‘Standing on the Shoulders’ Podcast: On Plural Futures and Multi-Species Companionship
In June, Anab Jain was featured on the Standing on the Shoulders podcast series hosted by social psychologist and Guardian technology journalist Aleks Krotoski, and produced by Storythings. Standing on the Shoulders interviews “metaphorical, inspirational, Giants [..] whose symbolic shoulders you can stand on to reach greater heights”.
The podcast series aims to tell the backstories and defining moments of a range of key thinkers and visionaries such as theatre director and producer Jude Kelly and columnist and Head of Entertainment at Facebook in the UK Anna Higgs to name a few.
In the fifth episode of the series, Aleks and Anab discuss Anab’s role as a futurist of colour, and the backstory and inspirations that led her to co-found Superflux studio with Jon Ardern in 2009.
Listen to the podcast here or read on for a summary of the topics discussed and some recommended further reading.
The podcast begins by discussing Anab’s cross-cultural perspectives, a result of her Indian upbringing. Anab describes growing up, not with western science-fiction, but instead with Indian “multi-species” mythology. She explores how this has impacted her approach and work at Superflux.
Different cultures think about human being-ness in this world differently. It makes me reflect that actually increasingly, we are going to need to live in a world where human exceptionalism or individualism must give way to collaboration and networks of care and multi-species understanding […] Multi-species ethnography is just this kind of noticing and an understanding and acknowledgment that we are one of many species.– Anab Jain
The conversation moves on to Anab’s journey to where she is now: from school through to founding Superflux via a Degree in filmmaking; a Masters in Interaction Design at the Royal College of Art; and positions at Nokia and Microsoft Research.
Anab and Aleks then discuss Superflux’s recent work, Mitigation of Shock. Mitigation of Shock was first exhibited as part of After the End of the World at Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona in 2017 and more recently as part of 2219: Futures Imagined at ArtScience Museum Singapore. The installation invites visitors into a family home set in a future severely impacted by climate change. Visitors are able to explore the many ways the apartment’s inhabitants have radically adapted their lives to survive, and thrive, in these new circumstances.
In this instance, we chose to invite people into something that they experience every day, their homes, a very domestic space – but set in the future. What would our homes look like and feel like in a world that has been severely impacted by climate change? And so we built this London apartment set around 2050 or so, when Jon and my son, who was six at that point, would be around our age. It was far enough in the future to affect an entirely new generation of people.– Anab Jain
The Standing on the Shoulders series aims to understand who the inspirational figures have been in each featured “giant’s” journey. Anab discusses the ways in which philosopher Timothy Morton’s concept of “Hyperobjects” and Anna Tsing’s 2015 book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins helped her and Jon Ardern to develop the ideas behind Mitigation of Shock. From the concepts of “multi-species ethnography” to the idea of “destruction as a productive force”, she discusses learnings about human expectations and social imagined futures.
We need to look at, and kind of “stay with”, these entanglements and observe them more closely – with nuance to see our own role in this world. So I think that’s how I see it anyway.– Anab Jain
The podcast is rounded up with reference to the political situation today and why it is imperative that we apply these principles to begin to move towards more hopeful futures.
They’re all moving through such short political cycles that they are not able to make long term decisions. We are trapped in a short-term political cycle. And unfortunately, a lot of the senior level people have very strong vested interests, and things need to change at that level.– Anab Jain
Even though, if you look around us, the way the future or our present is unfolding is complex, messy, chaotic, turbulent. The trends reports and the kind of visions that are presented to us by those who have the power to present those visions are often clean, white, shiny, seductive. And unfortunately, the future is not going to be like that. It’s going to be standing on the bones of our actions and decisions that we’re making today. So I think if we are able to liberate ourselves from this shiny future idea, we might benefit a lot.– Anab Jain
We’d like to thank the Standing on the Shoulders team for bringing together this fantastic series. You can find the rest of the episodes on the Standing on the Shoulders website.
You can read more about the concept of “multi-species thinking” in Calling for A More-Than-Human Politics, originally given as a talk by Anab at Tentacular Festival, 2019.
If you’d like to read more about Superflux’s project Mitigation of Shock you can read our project posts on Mitigation of Shock, London at CCCB and Mitigation of Shock, Singapore at ArtScience Museum, or read about the process of developing food growing methods for Mitigation of Shock, Singapore on our blog.
Follow Superflux on Instagram to keep up to date on exciting new projects that we’re working on around the themes discussed in this podcast.