Mass Media’s vision of the future has traditionally been written by a handful of western, hetero male writers, thinkers, designers, and venture capitalists. The outcome is that the future is envisioned as a place where everyone wants flying cars and one where justice for disenfranchised, marginalized, and colonized peoples is not a priority.
The artists in this exhibition look to more heterogeneous, more just, more sustainable futures in a myriad of ways. Some are dealing directly with these futures but most are dealing with the present in ways that navigate us towards these futures. Working towards these futures, we must come to an understanding and a balance that moving towards one just future, for example ecologically, can lead to inequalities in other ways, such as socially or economically. The artists in this pavilion come from a range of backgrounds and represent a spectrum of established and emerging artists. To have futures that are more just for more people, we must have a swath of ideas and this exhibition seeks to show some of those ideas envisioned by artists.
The mundane/everyday/quotidian future is at the center of this exhibition because it is the one that most people will experience. Tina Campt talks about the importance of paying attention to the everyday: “Attending to the infra-ordinary and the quotidian reveals why the trivial, the mundane, or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed…” Avoiding outright utopian or dystopian visions, which are limited and flat in scope, was an important part of the process of developing this exhibition. Rather, the focus was on the question of how people will be spread across the spectrum of possible futures? No one vision for the future can encompass the rich tapestry of humanity as well as incorporate more-than-human relatives in a way that does any justice to the vast majority of beings, so we are looking at a panoply of ideas.
Sustainability is at the core of several artists’ work. Leeroy New’s project, Aliens of Manila, looks like a vision of the future where recycling/upcycling is taken to almost religious levels. Body armor, costumes, entire ecosystems are built from consumer waste to create new life, new traditions, new styles. He takes the idea of a trash cult into new realms that don’t feel dystopian (nor utopian), yet hopeful, creative, vibrant. Sustainably dealing with the entire lifecycle of a product is a step towards creating a more ecologically just future for many people and if you are going to have to deal with waste, handling it with aplomb is an engaging path to take.
Creating less waste from beginning to end is a goal of the envisioned work, Plant Provided Power, by Kevin Matthew Kaunuali’i Kiesel. He foresees taro plants used directly as batteries. Harnessing the sun’s power to drive trucks or taxis and bring light to the night as streetlights. Taro is a core part of Native Hawaiian culture as well as a staple food. Living in a reciprocal relationship to plants instead of extractive and destructive, would help sustain humans and more-than-humans—non-human beings such as animals, fungi, and ecosystems—towards thriving futures.
Multiple artists in this exhibition deal with space and its role in flourishing futures. In an essay on mapping Indigenous presence on the land, Mishuana Goeman states “Conceiving of space based on living traditions will provide the political basis for interconnectedness.” In her work, Navigating the Grand Trunk Road – Kabul to Torkham, Saba Qizilbash creates spaces that are real and imaginary. She moves from Kabul to a border crossing with Pakistan, Torkham along the Grand Trunk Road. She doesn’t move in a linear fashion but hops and skips as if teleporting, imagining borders disappearing the instant that teleportation becomes available.
Marianna Dixon Williams takes a wholly different vector in mapping spaces at once familiar and uncertain in their project Radiogram Maps. Williams creates handmade electronic instruments that measure the energy and radio signals from everyday objects and spaces as large as city grids. They say that this mapping can help “re-frame my relationship to this place and to find a new way to question and engage with the cultural tensions and uncertainty that I feel as a queer, non-binary person living in this space.”
Dealing with space in a much more personal way in Being, nothing more…, Jason J. Ferguson creates a sculptural relic that is the exact volume he occupied when the piece was created. Ferguson has created an object which feels like his burden to physically carry around. We can imagine a future where the physical volume is more important, such as one on a space station. For now, however, space on Earth is limited, but not just in volumetric measures. Overpopulation has been pushed as a primary driver of climate change, but often with racist and classist overtones. One person in the US might occupy the same physical volume as another in the Global South, but the resources consumed and waste generated by the US based person far outstrip those by a denizen of the Global South.
As a Singaporean, Finbarr Fallon understands limited space in a way that few in our current timeframe do and are required to. While the island nation has expanded its footprint by dredging and creating new land, Fallon takes it in a new direction: straight down. In Subterranean Singapore 2065, he envisions a new city set deep underground and thinks of the mundane and extraordinary that it would take to make this happen from spaces to hang laundry to inflatable breathing living spaces.
Hopes and dreams are fundamental features of looking towards the future. Saks Afridi creates a transcendental vessel, dubbed the SpaceMosque arriving from the future but already in the past and forgotten. It answers prayers daily, fulfilling some dreams and frustrating others. Afridi has created a whole body of work around this phenomenon that oscillates between the real and imaginary.
Racelar Ho creates an interactive imaginary world that encompasses the non-human in new ways. In the interactive work No Money, No Talk, No Body I Talk, we enter the world of an AI Philosopher. With walls made of text, layered sound and image, machine vision moving around the space, it is a disorienting yet engaging experience that gives you a glimpse at cognition that is more-than-human. She gives interested parties access to the AI Philosopher to collaboratively create worlds of their own through Google Colab.
Technology has the potential to transform our lives and our landscapes, but is often used to prop up social and economic hierarchies instead of enriching more lives. Pak Khawateen Painting Club takes a look at the technology of infrastructure that is rooted in the past but spins it into a retrofuturist vibe with lights and dials mixed with video screens and all overlaid with a subversive take on the supposed benefits of hydropower that often pass over those living next to these 20th century marvels (quite literally sometimes, in the form of electric lines). The fieldnotes and installation shots presented here give a glimpse into the first version of this collective project dealing with the past and aiming for a more just future.
Finally, flying over us all, futilely yet hopefully, sprinkling us all with glitter are the planes of McLean Fahnestock’s Fistful of Diamonds. She is interested in the gaps in our understanding of place, the process of discovery especially when it comes to the changes brought about by human driven climate change. How can art bring new understandings, new ideas, new relationships to us in ways that create better, more just, more sustainable futures for more people?
This exhibition merely scratches the surface of how artists, designers, creatives, and ordinary people can envision futures that are more fair for more people (and more-than-human beings). Looking for the mundane can’t help but find the extraordinary and the extraordinary can’t help but eventually become mundane. Maybe the mundane and the extraordinary aren’t binary opposites but steps along a winding, looping path towards better futures and more just presents.
Flounder Lee is an artist/curator and postgraduate researcher in Art & Media at the University of Plymouth, UK pursuing his PhD in art and curatorial practice. He was raised on the ancestral lands of the Yuchi, Shawnee, Muscogee/Creek, and Cherokee peoples.
He received his BFA from the University of Florida and his MFA from California State University Long Beach—both in studio art and photography. His group exhibitions include: From Within in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Ishara: Signs, Symbols, and Shared Languages at Concrete in Dubai; and Tashkent Biennale VIII in Uzbekistan. He’s had solo shows in Serbia, the US, China, and Cambodia.
He has curated many shows and he founded and co-ran SpaceCamp MicroGallery. He has written several essays including for Tribe: Photography and New Media in the Arab World. He recently co-directed the More Just, More Sustainable Futures 1.0: Artistic Research PhD Symposium.
Several overlapping themes run throughout his work: decolonialism, mapping, science, the future, and environmental change. He is media agnostic, using various media such as photo, video, performance, sound, and installation to create work that touches on these topics. His PhD project deals with anti-oppressive, mundane, decolonial futures through both an artistic and curatorial perspective.