Uncertainty Italicized (2013)
Performance including etched glass,
at 2201 1/2, Los Angeles.
A performance that considers the role language plays in progressing the public debate around climate
change. The performance explores the tension that exists between appropriately illustrating scientific
uncertainties and maintaining the urgency of political action.
Uncertainty Italicized takes as its starting point a “Guidance Note” produced by the IPCC (Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change) for the writing of their 5th assessment report. The note provides
guidelines for how authors should describe degrees of certainty or uncertainty. An element of
these notes is a “likelihood scale,” a means to make consistent the interpretations of uncertainty of
the hundreds of scientists contributing to the report (for example, the term “virtually certain” should
be reserved for events with a 99-100% probability). The performance more broadly underscores the
multiple senses in which uncertainty is a key problem that both exacerbates and is produced by the
Reproducing the textual elements of this “likelihood scale” using materials that introduce color and
opacity, Uncertainty Italicized considers how language becomes more or less flexible in different
cultural spheres, and how such flexibility is signaled and controlled.