Written by Daniele Pieroni
Artwork: Solarpunk by Daniele Pieroni
There have been many visions of the future. Different perspectives to look at our lives with different eyes; worlds built off the imagination for what’s to come. In these fictional futures we may have anything from flying cars, cybernetic limbs or a prolonged stasis in artificial realms, yet the focus remains on us.
These narratives attempt to remove us from the immediate attachment we form with a regular setting. They provide a false sense of distance that is later capitalized on by progressively drawing us in. Many of these aesthetic driven narratives envision a global society that’s shifted through technology. A popular subgenre in this area of storytelling is Cyberpunk.
In a Cyberpunk setting, society has fallen to a completely symbiotic codependency to digital realms. Regimes have fine tuned their surveillance tools, corporate powers have become immutable and the people are lost. As social life crumbles, a greater desire for anarchy and individualism flourishes. Self expression becomes somewhat sacred. Many alter themselves through cybernetic augmentation in rebellion to the dystopia; yet many others depend on augmentation due to practical and medical reasons.
Similarly to Cyberpunk, Steampunk’s vision of human behaviour is tied to alternate technology. Steampunk reimagines history. If oil was never popularized as a source of energy, what would change? A frozen development where humanity continued to use steam machinery, without ever transitioning to electrical technology.
But what if we weren’t subject to these struggles? What if we were able to advance technology and apply it in meaningful ways that aid us against impending doom? This positive perspective is key to Solarpunk.
Coined by the Republic of the Bees blog in May of 2008, the term was initially meant to counter the Steampunk aesthetic. It stood against remaining stagnant in our technological applications.The name was inspired from sail machinery developed for better fuel retention in the Beluga Skysail. Shortly after, the term was later championed by artistic works that pictured similar advancements in all walks of life. This was the first step in shaping the Solarpunk worldview.
Solarpunk is also antithetical to Cyberpunk, in the sense that it posits hope in the face of our future. It’s a lens that allows us to imagine a future built off of sustainability, serving not the few but the whole. This narrative lane places importance on a symbolic return to nature, not a literal one. It doesn’t expect humanity to return to a pre-industrial status, but instead incorporate technologies to resemble a natural setting.
Much of the Solarpunk aesthetic is built by visual arts. As a relatively young subgenre, idealistic concept art works as a parameter of what the future could look like. In a world where most of humanity is forced into living in metropoli, tackling overpopulation and climate disasters is paramount. Infrastructure, clean energy, technology and community driven initiatives are all part of this reimagining of a functioning system; through art we can see ourselves in that world.
Unlike the aforementioned subgenres, Solarpunk isn’t as steadily cemented just yet. Differences may arise in an artists’ interpretation of what’ll transpire; but the message remains clear. Apocalyptic scenarios don’t always have to be the end.
Thematically, the subgenre invites us to ponder on a time where important climate action wasn’t taken in a timely manner; unfortunately much like where we find ourselves now. Solarpunk reflects nicely off our cultural obsession for dystopias. It teaches us to never think it’s too late, or that striving for a less oppressive system is worthless. It widens our horizons to a hopeful welcoming of the future.
- Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2017, May 30). Cyberpunk. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/art/cyberpunk
- A. A.(Hosts). (2019-present). The Environmental Podcast [podcast] Apple Podcasts. https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/solarpunk/id1485403666?i=1000500893763
- From Steampunk to Solarpunk. (2008, May 27). The Republic of the Bees. https://republicofthebees.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/from-steampunk-to-solarpunk/