San José : DO NOT OPEN until 2117

San José : DO NOT OPEN until 2117

MACLA Instagram screen capture: Xavier Cortada, “DO NOT OPEN/San Jose,” 2017


In “DO NOT OPEN,” I ask residents of San José to write letters to the future. I do so because, today, many of their neighbors aren’t willing to listen. Today, too many are in denial about the human impact on global climate change. For many, denial comes easier than visualizing the future impact of rising seas on their community. Our words fall on deaf ears.

So, instead, we must write it all down, keep it in a safe place, and share it later, when others are willing to listen.

Although the letters are intended for people not yet born, the true audience is those breathing in the present.

Sure, the future will be curious.
The future will read our letters and want to know why we couldn’t show restraint when facing insurmountable evidence of our role in creating this global crisis.

The future will be incredulous.
In 2117, our great-grandchildren will read the words we wrote them and want to understand why we didn’t do more when so much—everything– was at stake.

The future will be furious.
A century from now, San José will read what we penned and want to know how, on our watch, ecosystems collapsed, biodiversity plummeted and so much of humanity suffered.

The future will benefit from insights, but “DO NOT OPEN” isn’t for them. It’s not about them. It’s about us.

I’m less interested in them being able to hear us. And more interested in us being able to see them. By writing to them, we name them. By writing to them, we can’t deny their existence. By writing to them, we create a connection to them.

Being able to connect with our progeny raises the stakes for us now in 2017. It lengthens the “care horizon” beyond our lifetime. It provides a path to hope, purpose. It encourages us to do all we can now to protect our planet, its future generations and the animals we coevolved with.

— Xavier Cortada

MACLA Instagram screen capture: Xavier Cortada, “DO NOT OPEN/San Jose,” 2017.


During the opening Temperature Check exhibition, MACLA invites attendees to participate in Cortada’s “DO NOT OPEN” performance.

Participant Instructions:

Walk up to the “DO NOT OPEN” wall in the MACLA Temperature Check
Close your eyes: Imagine San José 100 years in the future. Imagine the people living here then. Imagine how rising seas will impact the city and those who will live here then.
Think about what you would like them to know. Think about what someone living in San José in 2117 would want to hear from someone living here in 2017.
Unclip a piece of blank paper and envelope from the “DO NOT OPEN” wall and use a pencil to write it all down:

Tell them who you are.
Tell them why you are writing to them.
Tell them what you thought, what you saw.
Tell them what you felt, what you feared.
Tell them what you did, what you hoped for.
Tell them what you want them to do.

Fold your handwritten letter in two, kiss it, place it inside the envelope and seal it. Sign and date the back of your envelope and write the words:
“DO NOT OPEN until 2117”
Clip the sealed envelope to the “DO NOT OPEN” wall with the handwritten words facing out.
Stare at your envelope for 100 seconds. Visualize the changes rising seas will bring over each of the next 100 years. Think of how your words will be received in San José in 2117.
Walk away.


They gave it a name and told us to take cover– under a mattress, in the bathroom…

Hurricane Andrew: August 24, 1992

25 years ago a hurricane came barreling into my hometown at 168 miles an hour. It came out of nowhere… 48 hours earlier, the Category 5 monster hadn’t yet been classified as a hurricane.

They gave it a name.

And told us to take cover: Under a mattress. In the bathroom. Find the safest room in the house. A bunker, if you had one. Hide.
Storms are named in alphabetical order. Their way of bringing order to irreparable chaos… This was the first storm of the 1992 hurricane season; so its name started with an A.

A as in August. As in too early, too soon, too quick. As in Alpha.
Beginning, Commencement…

Catastrophe landed at dawn, lifted our rooftops and swirled into our living rooms.
Destroying buildings, even killing some.
Exiting in the Gulf a few hours later, property damage was the largest in American history.

Gripped us before, during, and, yes, after.
Hurricane Andrew.

It changed many things; everything, actually.
Just as much as it destroyed, it gave opportunity for renewal.

Many people took stock of their lives. Who they were. What they meant to one another.
Neighbors saw each other in a new light. Without electricity, water or security, they looked out for one another, helped each other.
Openness, new beginnings.

People began reimagining a new future.
Questioning past building practices and developing new, safer ones.
Rebuilding community.

Sea-level rise is the new threat on the horizon. It magnifies the threat extreme weather events will bring to our shores. In the future, the water may not recede. Neighborhoods may forever be lost. Insurance may not be able to cover the damage. Folks may not be able to ever return home.

Together, we must remember who we were on August 24th, 1992 –neighbors helping neighbors, as we manage to chaos to come.
Understanding that when one of us suffers, all of us suffer, we need to take stock of everything that is at stake and begin making the right decisions. Communities musy be engaged. Policy-makers must be proactive.

Vigilant, as we face an uncertain future, we must do all we can to better understand. We must be science literate. We must be able to understand, communicate and listen to the science.
We must summon the courage today to make the right choices for tomorrow’s reality. Choices that strengthen community and build equity as we face an uncertain future.

X, Y and Z aren’t letters used in naming Atlantic hurricanes. We usually don’t get past W… But Hurricane Xavier, Tropical Storm Yolanda, and Hurricane Zach may soon come into our lexicon.

You can expect more extreme weather events with warming seas. Future hurricanes will be more dangerous, more erratic and more frequent. Their storm surge deadlier, and their damage costlier as we insist on building closer and closer to the water’s edge.

Zooming towards Texas, Hurricane Harry is in the Gulf of Mexico today. It appears to the first Category 3 storm to hit the US mainland in a decade. It is a serious threat. It’s the eighth named storm. And its only August 24th.

August 24, 1992 brought Andrew as the first. That felt bizarre enough.

Back then.