Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 359
December 2007


by Hans Ulrich Obrist

Daniel Birnbaum, one of the sharpest of our present generation of art writers, had this to say of the future: ‘If the future existed in a concrete sense that could be discerned by a “better brain,” we wouldn’t be so seduced by the past. But the future,’ he observes via Nabakov, ‘has no such reality. It is but a “spectre of thought”’ (Birnbaum, 2005). Any attempt to forecast the future is both a provocation to rethink the past, and an opportunity to better come to terms with the present. In art, working through past gestures is, of course, hardly novel. In the 1960s, one observes Pop exemplars such as Lichtenstein painting their way through abstract expressionism; before that, Cubists confronting primitivism; and on and on. For brevity’s sake, perhaps we can simply concur with Duchamp that art is ultimately a game, a continually articulated struggle between the present, the past and the future. In this model, the only constant is change itself: this is a vision of history under perennial negotiation; historical truth as forever in situ. Visions of the future across almost all phenomena: (a) evolve over time; and (b) are many. The future, in other words, is both variant and plural.

Rewind 50 years. At mid-century, Jacques Fresco emerged as one of America’s pre-eminent engineers and is today a well-known futurologist. Trained in industrial design, he worked for both the government and private sector as a research designer and churned out an astounding roll-call of inventions: systems for noiseless aircraft; three-wheeled cars; and proposals for floating cities and prefab houses. His aesthetic has become perhaps one of the most clichéd visions of tomorrow, an Epcot Center meets The Jetsons picture of white orb-like structures, geodesic domes and pristinely choreographed urban planning. Fresco’s future may, of course, seem outmoded and his writings have been subject to critique for their fascistic undertones of order and similitude, but his contributions are etched in the popular psyche and his eco-friendly concepts continue to influence our present generation of progressive architects, city planners and designers. In the West, countless other visions of the future have been expounded before, since, and in conjunction with, Fresco. The Italian futurists, circa the 1910s, urged through.   [. . . ]