I created it as a metaphor of my Politics of Perception film project, which I plan to shoot in 2023 during a special event called Global Vision Geneva. This includes a high-level conference for planetary stakeholders to engage in critical thinking and collective sensemaking about the part each of us plays in the global meta-crisis.
The centrepiece of the image is Pieter Brueghel’s 1563 masterpiece, The Tower of Babel, which symbolises the old bronze age myth about divine retribution for hubris by the division of languages and the end of understanding. This evokes today's fragmentation of knowledge in specialised disciplines, the need for transdisciplinary thinking, and the imperative of global sensemaking for collaboration on the transition to a democratic, equitable, sustainable, and regenerative planetary future.
I situated the tower in the heart of Europe, in Geneva — the de facto hub of global governance where the planetary meridians of politics, trade, finance and civil society intersect. Geneva has an illustrious history of humanitarian engagement and direct democracy. It embodies the greatest concentration of global stakeholders on this planet (far more than Washington, NYC, London, or Beijing). Geneva hosts the European headquarters of the United Nations, and is the operational centre of the whole UN system. It is home to 37 UN organisations and intergovernmental agencies, 380 global NGOs, 177 national embassies, 130 transnational corporations, 63 banks, over 500 commodity traders and 1,000 hedge funds. The city hosts 4,000 annual visits by heads of state and ministers, 2,700 annual inter-governmental meetings, and a community of 42,000 people working at the global level.
If you know Geneva you may recognise some local features including the town’s waterfront and lake; the Salève mountain and the snow-capped Mont Blanc on the horizon; the old Neptune sailing bark; the Jet d’Eau fountain; the POÉSIE sign at the Bains des Pâquis; the tourists’ Flower Clock in the foreground; the Migros, Coop and Denner supermarket chains; the Asloca tenants’ legal association; SIG (which provides Geneva’s essential services including energy, water, optical fibres and waste-treatment networks); the Pharmacie Principale; the Manor store; the Favargé chocolate shop; the FNAC, Payot and Rameau d’Or bookshops; the TPG public transport company; the CFF train company; a police station; a post office; the Lotterie Romande; the Cotton Pub hangout for commodity traders; the Fondation Hans Wilsdorf which funds many local institutions; the Fondation Martin Bodmer whose museum houses a world-class collection of rare manuscripts; La Réserve hotel and spa; the Beau Rivage hotel; and the Clémence bistrot in the Old Town.
The tower is crowned by the United Nations symbol reflecting the community of nations, the presence of the UN’s European headquarters (and de facto operational hub of the entire UN system) in Geneva. Almost in the clouds, Daniel Berset’s Broken Chair sculpture (which adorns the Place des Nations) reminds us of the scourge of war.
I bedecked the crumbling Tower with the logos of emblematic public- and private-interest planetary stakeholders who all jostle for influence, sometimes collaborate but often work at cross-purposes in a conflict of worldviews that forms a complex dynamic system that no-one can fully understand.
These include UN agencies, NGOs, transnational corporations, think tanks, banks, financial institutions, hedge funds, commodity traders, shipping companies, fossil fuel and mining companies, airlines, automobile companies, luxury brands, entertainment companies, a reinsurance firm, intelligence agencies, news publishers and social media brands. Many among them are headquartered in Geneva.
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Starting on the lower left of the tower, we see the logos of some Geneva’s common retailers and public transportation companies, along with some graffiti, posters and homeless people.
Above them are the logos of many local and international banks, luxury brands, and leading media groups.
The upper tiers of the Tower feature some of the most important UN agencies and civil society organisations which collaborate to build the planetary civilisation of the future. Most of them are either based or present in Geneva.
On the lower right notice the world’s biggest mining companies, commodity traders, arms manufacturers, big Pharma and big biotech companies. Above them are the intelligence agencies of the USA, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Russia and China, together with an AI killer robot and a pathetic Gollum lurking in a cave, below a cluster of mass surveillance antennae.
Down in the harbour, a boatload of refugees prepares for a landing. Two sailing ships flying the flags of royal Spain bring plundered gold extracted from distant colonies. This is being unloaded off smaller rowboats and then carted by a train of horse-drawn carts up the ramps through the city walls for safekeeping in a bank vault. A Biblical golden calf statue presides over the quay, next to a million-dollar Ferrari sportscar, a consignment of tree logs cut from a rainforest, a cargo of radioactive waste barrels, and a heap of gold ingots. As if in revenge, Hergé’s Inca mummy Rascar Capac hurls his poisonous crystal ball at the cursed gold.
