Urgent Times


The Eagle Creek wildfire burns as golfers play at the Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington, U.S. Picture taken on September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kristi McCluer

Wildfires have become a fixture in our common imagination, the civilizing promise of the flame turned angry. Climate change is producing weather conditions that will lead to more and more dramatic situations like the one shown here - a fire started a few days earlier allegedly by a 15-year-old boy that burned for three months, devouring 50000 acres, and still smoldered nine months later. As we learn to live with these fires, the consequences of the man-made destruction of earth, the question is if we accept the “new normal” as Benjamin Bratton calls it – or if we as individuals and as societies can find ways to respond to the challenges by being more caring, more collaborative, more capable of connecting to humanity’s better traditions.

The coming decade will decide the course of the world. Systemic crises require new ways of thinking and acting. We need new ideas for our common future – and the courage to turn them into reality.

At THE NEW INSTITUTE we are optimistic that we can join together to reimagine the fundamental systems of society, politics, economy and humanity. We are at a fulcrum moment in time. Our lives and humanity are shaped by the many urgent crises we face. The climate crisis is a challenge and a symptom of our widespread failure to support life on earth with our behaviour and actions. We are locked in a cycle of overconsumption, with the exploitation and destruction of our natural resources. We face a future in a different world. The climate crisis is part of an interconnected series of crises. We need to fundamentally rethink and restructure our economies and our democracies if we want to preserve life on earth. A fulcrum can also be a turning point. We need to use our imagination to create the necessary impact. We need to build unlikely alliances. We need to act now and act boldly.


THE NEW INSTITUTE is an Institute of Advanced Study and a platform for change. Our mission is to imagine and develop visions for fundamentally reconfigured societies. We seek to close the gap between insight and action, by bringing together academics and practitioners from different disciplines, united in the quest to analyse what needs acting upon, and to act upon analysis. We combine academic rigour and innovative practice to inspire, promote and implement societal change. We provide a caring, committed and creative environment and serve as a facilitator for the hopeful.


Care – Courage – Creativity – Commitment

Blommers & Schumm, Glas falling, 1996

The Dutch artist duo Anuschka Blommers and Niels Schumm occupy a space between art and fashion, combining the conceptual and the commercial to form an oeuvre of sustained melancholia in touch with a lot of our contemporary sensibilities. This melancholia is not one that leads to grief or despair, a common misunderstanding about the nature of this modern condition. As the Hungarian essayist László F. Földényi points out, melancholia is indeed a deeply productive state of accepting the ambivalence of the porous lives we live. It is a very thin membrane, this life, and the border, for Földényi, is one between civilization and barbarism. Blommers & Schumm perhaps don’t take their work to such existential depths; but the wonder of the world of things is there, and in every still life, to paraphrase Roxy Music, there is a heart ache. “Is there a heaven”, sings Bryan Ferry, “I’d like to think so.”


We care for our planet to preserve the precious gift of life.

Blommers & Schumm, L’escar go, 2017

Courage, as Corine Pelluchon points out in her essay, is essentially the capacity to fear. There is no world without danger, or put differently, there would be no meaning without danger. The constant threat to our lives is what motivates the strive to survive. And this is what all life is about, in its most basic sense. It is about the passage of time, as shown here in the work of the Dutch artist duo Blommers & Schumm. We see a flame burning - a reminder of the passing nature of things and the eternal that is embedded in our understanding of it. The absurd then is the result of reality clashing with itself. Or in the perspective of Albert Camus’ Sisyphus, we have to accept that we suffer, long and lose; but we will never stop trying, or else we stop living. This is the hope in courage and the courage of hope.


We cherish the new, willing to take risks and overcome resistance.

Marton Perlaki, from the book “Elemér”, 2016

The book “Elemer” by Marton Perlaki, from which this image is taken, describes a world of chances and combinations, revolving around the manipulation of one central figure in front of the camera. We do not know who Elemér is – indeed, Perlaki suggests we do not need to know – and as we witness him moving and appearing throughout the shots he is sculpted, both gesturally and literally. His movements, in turn, elicit the witty, hallucinatory and strange from simple still lives, landscapes and portraits made in Perlaki’s native Hungary. Perlaki began “Elemer” after starting to collect cigarette cards – these disposable objects of the early 20th century that contain on one side, a housekeeping tip, and on the other, an image. He describes how ‘On first glance, the images look silly and non-sensical, but when flipped over these pictograms suddenly make sense’. This flipping of the card continues throughout “Elemer” – birds, bubbles, bricks, potatoes and Elemér himself are removed from their contexts. They crash and collide with one another. Within this form of bricolage – this flipping of the cards – Perlaki brings out the absurd from the factual, the delicate from the concrete.


We believe in the power of inspiration, imagination and knowledge to develop new ideas and design viable solutions.

Philip Montgomery for New York Times Magazine, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic was and is a challenge – first and foremost on a human level. Consider the deaths, the suffering, the fear, the consequences of falling ill. But there has also been a societal fallout: the social and economic downturn, and the unravelling of the very foundations holding together our societies. It was also a chance to do things right, to not back down, to see a larger cause, to commit yourself to what you are meant to do, at a given moment. In this sense, it has been a calling. And Philip Montgomery was there to testify. He was sent by the New York Times Magazine to cover the unfolding story; and he stayed for two months, working alongside nurses and doctors in the frenzy of the deadliest days, in hospitals all over New York focusing on the helpers, not the victims. This image was taken at Kings County Hospital Center, Brooklyn. It shows medical workers help Opal Sinclair Chung (left), the hospital’s chief nursing officer, and Steven Pulitzer (third from left), the hospital’s chief medical officer, secure their P.P.E. Montgomery shot his whole series in black and white, preserving the dignity in the face of urgency, finding epic calm in moments of human struggle. It is journalism at its best and more: a testament to our enduring commitment to our better selves.


We are led by trust, openness and respect in a collaborative spirit.


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