Witte de With Contemporary Art
Sediments — Future | October 2015

By Orit Gat

When Google announced the formation of a new umbrella company called Alphabet, a friend of mine said, “Alphabet Corporation. Amazing. Apparently we already live in a cyberpunk dystopia.” It’s funny because it’s true. We are so sensitive to futurist tendencies and terminologies because our culture has always been future-obsessed, from the pilgrimage to visit the Oracle of Delphi to futures trading, H.G. Wells to William Gibson. There’s the Internet archive and its “wayback machine,” a typeface called Avenir (designed 1988) and one entitled Futura (from 1927). The future is always present, which explains why the word back in Back to the Future is key: futurism is a phenomenon that we as a society tune in and out of periodically.

You can learn a lot about a culture—its past and present—from the way it imagines the future. We have been conditioned to see the future as the making of technology because the scientific race of the past few decades has made futurism ever more palpable. Remember Marty McFly’s self-lacing shoes? Nike is producing them. So many projections of technological advancements in the future assumed an object-specific tech field complete with hoverboards, moving walkways, and unexpected lab-made materials. But it is the advancement of data and information systems that has clearly been the most substantial. Compare Google as a web services company and the Google driverless car, which the company hopes to make available to the public in 2020. As amazing as a self-driving vehicle may be, we are not there yet. Information systems are a little less ripe for a wild sense of imagining the future, though in a way their physicality has given a face to systems of distribution, control, and privilege (consider the photos of the NSA facility in Utah that circulated following Edward Snowden’s leaks or the maps of submarine cables).

Technology is our zeitgeist and it dominates many contemporary images of the future. But so do architecture (think Gulf Futurism), environmental concerns (which provided the perfect background for many dystopian narratives), or military-political advancements and threats (when a disastrous future dystopia is not the result of global warming, it is often the aftermath of a world war). And art? Marinetti’s comment in the first Futurist Manifesto that “Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed” can now be replaced by a fascination with circulation. Speed exchanged by spread. What we can—and should—learn from art’s fascination with the future is an examination of the way it is represented. Such an analysis is often a study in bleakness, but also in the weird hopefulness and optimism that the human race cannot seem to shake about itself.

“You mean to say that that machine has travelled into the future?” said Filby.

“Into the future or the past—I don’t, for certain, know which.”

—H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

21 October 2015 was the day Marty McFly, Doc, and Jennifer Parker traveled to the future. Which begs the question: Are we already living in the future? And is it everything we had hoped it would be? This section of Sediments will examine some histories of the future but also ask whether or not there is a need for more futurist thinking, and if there is room for less tech-oriented imaginations of what is still to come.

Sediments — Future
Fallow Futures
Natalie Kane
Sediments — Future
Person of the Day and Tomorrow
Stefan Keidel, Julia Weist
Sediments — Future
Volcano, Waiting
Evan Calder Williams
Sediments — Future
Welcome to Drexciya
Patrick Langley
Sediments — 1995
Adam Kleinman, Orit Gat