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'Future Pasts' reimagines linear progression of time, questioning future’s certainty

Curated by Rebecca Edwards, the exhibition, part of the arebyte 2022/23 annual artistic programme, explores science-fiction, urban archaeological sites, and digital arts themes.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Jan 10, 2023

As an audience to a multitude of art exhibitions around the world, we have witnessed a renewed interest in the perception and response to time. The acute attention towards the temporal axis coincides with the urgencies shaping our age, such as—populist trends, geological upheavals, and technological advancements. The exhibition Futures Past, a part of the arebyte 2022/23 yearly artistic programme, which largely investigates themes of science-fiction, is entwined within themes of urban archaeological sites and digital arts. The programme intends to push the boundaries of what science fiction means in the present scenario and speculates on concepts such as quantum ideology, cyborgian prosthetics, performativity within identity, and digital terraforming. The exhibition includes works by—Morehshin Allahyari, Juan Covelli, Dominique Cro, Sandrine Deumier, Matteo Zamagni, Lawrence Lek, Kumbirai Makumbe, Entangled Others, Abi Sheng, Shinji Toya, Ryan Vautier, and Sarah Blome.

Lives of Your Smartphones, 2022. Installation view, Shinji Toya | Futures Past | STIRworld
Lives of Your Smartphones, 2022, Installation view, Shinji Toya Image: Max Colson

Curated by Rebecca Edwards, Futures Past makes direct connections between our present-day experiences and crisis, past events that led up to it, and futuristic speculations on how, when, who, and what. The exhibition originated from an interest in archaeological sites, in London and worldwide, and introspecting on how artefacts are validated and understood via these presentation modes, as decades pass and the 'new' becomes 'old'.

While walking us through the ideation process of the exhibition, Edwards tells STIR, “Within this historical framework, I was thinking a lot about how we collectively think about the future—what feels inevitable, what we might ideate on being next, but also what we hope for, and how all of this feels incongruent with the non-linear way artists research, make, and talk about their work. The exhibition is an attempt to experience this idea of a meandering temporality. Rather than 'before and after', or a chronological, Cartesian plane, the exhibition takes on a rhizomatic and sporadic approach. The works selected are those which contemplate the past, present, and future by exploring areas like preservation, cultural identity and histories, networked organisms, ecology, humans and non-humans as a way to navigate the interchangeability between tenses.” 

Critically Extant, 2022, AI Generative video work, Entangled Others | Futures Past | STIRworld
Critically Extant, 2022, AI Generative video work, Entangled Others Image: Max Colson

The exhibition puts forth a unique way of experiencing the works, via excavated entryways and fragmented and disbanded relics—a puzzle to piece together. The soundtrack to the exhibition is from Matteo Zamagni’s work and provides an audio-sensorial experience, bleeding through the space and becoming muzak, in the best sense. Edwards also considered different aspect ratios to show screen-based works in order to provoke a new way of looking at digital work. Some works are spread over multiple screens, large portrait projections, and cinemascope ratios—all of which go against the 16:9 manner that we are accustomed to. Interestingly, the wide array of colours play a large role in the exhibition, contrasting the widely perceived and antiquated view of the future.

Rebecca Edwards’ Portrait | Futures Past | STIRworld
Rebecca Edwards' portrait Image: Rebecca Edwards

"From CGI, AI and generative works to web-based, some offer an interactive experience. For example, Shinji Toya’s Lives of Your Smartphones, asks the visitor to upload a photo of their phone, which is then uploaded to the website with an approximate ‘death’ date. Another is, Sandrine Deumier’s Beyond Matter, allowing the user to explore a plant-like solar system exhibiting its complexities as a networked organism,” informs Edwards. 

In the current times, the push to speculate a future devoid of the past by the 'big tech fantasies of power, control, and subversion' strengthens possibilities of understanding the future. Yet, the aforementioned works underscore that what the future holds for us remains—in a state of oblivion. The press release mentions that the exhibition offers four modes of seeing the future: firstly, through the lens of past, present, future, and preservation; as the art gallery metamorphoses into a site of archiving and preservation, the second mode of seeing comes to the fore. Here the glitched screens and leaky disc spaces, even if identified as a product of the early 21st century, are artefacts that come from another time zone. The data embedded within them is a 'ghostly remnant' of the present, that denies any erasure of memory—opening a third mode of seeing. Lastly, as opposed to the western notion of linear time, the exhibition complicates temporal settings, when 'articulated within the terms excavation, future, and history.' 

Beyond Matter, 2022, Installation view, Sandrine Deumier|Futures Past| STIRworld
Beyond Matter, 2022, Installation view, Sandrine Deumier Image: Max Colson

As Futures Past transforms arebyte Gallery into a pseudo excavation site, it lays bare the broken hardware lying amongst local rubble, floodlighting, and the removal of the floor. Additionally, the way the artworks are installed below eye level, are in Edwards opinion—synonymous and obvious with dig sites. Since the exhibition plays on different conceptual and physical notions of what an archaeological dig site in the future might show about the current cultural practices, the exhibition offers an immersive experience, which is “subtle and gestural,” Edwards expounds. 

Thought Experiments, 2021, Installation view, Matteo Zamagni | Futures Past | STIRworld
Thought Experiments, 2021, Installation view, Matteo Zamagni Image: Max Colson

The exhibition is not didactic in the sense that there are multiple educational outcomes, but instead, it creates connections between different works, concepts, and design. “The exhibition should serve as a starting point to understanding current trends in digital and technology-based art, and how these might tell us something about the world we inhabit now and will leave behind,” concludes Edwards. 

Walkthrough of Futures Past, 2022, arebyte Gallery, London Video: Courtesy of arebyte Gallery, London

The exhibition Future Past is on view at arebyte Gallery in London until January 28, 2023.

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