Objects of the Misanthropocene: Unearthing futures (2022)
26 September 2022 - 10 February 2023
Octagon Gallery

This speculative exhibition inspired by fictional accounts of the Anthropocene aims to generate a sense of responsibility for caring for our planet now.

Objects of the Misanthropocene: Unearthing futures is the latest output of the ‘Objects of the Misanthropocene’ project, which was initiated in 2019 and continues to evolve through a series of co-produced events hosted by the Illegal Museum of Beyond.

The exhibition in the Octagon Gallery was centred on the premise of a future museum that has sent objects back in time. These ‘time-travelling’ objects were made by wide-ranging project participants across UCL and beyond. Many objects were produced specifically for this exhibition. These sat alongside objects from UCL Collections and loans from the Museum of Beyond.

Objects of the Misanthropocene: Unearthing futures, curated by Dean Sully and Jo Volley in collaboration with UCL Museums and Cultural Programmes, would like to thank all project participants, contributors, artists, makers and curators of UCL Museums for their creative input.

Find out more about the origins, inspiration, and contributors behind the making of this exhibition below.

Origins and process

Project background

Recent global environmental changes suggest we have entered a new human-dominated geological epoch. Having left the Holocene, we have now entered the Anthropocene. 

The Anthropocene describes the most recent period in Earth’s history in which human activity has generated irreversible planetary transformations at multiple levels (climate change, biodiversity, composition of the atmosphere, oceans and living organisms).

Currently, researchers across UCL are working together to respond to this geological phenomenon. Through the virtual school ‘UCL Anthropocene’, projects from across the social sciences, arts, humanities and natural sciences have been assem¬bled to explore what the Anthropocene means for our collective futures.

Among these projects is Objects of the Misanthropocene, conceived as a transdisciplinary experiment in speculative practice by Dean Sully during his time as Scientist in Residence at the Slade School of Fine Art between 2019 and 2021. The ‘Misanthropocene’ is characterised by the rapid and irreversible alterations to the climate and global depletion of resources caused by humans. The concept signals a cautionary tale about the catastrophic implications for all life on Earth of our present inaction.

At the core of the project are the inevitable misinterpretations involved in attempts to understand other worlds. The reality of the time travelling exhibits relies on the credibility of the proposed futures, and the believability of the exhibits to a contemporary audience. This maintains a suspension of disbelief about the objects in presenting the histories of futures already long passed but which have not yet existed. Speculative methods of embracing both fact and fiction are critical tools to shape more hopeful futures.

This project manifests as an online exhibition that opened in August 2020 and has been developed into a temporary exhibition at the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL (January – June 2022), UCL Institute of Archaeology (currently on display), and as an exhibition in the Octagon Gallery, Wilkins Building (September 2022 – February 2023).

What’s next?

The Illegal Museum of Beyond continues to host events that challenge the authority of narratives of past and future worlds. Using participatory speculation, the Museum develops heritage projects through online workshops on fabulation and fabrication. 

New venues for the Objects of the Misanthropocene exhibition will be announced soon.


"The point of creating futures is to get people to imagine what they want and don’t want to happen down the road — and maybe do something about it.” -    Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)

“...I'll use these verses to pry them loose from the rotting past, and maybe push them into saving themselves and building a future that makes sense." -    Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)

" We must expect our present beliefs will seem equally ridiculous in the future."
-    Tim Mulgan, Ethics for a Broken World, Imagining Philosophy after Catastrophe (2011)


Further reading

A range of literary fictional worlds have provided inspiration for the Objects of the Misanthropocene project. Here are some key texts:

Butler, Octavia, 1993. 'Parable of the Sower'. London: Headline Publishing.
Lewis, S.L., and Maslin, M.A. 2015. “Defining the Anthropocene.” Nature 519: 171–180.
Mulgan, Tim. 2011. 'Ethics for a broken world, imagining philosophy after catastrophe'. Durham: Acumen.
Macaulay, David. 1979. 'Motel of the Mysteries'. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company
Oreskes, Naomi, and Conway, Erik, M. 2014. 'The Collapse of Western Civilization. A View from the Future'. New York: Columbia University Press
Piercy, Marge. 1976 (2019). 'Woman on the Edge of Time'. London: Delray.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. 'The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins'. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. 'A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None'. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.


The process of conceiving, fabricating, translating, and presenting the exhibits was first developed through transdisciplinary online exchanges during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Participants from UCL, the Architectural Association School of Architecture and Goldsmith’s Department of Design contributed to the fabulation and fabrication of the exhibits. The approach reflects the methodologies of the environmental humanities and ecocriticism, in allowing audiences to experience a physical interpretation of future worlds.

This online workshop format was replicated for the fabrication of the new objects on display in the UCL Octagon Gallery exhibition, Objects of the Misanthropocene: Unearthing futures.
Below is a list of contributors to the Octagon Gallery exhibition.

Artists and makers

Alitza Nichole Cardona Collazo
Antonia Calcedo Holguín
Christine Chua
Dean Sully
Funa Ye
Hannah Uzor
Jimmy Loizeau
Johann Austad
Jo Volley
Kasia Depta-Garapich
Kexin Jiang
Kimberly Selvaggi
Korallia Stergides
Li Xiaozhou (Ariel) 
Lisa Randisi
Lucy Waitt
Madeleine Treneer
Merry Chow
Robert Mead
Rosie Phillips
Yu Hsuan Chang (Jocelyne)
Yuhan Xiao

The Museum of Beyond

Several of the objects in Objects of the Misanthropocene: Unearthing Futures are on loan from The Museum of Beyond.

The Museum of Beyond imagines a future beyond oil... it's a life without plastics, and yet plastic fragments of our Oil Age lives continue to wash up on the shores of our oceans. Curated by artist Fran Crowe, the museum sees the present through future eyes, imagining what future generations might make of these plastic objects collected from our shoreline - and what they might think about us. Fran hopes that by thinking about the way we live now; we can begin to imagine how we might create a better future for all life on our planet. You can explore the museum’s full collection at www.museumofbeyond.org.

More of Fran’s work can be found at www.flyintheface.com.

UCL Museums

Objects of the Misanthropocene: Unearthing Futures also includes contributions from UCL Collections: the Grant Museum of Zoology, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology, and UCL Science Collections. With thanks to Lisa Randisi, Anna Garnett, Hannah Cornish and Tannis Davidson.

Exhibition curators

Jo Volley and Dean Sully in collaboration with UCL Museums and Cultural Programmes team.

Exhibition graphic design

Rose Nordin

Illegal Museum of Beyond website design

Katherine Beckwith
Li Xiaozhou (Ariel)

With thanks to

Aparna Dhole
Camilo Parra Pedroza
Clare Melhuish
Clemency Gibbs
Li Yiwen
Lingyi Kong
Marceline Graham 
Michele Farmer
Nicole Zhou
Pun Sam Yee
Su Yin


The Objects of the Misanthropocene events programme ran until February 2023.


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