Bureau of Meteroanxiety speaks to an estrangement from the natural world, the fear present in this detached space, and the desire to understand and reconnect with the natural forces around us. Taking a lateral approach to the conversation on climate change, Bureau of Meteoranxiety explores how our relationships with technology and nature interact and intersect. Olivia Tartaglia and Alex Tate create a space of guided participatory reflection, allowing an audience to pause in a contemplation of their feelings towards meteorological phenomena.
Bureau of Meteoranxiety brings its audience into a crisp clinical space, with native plants arranged on tables and in vases. The composed environment both creates and awareness of the artifice of constructing nature on a site where the natural landscape has been replaced by a multistorey building, and draws attention to the human need to bring nature into constructed spaces.
The piece plays into this tension with warmth, humour, and compassion. Framed as a wellness initiative to combat ‘meteoranxiety’, it encourages its participants to explore their own thoughts and feelings around weather, temperature, and the natural environment, offering understanding and sympathy for the fears and stresses the uncertainty of these things may cause. It offers technology mediated connection – with a chat bot, with the stories of others, with a forest – to help ease the difficulties of living in a time where meteorological phenomena are becoming increasingly intense and disturbing. While the engagement with these individual elements can at times be disappointingly superficial, it is an introspective, personal work, making an audience feel seen in the sharing of their feelings and fears with others.
However, with this soft, personable easing of anxiety comes the pathologisation of legitimate fears for the future of Earth and our physical communities. It comes with the ability to engage with other people’s experiences only through screens, text and across time. It comes with the replacement of real forests with virtual ones, real conversations with AI.
In the warm, well-lit space of Bureau of Meteoranxiety, while outside the purple sky gushed rain and the wind upturned umbrellas and stripped leaves off trees, I felt safe. I felt looked after by the attendant performers. I enjoyed listening to reflections left by others and then giving my own. I felt peaceful in the VR forest and I felt like it didn’t matter that it wasn’t a real forest – it didn’t matter that I was actually in a small white room in the middle of a city looking at pixelated leaves. Leaving the work, I felt calmer, more at ease about the weather of the day and the weather of the future. This is what the work promised at its outset and this is what it delivered. I don’t know how I feel about this. I know that part of me feels warmed by the idea that people will create systems and experiences to look after humans in the future, to help ease their anxieties, to encourage connection and a sense of community. But there is also a big part of this that terrifies me.