The lower right foreground features an idyllic scene on the hillside above the lake. Some deer and a fox graze in peaceful meadows. The Goddess Venus lies naked in the long grass. Entheogenic Amanita muscaria mushrooms grow at the foot of a nearby tree. Hidden in the bushes beside the lake, a Raphael madonna nurses her divine child. Some nude Dyonisian revellers dance a roundel as if they were still in Paradise.
But all is not well. Over on the far left foreground, Brueghel evokes the fallen state of social inequality in a quarry scene where stonemasons hewing huge blocks for the construction of the Tower must bend the knee before a King, who now appears as King of Geneva with a bearer carrying the city’s red and yellow flag. His regalia include a golden sceptre and an orb adorned with the flags of the 193 UN member states to symbolise the community of nations.
In the lower left corner, Geneva's most famous citizen Jean-Jaques Rousseau, the Enlightenment philosopher (portrayed by Maurice Quentin de la Tour in 1753) looks us in the eye. He said “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they”. I included this portrait of the author of The Social Contract and the Discourse on Inequality to evoke the universal aspirations for justice and democracy, which are deeply embodied in Geneva’s culture, and are now so gravely imperiled around the world.
Lest we forget that we are part of the biosphere in which we are embedded, I included some emblematic wildlife species to represent the biodiversity of Geneva’s local ecosystem. These include wild boar, deer, fox, weasel, squirrel, frog, salamander, swan, cormorant, magpie, owl, heron and damselfly. In the sky above, the approach of a looming tornado reminds us of the existential and catastrophic risks that now threaten the future of Homo sapiens.
Needless to say, this allegorical mise-en-scène is situated in the realm of myth, outside of time, as symbolised by the returning swallow (representing the cycle of seasons), the megalithic stone circle (lest we forget our millennia of prehistory), a surreal melting watch (from Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory), and the Tibetan Buddhist Kalachakra mandala (symbolising the individuation of the psyche in the Great Wheel of Time).
The artistic aim of this metaphor is to evoke the magnitude of the untapped potential for Humankind to implement the transition to a democratic, equitable, sustainable and regenerative planetary future before it is too late. Consider the tangle of public and private planetary players identified by their logos around the Tower. Many of them profess common goals like corporate responsibility, ethical investment, respect for human rights, environmental protection including «net zero» greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, etc. But despite these aspirations, most of these stakeholders continue to work at cross purposes. Some of them even play the role of global bad guys who block the transition with every means at their disposal. Paradoxially, this coincidence of opposites is a classic case of a double bind from which there seems to be no escape until it is observed outside the box. But this crisis therefore contains a vast untapped opportunity for creative system change. It is in this sense that Geneva embodies a unique potential to become the cradle of a global Renaissance.
This idea would be a naive utopian dream, were it not for the fact that the collective sensemaking required for opposing planetary stakeholders to collaborate and coordinate their strategies effectively depends essentially on critical thinking based on the innate human ability to distinguish knowledge from opinion. This small step for the individual would be a giant leap for Homo sapiens. It’s easy to do, its empowering, and it’s the most important thing that we all can do to make a difference.
I created this Global Vision Geneva image to promote and raise funds for my forthcoming Politics of Perception film, which is artistically designed to situate the responsible observer at the heart of a new global narrative. Perception is a political act!
The original 12m x 10m (39.4 ft x 32.8 ft) artwork is a huge very high resolution digital montage which can be scaled down to any size. The image is suitable for large outdoor projection, digital screen display, and printing on canvas or paper for wall hanging. All revenues from licensing and sales support the production of the Politics of Perception film. Please contact me for enquiries.
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The montage includes elements of other artworks including a 9,000 year-old petroglyph from the Cueva de las Manos cave in Argentina; Raphael’s Madonna Litta nursing her divine child; the Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau by Maurice Quentin de la Tour; John Smith, The Blind Harper of Conway, with Penillion Singers by Julius Caesar Ibbetson; The Dance of nude revellers by William-Adolphe Bouguereau; Alexandre Cabanel’s reclining Venus; Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory; Franquin’s BD illustration of Spirou & Fantasio with the marsupilami in their emblematic turbotraction car; Hergé's Inca mummy Rascar Capac from the Adventures of Tintin boook The Seven Crystal Balls; Jim Fitzpatrick’s poster of Che Guevara; a skull painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat; the Empty Chair sculpture by Daniel Berset; Banksi’s Flower Thrower; the sneaky Gollum from Peter Jackson’s film, The Lord of the Rings; Davide Dormino’s Anything to Say? whistleblowers sculpture of an empty chair beside Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange (who has been offered political asylum in Geneva); Lorenzo Quinn’s emblematic Support sculpture of giant arms emerging from the lake, symbolising the rising level of climate emergency, and his Gaia sculpture of a girl embracing the Earth. • • • • •
AccountancyDeloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PWC.
