How dystopias can save the world

This quizzical kind of beauty is, in fact, part of Rosberg’s artistic strategy. “I try to hook people with beauty, first because it’s needed and second, it’s a way to engage people and keep them interested.” She additionally engages people with the rain scent she has created to diffuse through the gallery. “Scent is directly tied to memory,” she points out, and this particular scent is one that humans are particularly attuned to as part of our evolutionary make-up.

This scent that conjures both nature and memory helps evoke a sense of empathy, connection and wonder, she says. With their attention and their emotions thus captured, viewers then feel more comfortable delving deeper into the meanings behind the contradictions embedded in the piece. Rosberg explains that moss is a highly adaptive species that is 350 million years old. Orchids, too, are highly adaptive, its origins also dating back millions of years. They represent the many species that have evolved and survived over eons. “These are living things that can teach us to adapt and be resilient,” Rosberg says. But they are co-existing alongside this giant mass of plastic. “Often we use plastic for two seconds, but it can last for 1,000 years.”

Dual purpose

Enmeshing and entangling those materials together dramatises where we are now, she says: living in a world where dystopian fears can overwhelm our sense of hope, and paralyse our ability to act. Holding both the dystopian and hope at the same time can be scary, she acknowledges. What good art can do, though, is provide the perspective that allows us to recognise that resilience is possible and that we can act, and there are many ways to do so.

That is in fact one of the show’s main points, says its curator Cyndi Conn. “So much of the conversation now has the message that we’re beyond the point of saving. That’s the headline. But it’s not hopeless. We’re at a crossroads. The exhibit is very candid about how grave the situation is. But we also show the beauty and the resilience of the planet.”