Forecast pushes UBC to imagine the uncertain future of seasons

For the past year, while passing UBC’s Belkin Art Gallery — found just off the hustle and bustle of Main Mall, on the way to the rose garden — on a sunny day, UBC students may have noticed words in the light of its high windows. Stop for long enough to take them in, and you’ll find they form poems.

This is Forecast, an ongoing exhibit recently updated for Fall 2022.

Forecast is a series of poems printed on mirrored vinyl and set on the Belkin’s downward-angled upper windows. Each one uses the language of weather forecasting to describe the changing seasons: “There will be / a period when / acorns fall into / warm beds of grass. / Squirrels eagerly / await.”

“What I love is that there's a sense of surprise,” said artist-in-residence and Forecast creator Holly Schmidt in an interview with the Ubyssey. “[Forecast] actually reflects the weather conditions that are outside at that current moment and it will determine how it appears.”

Elsewhere in the exhibition, drooping ferns and leaf-filled gutters appear alongside other familiar images. If you’ve experienced the transition from spring to fall on campus before, you’ll find a poem that resonates with you.

Every word of this fall’s new set of poems is selected to evoke autumn in this time and place, including language borrowed directly from what may as well be last week's weather report: phrases like "we're calling for rain this evening."

“[That's] a very typical phrase within a weather forecast,” said Schmidt, who listened to many of them for research. “To lift some of these elements that are future-oriented but then attach them to these other things, that opens up all of these different readings that I find exciting.”

This season’s poems were created in collaboration with MFA students at UBC, who worked with Schmidt to write predictions based on their experience of fall’s arrival.

Schmidt says she emphasized the vagueness of forecasting to her student collaborators.

“I think about the Oracle of Delphi ... There's these pronouncements about the future, and they're so specific in one way and yet so general in another that everybody can see their way into them as a possible future.”

In recent years, vagueness and uncertainty have begun to define our expectations for fall. As heat waves and wildfires affect us more and more each year, there is a mounting sense of climate anxiety that accompanies our tendency to romanticize the arrival of the next season. When will the weather turn? How much damage will be done before it does?

“What I've noticed in doing this over a couple of years is that the previous season's anxieties creep into the next iteration. You know, things like forest fires. I mean, last summer we had a heat dome, we had forest fires, drought, it was incredibly extreme.”

Schmidt noted that a major part of our anxiety is how dramatically the images and ideas we attach to seasons have changed. “The whole [weather forecasting] thing is kind of ironic, because it is actually incredibly unpredictable.”

But the poems on the Belkin’s windows don’t suggest disaster or anxiety, even if they remind us of it; they reflect the seasons as we want to remember them, and as they still can be. Cherry blossoms still bloom in spring, and moss still spreads across bark and concrete in fall.

“I think that imagining the apocalypse isn't the most important thing that we could be doing at the moment,” said Schmidt.

The climate crisis is already here; our task is to process it, and to learn to imagine more climate-positive futures. Art and poetry can help.