The New Colony Times
April 18, 2046
It’s a crisp morning in District 17, and artist Chad Carter jumps down out of his jeep to meet me at the loading dock. He’s a lone figure marking the empty horizon. He’s wearing a black cowboy hat, canvas jacket, and tattered plaid shirt. A hazy yellow sky hangs above him; scorched terrain reaches as far as the eye can see. The landscape looks impossible, as if someone had inverted the pigment on a screen. “Long trip?” Carter asks, a shit-eating grin spreading across his wizened face.
Long is an understatement—I’d been in transit 82 hours at that point. It was my first time back to Earth II since evacuating nearly ten years ago. There are very few reasons to come out here, but that’s exactly what Carter’s trying to change with his Pastoral Landscape project. Since the Fragmentation, research expeditions have made up a majority of visits to this deserted third of the planet. Carter’s project, however, aims to attract tourists rather than scientists, visitors interested in premium branded art experiences.
Carter is reconstructing a section of burnt-out land in the style of nineteenth-century American landscape paintings. The post-apocalyptic wasteland will be transformed by glowing greens, blues, and golds, reminiscent of the Hudson River School and the Romantic visions of artists such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. It’s an ambitious revival project for the 58-year-old.
“People want something real,” Carter tells me, as we drive to the construction site. He speaks quickly, the pitch of his voice rising as he maneuvers through the choppy mountain passes that glimmer in the sun like dried lava. “They’re nostalgic for something tangible. Enough of this VR shit. You know?” A few moments later, Carter reaches into the backseat of the car and hands me a gas mask. “You’ll need to put this on pretty soon.” He explains: in the decade since the earth’s fracture, air quality in District 17 hasn’t improved much in the heart of the valley. And that’s where we’re headed.
After forty-five minutes and a bouncy ride, we approach the construction site, buzzing with nearly a hundred workers in glistening silver Hazmat suits. Carter told me on the ride over that most of them are Mandarin-speaking skilled laborers from Earth I, migrant workers who live in camps and stay for months-long contracts. From a distance, the swarm of activity reminds me of ants tunneling, but as we get closer the abstract patterns of work reveal particular tasks. Several of the silver figures mount a two-storey-tall drilling rig while another group trail behind a bulldozer; yellow machinery packs the ground and the workers mask it with creamy white foam. Carter wastes no time in hopping out of our vehicle and leaping toward the excitement. He may be approaching 60, but he still has flashes of a frat boy’s exuberance.
Carter has to put out a few fires right away. His project manager informs us that in the time it took Carter to pick me up at the transit station, one of the artificial hills they’d been building has caved in, and one of the water tanks has become contaminated by benzene, toluene, and xylene—chemicals once used in mining oil and coal, and which are everywhere in everything in the valley. I wonder out loud whether the project is still on track to open in the summer of 2049 as advertised. “If those fascists say so, it must be true,” Carter says, referring to the Union administration, notorious for reconstruction-era propaganda and, prior to Earth’s split, continuing fossil fuel extraction in spite of disastrous warning signs. “They were right about fracking being safe, weren’t they?” Carter chuckles, gesturing at the charred landscape; after a beat, the wry smile drops from his face.
It has been a decade since the ground fractured, exposing the Western hemisphere to death and destruction on a scale previously unthinkable. Although a majority of occupants were evacuated to refugee camps during the months following the disaster, the death toll estimate remains as high as two million. The world may have fallen to pieces in 2036, but the artist’s own universe had radically shifted long before. By then, Carter’s career was already in ruins.
In his late 20s, Carter was one of the industry’s emerging stars. As the art world cycled through painting trends—abstract, figurative, landscape—his pastoral scenes found momentary favor. Like a slew of young artists in the 2010s and early 2020s he was the victim of selfish dealers and collectors, concerned only with the bottom line, aggressively price-gouging his work. His market value crashed and, for years after, Carter was consigned to relative obscurity, mostly showing in emergent markets in Mexico City and Kampala.
The following decades held additional challenges for the artist. When Carter was just a few months shy of his fortieth birthday, tragedy struck close to home. His girlfriend at the time, Isabella Needan, was one of thirteen people who died during the 2027 Guggenheim Bilbao massacre. Carter fell into a deep depression. “It was my own personal Armageddon,” he says about those years after Needan’s death. Though he’s slowly been putting his personal life and his practice back together, Carter has been out of the spotlight for two decades. Many were surprised when he beat out renowned artists such as Amalia Ulman and Jon Rafman for this commission. It’s a dream project with a nearly unlimited budget, funded by the Union’s cultural arm along with Shell and BMW.
While some have criticized pouring money blindly into a large-scale decorative luxury environment aimed at the uber-elite, the project’s advocates argue that art-adventure tourism will undoubtedly spike. The resultant funds might be reinvested into the reconstruction efforts necessary to mitigate the suffering of the solar system’s two million refugees. “Everyone just wants to go home,” says Carter. “That’s what I’m creating here: home as we remember it, even if it never existed.”
Commissioning Editor: Lynn Maliszewski