We Talk to Nick Pedersen About Ultima, His Fantastically Detailed Vision of the Future

Nick Pedersen has a vision of the future, and he’s revealing it to us through vast landscapes of a world after the “peak” of human civilization. His stunningly detailed works see humans in a not so distant time, surrounded by the ruins of society as we know it.

Here is a world filled with nuclear power plants long dormant; the rusting hulks of cruise ships that no longer sail; and even the remnant scribbles of street art no longer speaking. It’s not all bleak however – because despite the cold, nature has come back with abundance. Mysterious humans and their canine companions trek through snow covered landscapes lit by the glow of the northern lights. Here they inhabit a world in a more primitive fashion; warmed by open fires and the thrill of open space. At once his works seem to ask: what happens after modern society fails, and is it all a loss?

Dancing Spirits

Dancing Spirits (detail)

We’ve featured Pedersen’s previous installment of the Ultima series, enjoying the image by image discoveries in his lush, jungle covered ruins of our modern world. Now we’ve caught up with Pedersen to talk about the latest installment in his three part series:

Let’s start from the beginning. What was one of the first, underlying inspirations that drew you to create art centered around environmentalism?

“The main inspiration for much of my artwork, and the Ultima series in particular, comes from seeing the ruins of Angkor Wat when I was in Cambodia. Being surrounded by these ancient structures of a lost kingdom that have been completely reclaimed by the natural environment was a very powerful experience for me. It really got me thinking about the future, and about what would be left if our civilization vanished as well. There are many other historical examples of cultures reaching their peak, overusing their natural resources, collapsing and leaving behind mysterious ruins, such as the Anasazi, the Mayans, Easter Island, etc. I became very curious about this idea and reading books like “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman and other authors like Jared Diamond, James Lovelock, and Bill McKibben were very influential for me. I wanted to take this concept and visualize it in a modern sense. My motivation for this project is mainly my concern for the future, because I think we are facing many of the same problems as these ancient civilizations, just on a much larger scale.”

Guiding Signs

Guiding Signs (detail)

Guiding Signs (closer detail)

How do you see your new series, Ultima II, expanding on the themes begun in Ultima I?

“Each of the Ultima series is distinct in showing different parts of this hypothetical future world, but in the end they all tie together with each narrative revealing its deeper layers. The first part is about Discovery, finding these remnants of modern civilization and seeing them through new eyes. This second part is about Interpretation, mythologizing the old world, and creating sacred places and spiritual rituals for these unknown ancestors. In this I was greatly inspired by stories about vanished cultures like the ‘Anasazi’, which is a Navajo word for their unknown predecessors meaning ‘the ancient ones’. The Navajo discovered the ruins of their cities, building on them and making them their own, and created an entire mythology about their ancestors. With this body of work I wanted to envision this story in a more contemporary sense. I am currently working on the final third part of the project, which is about Adaptation, and these three series will be published in my next artist book, Ultima.”

Ancestral Markings

Ancestral Markings (detail)

Your pieces are exquisitely detailed and yet so well arranged. Does your work involve a lot of initial planning or do they evolve as they are created?

“My process does begin with a lot of planning, creating a narrative to work with and sketching out ideas so that I have a basic framework for the project. However, after I begin working on the images they do take on a life of their own and evolve based on the photographic imagery I am working with. Aesthetically, I want the image to look
seamless and balanced, and I like to fill the frame so that the viewer’s eye is continuously moving and discovering all the details. My goal is to create a piece that is visually enticing to draw the viewer in, but then to engage them with significant questions after they take a closer look.”

Voices in the Ice

Voices in the Ice (detail)

The Spirit Journey

The Spirit Journey (detail)

Your scenes are both beautiful for their utopian landscapes, and frightening for the dystopian future they reveal. Is this the future you see for the human race?

“Conceptually, my main motivation is to illustrate the increasing conflict between the natural world and the manmade world. This project was created primarily as a thought experiment, envisioning the hypothetical future I had imagined. Through my images my goal was to create striking juxtapositions between the ruins of modern civilization and a futuristic ecological utopia. I don’t necessarily think that this is what will happen, but I wanted to portray these opposing forces as a cautionary tale. Humans now have the unprecedented potential to affect the Earth on a global scale, and this project shows an extreme example of what we might be capable. My work explores the idea that the world as we know it might not be around forever, and creates a setting for what could possibly come next.”

Gathering of Elders

Gathering of Elders (detail)

Place of Power

Place of Power (detail)

If you could have viewers take away one thing from your work, what would it be?

“I am very fascinated by thinking about the effects of deep time on the civilization that modern humanity has built. For example, nuclear waste will be around for so long that they have had to invent signs that will be understood by future civilizations to warn of its dangers. I want viewer’s to think about modern humanity’s role during our time on this planet, and about the legacy that we will be handing down to the next generations. In my work, the narrative progression shows a rediscovery of these remnants of our culture that might be left behind. With this project my main goal is to reveal a glimpse into this hypothetical world, and give viewers a space in which to contemplate the future of our planet.”

Thank you Nick for your time, and for these insights into your work. Beautiful, inspiring, provoking and persuasive.

You can learn more about Nick Pedersen, see the remainder of Ultima II and the upcoming book on the series, at nick-pedersen.com.

Tales of the Ancestors

Tales of the Ancestors (detail)

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