Associated with Natural History Museum, University of Oslo

The Future Is Now – Young People’s Views on Climate and Food in a Time of Climate Change

We wanted to explore and present what young people see, think and understand concerning climate, climate change and food related to these topics. Students from six high school classes were asked to take pictures accompanied by brief texts. Selected students were interviewed for a video that´s displayed in the exhibition. The material is curated by us and a designer. Neither images nor words are changed, but we have provided a framework for their display and added elements to provoke curiosity, reflection and discussion.

The student material is presented in two different ways. One wall focuses on climate and climate change. It is a collage of photos and texts on small doors. When you open the doors the corresponding text or picture is revealed. This to encourage the audience to actively engage with the material, and think for themselves before looking behind the doors. Another wall is covered with cabinets, focussing on how our eating habits affect climate, and how climate change affects our food supply. The material is categorised, and each cabinet represents a particular theme.  Objects related to the topic are added to stimulate more senses. For example, we placed cups filled with coffee beans, cacao fruit and chocolate, a globe and a plane, in a cupboard with effects and impact of import of food on climate change, as a theme.

Visitor to The Future is Now exhibition at the University of Oslo

Photo credit: Mai Linn Muskaug

Our presentation of the material doesn’t necessarily provoke reflection. Thus elements where the audience is forced to think for themselves are added.  In one of the cabinets they are asked what they do to reduce their food waste and respond by giving votes to presented possibilities. The visitors are also offered three activities where they can express themselves in words or drawings. One wall has a headline with an unfinished sentence, “If I could decide I would have…”. The audience is invited to complete the sentence on stickers. Another opportunity is to write a more ephemeral message directly on a washable picture. The third alternative is to express thoughts on sheets that can be slipped into a transparent column.

We conducted 13 interviews and 8 observations during the opening weekend. Since then, we have supervised the exhibition on a daily basis. Among the interviewees who no longer can refer to themselves as adolescents, it was clear that they found it interesting to see the thoughts of the youth and to raise the issues from their perspective. Their focus on action, and the way they deliver the message "in your face" were remarked upon. The fact that some of the texts were not necessarily true was mentioned as a trigger for reflection and inspiration to seek knowledge.

It’s new to us to invite the audience to actively contribute to an exhibition. It has been surprising and interesting to see how well the audience uses their opportunities to be heard and how the exhibition is alive.  From the interviews and observations it is evident that both express own thoughts, and read what´s on others' mind on the sticker wall is popular. The wall was filled in just two weeks and had to be replaced. The plan is now to replace the wall regularly, and exhibit them all together next year. Thus this exhibition actually works as a co-creation with our audience to make a new exhibition.

The most valuable lesson we take along is that it is important to give the audience the opportunity to contribute, and not just to be a recipient of a message. Material from the students and the input from the audience will form the basis for future science cafes.