DO NOT OPEN | Xavier Cortada
Essay by Ryan Deering

          When addressing climate change and its impacts, or any type of environmental awareness, there is always the problem of words falling on deaf ears. Many people remain in denial about its existence and the impacts climate change presents. In DO NOT OPEN Xavier Cortada presents a solution to this issue; instead of speaking to a present in denial, he asks us to speak to the future, as an acknowledgment of their existence and our own current environmental reality. DO NOT OPEN requires its participants to write letters to the future addressing the current effects of climate change and then put the letters away, unread, until a future time.

          The performance and success of DO NOT OPEN is driven by its necessity for audience participation. Cortada asks its audience to look towards the future to issue an acknowledgment of current environmental issues. The recital of a poem under the same title as the project is issued before each individual performance, issuing this challenge to the audience. Through the act of writing letters that display environmental concern for the future, the audience acknowledges the connection that the present has with the future, in hopes of prompting awareness and solutions to environmental issues that affect us now. This produces intergenerational cooperation in tackling these issues, instead of simply leaving them for future generations to deal with on their own. This acceptance of the future is both a literal and conceptual undertaking, as the literal participation of the audience in DO NOT OPEN concurrently acts as a form of acceptance of our current environmental reality. Through this acceptance of our current state, there can be no more ignorance towards the issues that the environment is currently facing. DO NOT OPEN is not intended for the future, it is a call to action for the present.

          This type of audience participation and focus on environmental awareness can be seen in other works by Cortada, such as his Underwater HOA project, which engages Florida residents in an effort to promote discussions of climate change and actions that can be taken to address its impact through monthly meetings. Connections can also be drawn to Cortada’s Longitudinal Installation, a conceptual performance in which 24 statements from different individuals on the effects climate change has had on them were read over their respective longitude mark, represented by a shoe, on the North and South Pole. Through this performance, Cortada established a connection through space, conceptually uniting people around the world through their experience with climate change. This behaves similarly to how DO NOT OPEN establishes a connection through time, asking its participants to recognize their connection with future generations. The Longitudinal Installation, like the Underwater HOA project and DO NOT OPEN, requires an acknowledgment of climate change and its current effects from active participants. DO NOT OPEN, as well as many other of Cortada’s works, effectively acts as form of social practice, not just as an art performance. This is an essential aspect of Cortada’s work as well as a reason for its success, the necessity of community involvement prompts actual solutions to the problems that the work addresses.