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By Adriene Jenik, ASU School of Art professor
In November 2017 I began performing in public with my ECOtarot deck. The performance is a one on one, intimate exchange in which I use the deck to tell people’s “climate future” — their future as it relates to all the changes going on in our natural, human and built environment as a result of human-driven climate disruption. On any given Saturday or Sunday, you can find me at a popular promenade, farmers market or other public gathering place with my handmade deck, a small table, two chairs and my hand-painted sign.
When I first dreamed up this project, I thought, “I don’t want to do that — it’s going to be too depressing!” Indeed, grief, and specifically ecological grief, is one emotion people experience while receiving a climate future reading. But I have also encountered myriad other complex emotions provoked by the practice. Feelings of guilt, denial, anger, outrage, resignation, fear, being overwhelmed and despair are often mixed with resolve, inspiration, peace and even joy in the course of a single reading. I attribute this to the beauty of the cards (screenprinted on handmade paper and painted with natural pigments), their layered meanings (a mashup between traditional tarot symbols and meanings and up-to-the-moment climate science drawn from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and other published scientific findings), and the ways in which the “technology” of the tarot enables a space of openness and reception for those who sit before me.
To date I have performed almost 800 readings throughout the U.S. and abroad, including in my home town of Joshua Tree, California, and in Berkeley, New York City, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Chile, Finland, Canada and more. I’m fascinated by the range of people who sit before me. I’ve read for engineers of major solar array projects and air-conditioner repairmen, biker chicks and fast fashionistas, elders, middle-aged people, young adults and children, and people of all ethnic backgrounds. Much to my surprise, most have never had a tarot reading before — they are drawn by their thoughts about what is happening in our world, which they share with me, often in intimate detail.
Thanks to support from Arizona State University, including the School of Art in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the Herberger Institute Dean’s Creativity Council and the ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global institute of Sustainability, this is not just a kooky art project. The cards are printed on handmade paper made from agave and recycled cotton and linen, processed and pressed in ASU’s papermill.
Sustainability scientists have vetted the interpretations and embraced the project as one that touches people’s hearts while connecting to climate science. Also, a modest donation supported a pilot study of the effects of the readings on people who experienced them at EarthX, a large sustainability exposition held in Dallas, Texas, each year.
As I develop the project further, I look forward to learning new insights about the social and collective emotional dimensions of climate change. As I discuss with people what the cards indicate their role may be, I have gained hope. I see awareness across a broad swath of the population, and even more importantly, a desire to act and make changes necessary to sustain a live-able planet; and perhaps even use this crisis to remake our world with values of justice and equity at its core.
Ask me about your climate future was originally published in ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.