JUDY NATAL at Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA (401 Richmond West, #124), to September 20. 416-591-0357. Rating: NNNN
Artistic visions of the future are often informed by contemporary fears and hopes. Instead of spinning tales of mechanical wonders, totalitarian dystopias or rebellious robots, many of today's futurists focus on survival in a degraded ecosystem.
In Chicago photographer Judy Natal's Future Perfect project, both tentatively hopeful and disturbing images of the present become harbingers of decades to come.
On her website, Natal sorts the untitled images by years - 2040, 2030, 2020 and 2010 - but Circuit Gallery curator Claire Sykes has chosen to present selections from the project without labels. We're left to sense a progression toward an increasingly inhospitable planet.
They're shot at three locations: Iceland, Biosphere 2 in Arizona and a Las Vegas desert preserve.
Biosphere offers slightly more hopeful scenes of greenhouses and lab work, but they still give the impression that massive human intervention will be necessary to maintain life. An image of a cactus held up by wooden supports is particularly poignant.
Natal has an eye for unusual framing of the landscape and quirky architectural details of futuristic structures. A few people, some clad in protective gear, pose with faces obscured by geothermal mists that evoke polluted air or fading snapshots.
She's also interested in artistic interventions on the land, suggesting the role of art as a repository of memories of vanished nature. An Icelandic artist has tacked a photo of a baby to the blank wall of a power plant. A wall in an arid, weedy field bears a folk-art-style mural of ducks flying over a pond, perhaps a memento of vanished wetlands.
In the centre of Natal's thought-provoking show, a bookcase holds a few natural and sculptural artifacts and texts by Buckminster Fuller, E.O. Wilson and other futurists and naturalists, and a table and chairs to peruse them.
We have a lot to reading to do if want to avert the future Natal foretells.