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Speculative Futures – Imagining utopias enabled by sustainable technologies

Artist Steph Tudor joined the Institute for Sustainability for three months to develop an art-science exhibition with the Institute's research community.

IfS Artwork developed by Steph Tudor
Artwork developed by Steph Tudor

What would the world look like in 2073 if the still nascent technologies our researchers are working on were mainstream? How would these new molecules, materials and processes shape the world and achieve the sustainable goals they were dreamt up for?

These are some of the questions that artist Steph Tudor invited researchers in the Institute for Sustainability to ponder – sowing the creative seeds that would sprout into conversations and experimental lab play, to finally mature into a science-inspired art exhibition.

Co-imagining sustainable futures

IfS Artwork developed by Steph Tudor
Artwork developed by Steph Tudor

Steph Tudor joined the Institute for Sustainability in late April. She was selected from a pool of artists who applied to join the Institute for a three-month residency by pitching their ideas on how they would work with our research community to develop an art-science exhibition that showcased five research themes of the IfS CDT in Sustainable Chemical Technologies: Energy & Water, Processes & Manufacturing, Renewable Feedstocks & Biotechnology, Sustainable Healthcare, and Systems.

The Institute’s team was particularly interested in this artwork being the fruit of the relationships built between the artist and the research community, and Steph rose to the challenge as soon as she joined the team. As well as scheduling interviews with PhD students and academics to find out more about their work, her research phase also included a series of workshops where she facilitated conversations relating to the potential of their work in collectively created sustainable future societies.

Translating research into sculptures

IfS Artwork developed by Steph Tudor
Artwork developed by Steph Tudor

"'The future is plural – there is not one future, but an infinite landscape of possibilities' Stuart Candy (Futurist). This idea provides space to creatively imagine just a handful of these possibilities. I wanted to use utopian visioning as a tool to expand creative thought when imagining a better future, and how reflecting on different sensory aspects can help to deepen our connection to these possible futures.

“I asked researchers to consider the following scenario: The date is 2073. The Institute for Sustainability has played an important role in the development and implementation of sustainable technologies. Many of the solutions that we benefit from today were conceived over 50 years ago. The result of these now fully embedded technologies is a cleaner, more sustainable and equitable landscape, both socially and environmentally.

“Through this imagined scenario, I had so many fascinating conversations with researchers during our workshops. We went through a process of reflecting on their research – where it is today and where it has the potential to go in the future.

“Learning about a wide variety of sustainable technologies, the processes and myriad of materials used in the labs was very inspiring. I began to see more and more parallels between scientific and creative processes, which gave me the opportunity to experiment with a range of different materials back at my studio – from growing mycelium to making bio-plastics and extruded ceramics.

“I wanted to translate academic research into tangible, tactile objects as a way of visualising it beyond screens and deepening the sense of connection to complex information. Interpreting the important work of some of the researchers at the Institute into a body of work was an incredibly rewarding experience.”

The final works

IfS Artwork developed by Steph Tudor
Artwork developed by Steph Tudor

The exhibition developed by Steph is a snapshot in time of this speculative landscape – the work displayed is part ‘future artifact’, part sculpture, part non-sensical object. The six-piece exhibition includes works on home water filtration vessels, solar technologies made with bioplastics to maximise versatility, carbon capture to produce sustainable energy, sustainable plant fibre fishing nets, interactive building ‘kits’ made from natural and waste materials, and biosensing diagnostic health tools.

This project was funded by EPSRC.

Exhibition Information

Read more about the artwork and the researcher-created utopias ‘Speculative Futures’ is on display at the Institute for Sustainability office in East Building 3.02. If you are interested in hosting this exhibition please reach