Taylor Miles Hopkins

By Heidi Biggs

Looking at Taylor Miles Hopkins’ work, one is struck by its rigor in craftsmanship, critique and storytelling, which are all seamlessly synthesized in the three speculative art books. With a background in both writing and print design, it makes sense that Miles Hopkins would be drawn to crafting such multi-disciplinary articulations. Through these books, Miles Hopkins is interested in helping viewers imagine the future of life in the Anthropocene, an era where human influence is the leading geologic force on earth. What I found striking about these projects, and their encapsulation in books, is their refusal of a techno-solutionism or apocalypse that so often accompanies futuristic visions. Using a book as a scaffold for a future scenario denies some vision of the future where all information is displayed on a glass screen or flat e-reader or is transplanted into our heads (visions found in Neuromancer or The Matrix). However, the careful material and contextual choices Miles Hopkins made to build these books still manages to strike vivid images of possible futures where one might find themselves holding onto such a book for, in some ways, survival.

Miles Hopkins’ books illustrate three provocative future scenarios based in environmental trends: biodiversity loss, excessive atmospheric carbon and the massive accumulations of human waste. Each art book is accompanied by additional text that introduces the future scenario through a short fiction and world overview — acting as a portal. Her first book responds to statistics about massive waste accumulations, as according to some accounts, human waste will grow to three times earth’s biomass by 2040[2]. Inspired by an existing trash island off of the shore of Japan, this book imagines a future where trash islands are becoming normalized as a way to utilize excess trash, and is set on a trash island just off the shore of New York City in 2105. The book itself is printed on rough, hand-made paper and plastic and constructed from found objects, evoking the trash conglomeration of a trash island as well as a future where artifacts are made from found materials. The book is not bound; instead, its loose pages are contained in a cardboard envelope with a large rubber band clasp. The pages are filled with nature poetry — which is evocative of a future where abundant wildlife and plant life are only remembered through poems or other ‘historical’ texts. The loose-leaf pages feel both precious and precarious, as if they would all blow away in a burst of wind if not guarded. This book nods to the current decline of wild places and how adjusting to trash-filled futures will require resiliency, ‘making do,’ vulnerability and loss all at once.

Her second book deals with the idea of excessive carbon accumulations in earth’s atmosphere. Miles Hopkins based it on research about how carbon accumulation will not affect the earth in universal ways but will instead transpire with geographic specificity. While some regions will experience drought, in areas like the Olympic Peninsula, excessive rain and carbon will cause more dense and rapid growth and thicker plant leaves[3]. Therefore, in her second book, she imagines a future where the Olympic rainforest acts as a ‘bubble’ of habitable land and oxygenated air where people might live more symbiotically with nature. To reflect this, she has designed a field guide to living in the Olympic Rainforests printed on glow in the dark paper as she imagined a need for low-light readability in the dark corners of a thick-leafed rainforest understory. This book is explicitly designed to imagine a different way of co-existing with nature, and it introduces the reader to shrubs and berries one might eat and designs for homes that are dug into hillsides.

Her third and final book relates to loss of biodiversity. Struck by the statistic that in the next 100 years all pollinators might become extinct[4], Miles Hopkins wondered what this would mean for food production. To reflect on this scenario, she crafted a recipe book that shows modifications of family recipes over time as foods become scarce and unavailable. The book also serves as a mini seed library, as the pages house seed packets of family heirloom seeds. Seed saving is part of contemporary food sovereignty movements which draw attention to local food security and climate change and this third book draws that future close and into a personal scale. Nothing is homier than a family cookbook with notes in the margins, and this book intimately asks what happens when extinction creeps into our culture, food, and heirlooms. Simultaneously, there is still an element of hope in the book, as it suggests people will care for and keep seeds as part of future food practices and family traditions.

Something to note is that Miles Hopkins ended up crafting quite archetypical book forms. Poetry books, cookbooks and field guides are traditional book design challenges — requiring both creative vision and dense informational organization — but are also ways in which people orient themselves within larger contexts of art, culture and ecologies. To imagine hands grasping these books and using them in climate changed futures transports one easily into these alternative realities almost like a magic totem. What seems extra poignant is that the scale of books and the non-technical and softer futures they evoke, offers a subtle rebuttal to apocalyptic or techno-intensive visions of the future. Her futures are ambiguous, precarious, and hold hope and grief simultaneously — instead of jumping to the end of the world, she seems to be delving into what Rob Nixon calls the slow violence[5] of climate change. The question is not how these events destroy us, but how we will manage to live with them, through them, and the challenges (political, cultural, environmental, and economic) that we will adapt to, share, and endure.

[1] Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2009. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry 35 (2): 197–222. https://doi.org/10.1086/596640.

[2] Elhacham, Emily, Liad Ben-Uri, Jonathan Grozovski, Yinon M. Bar-On, and Ron Milo. 2020. “Global Human-Made Mass Exceeds All Living Biomass.” Nature 588 (7838): 442–44. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-3010-5.

[3] Kovenock, Marlies, and Abigail L.S. Swann. 2018. “Leaf Trait Acclimation Amplifies Simulated Climate Warming in Response to Elevated Carbon Dioxide.” Global Biogeochemical Cycles 32 (10): 1437–48. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GB005883.

[4] Woodward, Aylin. 2019. “Bees and Insects Dying at Record Rates Are Sign of 6th Mass Extinction.” 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/insects-dying-off-sign-of-6th-mass-extinction-2019-2.

[5] Nixon, R. (2013). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor by Rob Nixon. MFS Modern Fiction Studies. Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.1353/mfs.2013.0055.

Return to Taylor Miles Hopkins’ profile.