M HKA – A Temporary Futures Institute – 28.04.2017-17.09.2017
Futurists: Agence Future, Stuart Candy, Center for Postnormal Policy & Futures Studies, Mei-Mei Song
Artists: Michel Auder, Miriam Bäckström, Kasper Bosmans, Simryn Gill, Guan Xiao, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Alexander Lee, Nina Roos, Darius Žiūra
‘A Temporary Futures Institute’ is organised by M HKA within the framework of ‘The Uses of Art’, a project by the European museum confederation L’Internationale.
No one knows what doesn’t yet exist. But identifying possible, probable and preferred futures can help us understand the present and the past. The plural is important; it reminds us not to try to predict one single future. Just like art, futures studies (also called foresight) wants to be seen as more than a discipline. It is practice and method, a roundabout tour of understanding rather than a straight path to knowledge.
‘A Temporary Futures Institute’ wants us to think critically about things to come rather than looking back at how previous periods imagined ‘the future’. How shall exhibitions stimulate our thinking? Must they become immersive environments to lure us away from our screens? How autonomous will exhibitions, and the art and artists they feature, be in relation to the rest of the world?
This exhibition, co-curated by Anders Kreuger and Dr Maya Van Leemput, combines visual displays by professional futurists with works (mostly new works premiered here) by contemporary artists, to see what these two contexts might have in common – and how they might question each other. The exhibition is composed around the ‘four futures’ that Professor Jim Dator of the University of Hawaii proposed in the late 1960s. He identified ‘continued growth’, ‘collapse’, ‘discipline’ and ‘transformation’ as generic images we may use to envision preferred futures.
The overall setting for ‘A Temporary Futures Institute’ is created by Alexander Lee (French Polynesia, 1974). The painting Te fanau’a ‘una’una nā te Tumu: The Sentinels, 2017, covers all but two walls in the exhibition and unites three Oceanian motifs: the sea itself; the leaf of the breadfruit tree, transplanted from Tahiti by European colonisers to feed the slaves on their Caribbean plantations; the mushroom cloud referencing nuclear arms tests. The Botanical Factory III, 2017, is a series of prints with breadfruit leaves on fabric, made together with visitors to the exhibition. Petroglyphs (Fenua Enata/Terre des Hommes), 2017, is an installation whose enlarged ink rubbings of petroglyphs from the Marquesas Islands pit pre-historical visual communication against images of futures – the working material available to futurists. Supported by Air Tahiti Nui and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy.
The futurists and artists in the segment of the exhibition dedicated to continued growth metaphorically interpret and critique the image of the future as ‘more of the same’, as an endlessly continuing process of enrichment and elaboration.
In the multi-screen video installation Conversation Piece, 2017, Agence Future (Belgium, consisting of Dr Maya Van Leemput, 1969, and Bram Goots, 1971) uses tools from the fields of futures studies, communications theory, visual ethnography and the arts to show how experts and ordinary people across the globe talk about their futures. The installation A Timeline in Four Layers, 2017, introduces the history of futures-oriented thought and practice from which these tools derive. Toynbee Convector, 2016, is a projection of ‘images of a future’, photographed in current reality to the detailed instructions of professional futurists.
Nina Roos (Finland, 1956) presents Regarding the Point of Restraint, 2017, a pavilion-like structure displaying a series of five paintings (of which one is a diptych) that seem to pick out ‘lines’ or ‘threads’ or ’strings’ of action or progress. Supported by Frame, Contemporary Art Finland; courtesy of Galerie Forsblom, Helsinki.
Gustoniai, 2001–2016–ongoing, is named after the village where Darius Žiūra (Lithuania, 1968) grew up. He revisits it every three years, each time making one-minute silent video portraits of all its inhabitants. Six films, covering a period of 15 years, have been recomposed into a video installation that becomes a ‘human clock’.
The second of the ‘four futures’ could be the most titillating. Who doesn’t secretly like to witness things messily falling apart – at a safe distance, in an art museum? Yet rather than offering graphic representations of doomsday scenarios, this segment of the exhibition looks at the ‘before and after’ of collapse.
The London-based Center for Postnormal Policy & Futures Studies is here represented by its director Professor Ziauddin Sardar (Pakistan/UK, 1951) and its deputy director John A. Sweeney (US, 1977). Their installation Postnormal Times, 2017, shows futures characterised by Contradiction, Complexity and Chaos, where all that was ‘normal’ has evaporated, while in the Polylogue game, 2017, collapse demonstrates its potential for new beginnings. Exhibition design by Aine Cassidy and her colleagues at Effusion in London.
Michel Auder (France/US, 1944) has been observing the splendour and squalor of metropolitan life since the 1960s. 1967, 1967/2017, a nine-channel video installation based on silent film footage, brings back the youthful optimism of 50 years ago, while three other videos give us under-the-skin glimpses of the American psyche that seem to prefigure both 9/11 and Trumpism: It’s Hard to Be Down When You’re Up, 1978/2005, shot at New York’s World Trade Center; Voyage to the Center of the Phone Lines, 1993, eavesdropping on mobile phone conversations; Mixing Up the Medicine, 2015, a free-form essay film. Courtesy of Martos Gallery NY and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York/Rome.