ArtsFondation Martin Bodmer, Fondation Wilsdorf, MAMCO, and the Port Francs et Entrepôts de Genève.
AirlinesAirbus, Boeing, EasyJet, Swiss.
Arms tradeBAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Swiss Arms.
AutomobileBMW, GM, Mercedes, Tesla, Volvo, VW.
Banks Credit Suisse, Edmond de Rothschild Group, European Investment Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, J. Safra Sarasin, Lombard Odier Group, National Bank of Switzerland, Pictet Asset Management, Raiffeisen, UBS, Union de Banques Privées Genevoises.
Civil society organisations (NGOs)350.org, Amnesty International, Black Lives Matter, Consumers International, CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory), Corporate Watch, Cultural Survival, MSF (Doctors Without Borders), ETC Group, Extinction Rebellion, Finance Watch, Food and Water Watch, Fridays For Future, FOE (Friends of the Earth International), Global Footprint Network, GM Watch, Greenpeace International, Human Rights Watch, ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), International Forum on Globalization, IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development), IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), La Via Campesina, Millennium Institute, Mind and Life Institute, Navdanya, Open Democracy, PAN (Pesticide Action Network), Project Drawdown, RAN (Rainforest Action Network), RSF (Reporters Without Borders), SDG Lab, Slow Food International, Solar Impulse Foundation, South Centre, WWF International.
Commodity tradersADM, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Trafigura.
Consumer brands Agent Provocateur, AirBnB, Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, Fedex, Hublot, La Perla, MacDonalds, Nestlé, Nike, Nintendo, Omega, Sony, Starbucks, Swatch, Victoria’s Secret, Uber, UPS.
EducationEPFL, Graduate Institute Geneva, Le Rosey
Entertainment Netflix, Nintendo, Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers.
FinanceNYSE, NASDAQ, JPXX, HKE (Hong Kong Stock Exchange), SSE (Shanghai Stock Exchange), London Stock Exchange, BlackRock, BlueCrest, Bridgewater, Unigestion, American Express, Visa Mastercard, PWC, Bitcoin, tax advisers Oberson Abels, and Swiss Sustainable Finance.
Intelligence agenciesBundesnachrichtendienst (Germany), Crypto AG (private), DGSE (France), GCHQ (UK), Ministry of State Security (China), Mossad (Israel), NSA (USA), Palantir (private), SVR (Russia)
Luxury brandsBentley, Burberry, Cartier, Céline, Chanel, Christie’s, Davidoff, Dior, Gucci, Hermès, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Maserati, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Rolex, Rolls Royce, Sotheby’s, Versace, YSL. MediaAl Jazeera, AFP, BBC News, Bilan, Bloomberg, Channel 4 News (UK), CNN, Democracy Now!, Der Spiegel, Elle, El País, EuroNews, Fox News, FT, The Guardian, The Intercept, IPS, Jeunesse Afrique, Le Monde, Le Temps, New York Times, O Globo, Resurgence / Ecologist magazine, Reuters, Russia Today, RTS Info, Tribune de Genève, Vogue, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Wikileaks, Wikipedia, Xinhua. Mining & fossil fuel companies Adani, Anglo American, Barrick, BHP, BP, China Shenhua Energy, CNBM, CoallIndia, EDF Energy, Exxon Mobil, Glencore, Gunvor, Halliburton, Holcim, Koch, Lukoil, Rio Tinto, Rosnef, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Sinopec, Texaco, Vitol.
OtherCERN DiEM25 EU OPEC WBCSDWorld Economic Forum
Pharma & biotechBayer, Dupont, Monsanto, Novartis, Philips, Pfizer, Roche, Syngenta.
ShippingCosco Shipping, Mersk.
Social mediaFacebook, Twitter, WhatsApp.
UN organisations & agencies + other inter-governmental bodiesILO (International Labour Office), IMF (International Monetary Fund), IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), WIPO (World Intellectual Property Rights Organisation), UN (United Nations), UNDP (UN Development Programme), UNEP (UN Environment Programme), UNESCO (UN Educational and Scientific Organisation), UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council), UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund), World Bank, WHO (World Health Organisation), WTO (World Trade Organisation).