desert, bloomed from the 90s onwards. The result is a blend of retro styles and hi-tech engineering that reveal these structures to be both design artefacts and future-facing inventions.
In each prototype, the same issues crop up again and again – testing and outwitting the loss of energy, the finite supply of food, and, above all else, how to effectively dispose of or even bypass the production of waste.
Head of UTS’s School of Architecture Francesca Hughes identifies this as the most pressing theme, writing in her catalogue essay that "we are more aware than ever that our environment is a closed system as our waste comes back to bite us."
Lydia’s companion book to the exhibition, The Architecture of Closed Worlds, Or, What is the Power of Sh*t, also picks out the dominant theme of waste, but in a more hopeful light.
There’s no shortage of additional resources for the curious visitor. Closed Worlds is the result of an immense amount of research and the accompanying website, developed as part of the original exhibition at Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, displays a digital version of almost all the information presented within the gallery. The site also contains a useful and extensive lexicon which helps introduce students and visitors of all backgrounds to some of the more complex topics and theories at play.
Though the perfect closed system remains out of grasp – there is always a leak, a need for replenishment, or a time limit – Closed Worlds presents an inspiring timeline of persistence, experimentation, and ingenuity. It looks back through our history and, in doing so, asks us to look forward.
The exhibition was a celebration of the architectural and scientific developments in this field over the past century, and a challenge to the designers, architects and artists of the future to rethink every element of energy production, consumption and waste disposal – because maybe, this time, these unsolvable problems could be solved.
Closed Worlds, curated by Lydia Kallipoliti, was originally commissioned by and exhibited at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York.
The UTS Gallery hosts a number of exhibitions throughout the year. Access photos, essays and audio-descriptions of past exhibitions and view upcoming events.