Simryn Gill (Malaysia/Australia, 1959) works in various media to articulate the idea and reality of decay and regeneration ‘beyond entropy’. Let Them Eat Potatoes, 2015, is an installation of multiple potato-prints. My Own Private Angkor, 2007–2009, documents the compositions of glass plates left behind by people stealing aluminium window frames from a deserted housing estate in Malaysia. For Windows, 2011/2017, Gill turned her camera at the sky outside these unglazed windows. Courtesy of Tracy Williams, Ltd., New York. and Utopia Art Sydney.
Just as collapse may be both the destruction of a culture or the seed for new growth, a future society based on discipline may be organised either from the top down, with ideology as an instrument of control, or from the bottom up, with ideology as common ground.
Mei-Mei Song (Taiwan, 1966) is Assistant Professor at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taipei. She presents a technology-assisted pricing system for consumer goods in a future disciplined society, where items for sale are valued in euros and Carbon Footprint Points and where work is a privilege to be paid for. Time Machine, 2017, is a role-play exercise instructing participants to ‘look back before looking forward’. Graphic design by Duanduan Hsieh and Pieter Boels.
The two artists in this segment of the exhibition have submitted themselves to highly disciplined working protocols. Miriam Bäckström (Sweden, 1967) shows four tapestries from the series New Enter Image, 2016–ongoing. These large images, based on multiple high-definition digital photographs of textiles or humble everyday objects and woven on computerised jacquard looms, articulate the impossibility of central perspective in digital reality. We are already inside the image; we have become the image. Supported by Iaspis, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee, Marabouparken konsthall in Sundbyberg, Sweden, and Kvadrat; courtesy of Galería Elba Benítez, Madrid.
In three new paintings, Kasper Bosmans (Belgium, 1990) foregrounds his preference for the pictogram as a mode of action. Legend: A Temporary Futures Institute, 2016, and The Four Futures Frieze, 2017, the latter executed on the vertical walls of a skylight, offer a tongue-in-cheek translation of Jim Dator’s ‘four futures’ into a pictorial language. Discipline, 2017, is a coral pink gradient ceiling painting doubling as a rendering of disciplined thought. Bosmans also designed the custom-made furniture for the exhibition in collaboration with Anders Kreuger. Courtesy of and support from Gladstone Gallery, New York/Brussels.
It is befitting that most people’s ‘favourite’ among the four futures should signify the perhaps most diverse part of this exhibition. Transformation is a dynamic process, with a hopeful ring to it, but its results are singularly unpredictable, especially if we consider the transformative interaction between men and machines that has been going on for at least 250 years.
Dr Stuart Candy (Australia/Canada, 1980), currently Visiting Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, defines himself as a professional futurist and experience designer. His installation NurturePod, 2017, showcases our increasingly absurd symbiosis with information systems by fitting out an infant with a headset.
Guan Xiao (China, 1983) also comments on this theme with her new video triptych DengueDengueDengue, 2017. As always, she pins down the abstract with the demonstratively, irreverently concrete. Footage from a feverish, stormy, robotic today is transformed into a ‘panchronic’ reality where the past, present and future attack us simultaneously. Courtesy of Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.
Trained in science and engineering and often presenting machinic objects made from cardboard and coloured paper, Jean Katambayi Mukendi (Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1974) here focuses on the diagrammatic. Inertia, 2017, is an installation with autonomous parts. The Tree (his central metaphor, a diagram channeling the transformative energy of the Fibonacci numbers) and The Chariot are made of brown cardboard, whereas The Class is a text referencing the need to communicate at ever-greater speed, executed in chalk on three blackboards. Supported by Agence Future, Antwerp; courtesy of trampoline, Antwerp.
‘A Temporary Futures Institute’ will also host temporary presentations. The first is a selection of watercolours by Izmail Efimov (Republic of Mari El, Russian Federation, 1946), recently acquired for the M HKA collection. Efimov, who first emerged as a socialist realist painter in the mid-1970s, is one of the most original ethno-futurist artists. This term was invented in Estonia in the 1980s and adopted in the Finno-Ugrian regions of European Russia in the 1990s to name a new cultural movement, ‘leaning on the past, working for the future’.
The second presentation will appear in mid-June. ‘Prelude: A Weaving Generation’ showcases objects – references to ongoing research or models for future projects – by a new generation of architects in the Low Countries. Produced by the Flemish Architecture Institute, it was originally part of an exhibition at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt am Main in 2016.
The public programme for ‘A Temporary Futures Institute’ is a series of workshops addressing specific themes to do with futures: Antwerp, knowledge, diversity, fashion, the welfare state. Each workshop will last three hours and is led by a professional futurist. See the M HKA website (www.muhka.be) for more information, and sign up for the workshops at [email protected]
The international futures conference ‘Design, Develop, Transform’ takes place at M HKA on 16–17 June (ddtconference.org). It is co-organised with the Centre of Expertise Applied Futures Research – Open Time at the Erasmushogeschool in Brussels.