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A speculative future imagined

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on— whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.

Curiously enough, the dolphins had long known of the impending destruction of the planet Earth and had made many attempts to alert mankind of the danger; but most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for tidbits,
so they eventually gave up and left the Earth by their own means shortly before the Vogons arrived.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Diaspore presents “If Dolphins Had Thumbs”, a new commission by Sophie Rogers presenting a speculative future - with the impending destruction of the planet, dolphins retreat to the sea, leaving humans to their fate.

In this marine metropolis led by a Cetacean society, dolphins live by a set of complex social behaviours and relationships. Their ability to communicate effectively through a set of sophisticated social cognition, including language, shared goals, teaching, empathy and consensus decision making  has determined their leadership.

They charge themselves with protecting their ecosystem and develop research and technologies to repair damage caused by human activity. They cultivate coral,
protecting and nurturing it, which keeps it brightly coloured and healthy. Lobsters have been domesticated to be sent to shore, conducting experiments on land and bringing resources that dolphins might need  in their attempts at harnessing energy from bubbles.

Sophie Rogers is a visual artist whose practice focuses on the act of storytelling within virtual, manufactured spaces. Through compositing and computer-generated imagery,  she builds brightly coloured landscapes and compositions that explore promises of alternate world and imagined realities.  

Rogers is based in London and has had work exhibited at the Stanley Picker Gallery, Barbican Centre, Tate Modern as part of Offprint London with Self Publish Be Happy TV and again with Future Late; the opening of the Switch House.  She was selected to participate in Masterclass 2017 hosted by the Zabludowicz Collection and later that year presented her first solo exhibition as part of Academy Costumes Residency in partnership with Platform, Southwark.


Could you give a short description of your research ?
My research varies, but my work seems to always loop round to themes of science fiction, fantasy, alternate realities and other worlds.
I’ve always liked fiction and the depth of imagination that lies particularly within science fiction and fantasy novels.
I really admire when an artist or author is able to create whole worlds that have their own landscapes, people, creatures and functioning systems.

I think portrayals of “other worlds” are really exciting. I am quite a nostalgic person and stories/ films from my childhood creep into my work.
Films like the Labyrinth and Never Ending Story depict a child’s escape from everyday mundane life into a world of goblins, witches and the challenges become momentous. This connects to my interest in video games too, how you escape from your usual world into a world of fantasy where you’re given a mission and you advance within digital realms.

I like using Cinema 4D as at the beginning, your starting point is x=0, y=0, z=0 on the axis in the digital space and then you can build a fantasy/world from there in the expanse of space. When I used to play around with the game engine Unity if you didn’t make sure a “mesh collider” was applied to the plane you were working on, and you put a character on it, the character would fall straight through it; falling endlessly in the digital space.
I’ve always thought elements of software are quite romantic.

Can you talk about " If Dolphins had Thumbs " , how did the work came about?
The work came about when I was researching into speculative futures and possible realities to do with animals. I found a forum on Reddit discussing which animal would survive after humans and which would then become the dominant species. Common answers were rats, crows and insects, however, a couple of users had suggested that it would be the dolphin. The dolphin has always been portrayed in popular culture as a friendly, happy go lucky animal that shares many characteristics with humans such as the desire to play, have relationships and even sex for pleasure.

The discussions that were in favour of the dolphin taking over, portrayed them as quite sinister and cunning, which reminded me of the Simpsons episode where Snorky; King of the dolphins, is set free by Lisa. Snorky then declares war on humankind. According to a lot of online research, the limitation lies within their fins; if they were to develop opposable thumbs they would be capable of much more...

We see in a lot of current artistic research the use of speculative world making / utopian / dystopian - sci-fi scenarios, can you tell us more why you are using this form?
I think that’s a really interesting question. I’m reluctant to say that it stems from being unsatisfied with the world we have, as I would like to say that it’s also about fantasy and imagination, but I think it is to do with wanting change, maybe it’s a combination of the two. I think climate change and environmental issues also hugely inform this kind of work. Eventually and tragically, our planet will die, so you have to wonder where the future generations will live.

Utopias and depictions of utopias are really complex because the meaning of utopia is so varied, I had a conversation with the artist Eve Sussman about the concept of ‘utopia’ and we came from completely different perspectives. She thought it was strange that myself, as quite a young artist, was interested in something she saw as very particular to a specific time in history. She saw it as a past ideal, something completely redundant now, whereas I perceive utopias to always be in the future.

I think using digital media works well as a medium to explore these themes because there is this idea of ‘promise’. Constantly advancing technology suggests the promises and potentials that come with it, just like how other worlds and speculative futures are full of ‘promise’; this other world will be better, everyone will be happier there.

What are you working on next ?
I’m currently artist-in-residence at Bon Volks Studios in Margate. I’m working on a series of arcade machine sculptures exploring Adolfo Buoy Casares’ short sci-fi story: The Invention of Morel. My residency and the site of the story are by the sea so I am drawing parallels between the two.