A woman with her hands raised holding large hanging lights

Visiting the Future

These are three of the exhibitions Sabino has curated at the Museum of Tomorrow.

Ofisuka 2068—Imagining a Future of Work invited guests into
a Japanese “office-home” 50 years in the future, in which different types of workers would “domesticate disconnected dreams,” “mine raw dream material” and use the material to shape ideas, feelings and objects.

Interface/Interlace “was the culmination of the lab’s five-month artist residency program on wearable technology.” Among the works displayed were necklaces with safety sensors, cyclist jackets with LED turn signals and “a modular shoe that could turn into many different shoes.”

Strolling Through a Hacked Rio showed how real-world “hackers” have, for instance, planted communal gardens, sprayed artistic graffiti and painted bike lanes on the street. It aimed to inspire visitors to change their own urban environments as well.

Marcela Sabino ’02

Majors: Anthropology, political science

“Someone once told me that your career should always answer a question.”

“At the lab, there is no such thing as a typical day,” says Marcela Sabino ’02. “One day we might be filming an indigenous woman on a green screen for a VR experience, or we may be growing clothes from kombucha. We may be building a 3-D printer for food, debating the need for artificial uteruses on Mars, checking on the growth of cyanobacteria...”

Sabino is describing her work as director of the Laboratory of Activities of Tomorrow at the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã) in Rio de Janeiro. In keeping with the museum’s mission of exploring ways that humanity might handle the ecological and political chal- lenges of the coming decades, “the purpose of the lab is to prototype a more social and sustainable future using high and low technology in a transdisciplinary way,” she says.

Take the museum’s theme in 2019: the future of food—specifically the question “How are we going to feed, in the 2050s, a population of 10 billion people with nu- tritional quality and sustainability?” After a month-long artistic resi- dency at the laboratory, designer Chloé Rutzerveld answered that question with an exhibition that imagined using microalgae and modified fungi to produce micro- nutrients that would be powdered and served in capsule form. “By 2030, farmers will grow protein and harvest carbohydrates instead of growing livestock and harvesting potatoes,” Rutzerveld wrote.

The lab also brought on, as artists-in-residence, industrial designer Elvert Durán Vivanco and chemi- cal engineer Thiago Palhares, each of whom contributed to an exhibit on food systems. Durán Vivanco developed an automated aquaponics system in which bacteria turned fish droppings into fertilizer for plants, which in turn filtered the water for the fish. He says he thought of the installation as “an instance of provocation” for reflecting upon the importance of water in life cycles. Palhares created a 3-D printer for food pastes made from insects and plants. “We were able to print really tasty, healthy, beautiful and unforgettable dishes,” he says.

The lab is just one part of the Museum of Tomorrow, a 135,000-square-foot structure designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and situated on the Maua Pier, which juts out onto Guanabara Bay. A project of the City of Rio de Janeiro, the applied science museum has attracted more than 3 million visitors since it opened in December 2015.

“Someone once told me that your career should always answer a ques- tion,” Sabino says. “I decided that my question was: What is the best way of promoting human development?” The search for the answer took her from Amherst, to the Social Science Research Council in New York, to Harvard’s Kennedy School for a master’s in public policy, to positions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to initiatives with the Inter-American Development Bank. Now she’s working toward a second master’s, in the design of entertainment, through the European Institute of Design.

Eight years ago, a World Bank project called the Future of Digital Development brought her to Rio, and settling there was a homecoming of sorts: Sabino was born in Brazil and moved to Miami with her family at age 3. She praises Rio as the “outrageously beautiful” home of samba, bossa nova, Carnival and the world’s largest urban tropical forest.

“However, Rio is a city within a country that is deeply plagued with inequality,” she adds. The $59 million Museum of Tomorrow itself ex- emplifies the recent influx of wealth into what had been, according to an article in The Guardian, “one of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas.”

Sabino has come to see human development as “inextricably linked with digital development.” In her work at the museum, she thinks a lot about the importance of democratizing access to technology.

“If a range of different people have access to tools and basic education,” she believes, “the billions of people who will be coming online in the next decades may be able to shape the creation of new digital languages, new businesses, artistic expressions, sustainable economies and organizational models in order to create a more inclusive and just world.” That is: a better tomorrow.

Duke is Amherst magazine’s assistant editor.

Photo by Luciana Sposito