Projects > Trying to Talk to Climate Change Researchers About the Future and their Feelings

The door was ajar so I stepped tentatively into the room. Students in safety goggles were perched on stools throughout the space using scientific equipment I had never seen before. I took a few hesitant steps forward, looking around for a door with a name to indicate I had brought myself to the correct place. No one acknowledged my presence so I stayed near the entrance. After a few awkward minutes, an older student looked up from the fog-filled vessel in front of him and asked me if I was looking for Doctor H.

He theorized that she was running late from class and suggested I wait in the break room or her office. He did not gesture where these rooms were located so I hesitantly proceeded through the lab, between science benches, towards the most likely looking doors. Standing in between their thresholds I could see one room contained a microwave, storage boxes and a few rolling chairs that appeared to have slid slowly back from their place at the table, coming to rest in the middle of the room. The other was a neat, bright, office with a children’s drawing of a girl and a large plant. I internally debated etiquette and elected to sit in the break room where I pulled out my sketchbook to review the notes I prepared for the conversation.

She arrived a few minutes later and invited me into her office. I sat in her guest chair facing her and the window to the street. A woman in her early 40s with long brown hair, she wore a puffy vest in a way that seemed appropriately outdoorsy. After we introduced ourselves she sat, hands folded with a kind but expectant look. I attempted to validate my presence by first contextualizing my past artworks about the environment. I cannot recall if she responded. I continued on to outline my project, an audio piece of climate researchers describing their feelings about the future. I faltered trying to articulate my interest in her practice and what I thought viewers might get from the work. She expanded upon my comments, narrating some of her recent scientific findings to illustrate the difficulty of providing a stable picture of the future (this became a refrain, repeated in all my conversations with scientists.) She gave specific details about her work, which I will not share with you for reasons that are forthcoming. I asked her questions and she asked me questions. As I answered her I often heard myself articulating things about the project that I had not considered.

“Where will this be exhibited?”

I could feel there was more to this inquiry than her words betrayed. As I began to respond, thinking aloud about art galleries the web it occurred to me that she was actually asking me about privacy. Though I had mentioned anonymity casually earlier in our conversation I had not realized just how worried someone in her field would be about the implications of a fantastical image or emotional descriptions of the future being tied to her research. I turned again to anonymity reiterating that no information about participants would be included with the pieces and assured her no audio would ever be available online. She seemed reassured and nodded vigorously.

“I have a lot of feelings about the future but it would be hard to talk about them.”

I looked at the children’s drawing on her wall. She looked at me looking at the drawing and smiled.