Many artists and musician have minds attuned to innovation and are generally engaged in finding original ways to distil and express the world around them, often with a childlike sense of wonder most adults have long forgotten. We asked a few of them to think about cultural artefacts from their youths, specifically those which had posited wondrous possible futures, and to gauge how their intimations shape up against today’s technologically evolved, but perhaps less enchanted, reality.
Mark Titchner has had solo shows at major institutions including Hellenic American Union Athens (2009) and the Baltic, Gateshead (2008). In 2006 was nominated for the Turner Prize and his work is currently included in the exhibition The Dark Monarch at Tate St. Ives.
Due to the financial constraints of the times and because we the audience really didn’t know any better, it was common practice for the British TV sic-fi of the ’70s to utilise real world locations for their cosmic dramas. Therefore it became perfectly normal to see the vast of Black’s 7 or Doctor Who running around industrial estates or power stations that doubled for [fictional planets] Cygnus 9 or Skaro. In fact, when Daleks invaded earth [in 1965 feature film, Dr Who and the Daleks] they were based in a quarry just south of Watford. For a child this gave these shows a sense of gritty authenticity; the future was dirty and real and probably happening in an abandoned factory across town. When it came to the higher budget US shows of the day, however, things got a little more confusing. My personal favourite was Battlestar Galatica . It had the best spaceships, biggest hair and the shiniest bad guys. It also had a rather thinly disguised, politically charged plot that I didn’t really appreciate at the time.
Every now and then in the show we would catch a glimpse of the ‘Home World’ prior to its destruction by those shiny [and all round cybernetic baddies] the Cylons. the set’s buildings, foyers and auditoriums seemed genuine but unlike the drudgery of our domestic shows these ‘real’ locations seemed to be from the future. it was the kind of future one glimpsed in the Sydney Opera House of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral- one given its fullest expression in Disney’s Epcot Centre. This was a future of light, convenience and speed rather than power cut, strikes and unemployment and it really seemed to be out there.
As a teenager I got to live the dream, as, after winning a competition in Britain’s first colour newspaper Today, my family and I enjoyed a week at the Epcot centre in Florida. The highlights included watching Michael Jackson and Frances Ford Coppola’s 3D musical Captain Eo and eating an evening meal while a monorail sped quietly over our heads. I saw the future and it was good.
(London based artist Owen excited in Damien Hirst’s In the Darkest Hour, There May be Light exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. His recent solo show The Gold Book was at 20 Hoxton Square Projects)
When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s. I was fascinated with the cultural portrays of how the world would be in the 2000s. I took it as gospel. It was they hype of the late half of the century; films, music, books etc would create an idea of this future, constructed in their own era- using the fashion of that time (like shoulder pads and Duran Duran haircuts) but with knobs on. An example is Back to the Future 2– a film my friends and I were constantly taking about in school because of the Hover Boards. It seemed exotic and exciting. On re-watching that film now you see the Nike Airs, which automatically gripped MJ Fox’s little feet, and the Camden-esque-styled cyber-goth outfits, which in an ’80s idea of the near future, seemed to be the shocking standard dress code. I think this has happened throughout cultural history, the idea of visually portraying the future before the present is ready. Bond films have also always gripped me in that respect, because even watching the ’60s Connery films as a child in the ’80s, it still seemed bizarre when Q gave Bond a watch to unlock his car door with. The idea seemed impossibly romantic, but the style of the watch was still very ’60s.
This is what I love about the constant human exploration into what the future may be through film or design- our ideas can sometimes be fairly accurate, but the materials to execute that dream are limited and ‘of the present’. Sometimes future’s style can seem terribly dated.
aka Dusseldorf’s innovative post-classical composer and FatCat recording artist, Volker Bertelsmann
When I was a boy I had a record of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and I remember that I always played along to this record on my first Moog synthesizer. Even if I was sick, I remember playing sounds along to this record. The music at that time was a total vision of the future. The cover showed machines destroying a city and I was quite sure that this could happen some day in the future. I was inspired by synth music at that time and I tried to copy all the sounds that I heard. The Moog synth was a ‘Prodigy’- it was monophonic so I could only play melodies with it. Today, this record seems like something quite old fashioned and not really exciting for me to listen to, but it was so useful back then-it helped me realised how sound and music are connected components. I was 14 at that time and discovering for the first time technology in music. It actually helped me find a placer my first instruments, the piano, in the rock and pop world. War of the Worlds, with Tom Cruise, and I felt that that fantasy time with the Jeff wayne vinyl had a much stronger effect than this film could ever convey.
Retro-futurist musician and curator of London’s Trunk Records- the label which disinterred The Wicker Man soundtrack, among many other esoteric delights from yesteryear
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s 1970 TV series UFO (correctly pronounced “you-fi”) was their first live action series. Previously, they’d worked with the marionettes of Thunderbirds, Joe 90 and Captain Scarlet, but for this futurist series their imaginations ran slightly wilder than before. I have, drifting around my desk, a small Anglo Confectionary UFO bubble gum card from 1970, and on it sits Gabrielle Drake- sister of [folk music icon] Nick- in a purple wig and a sexy silver catsuit. What the card fails to show is the extraordinary art direction on the set behind her, and just about everywhere across the series. I remember curious plasma screens, Joe Columbo plastics, weird futuristic lighting and functional work wear made from curious materials. Not only did this inventive series predict many of the looks, styles and fashions of the last few years, the hard, electronic and percussive soundtrack has predated many of the modern dance sounds. In my book you can’t really beat that kind of forward thinking.
Kirsten Glass is a London-based artist
Unlike my more culturally evolved little brother, I didn’t love science fiction or apocalyptic metal bands. My thrills were rural and a bit girly- like spending all day with the horses up the land, all evening listening to Kate Bush by the fire, swimming in the sea, dressing up for bonfire night and standing in some field with my friends gathered round a stolen bottle of horrible but excellent ’70s Martini Rosso. We all read our futures in horoscopes and oracle cards, and I still do to be honest. Because of my country childhood the main shock of moving to London aged 17 was of stepping into a ‘future’ disconnected from proper weather, animals, seasons and landscapes, as well as the now familiar and comforting ghost-society feel where you pretend nobody else is on the tube. Although I don’t ‘believe’ in urban life I got hooked into the ways creative people could cope by fetishising the fakeness and over-sophistication and by dramatising the bizarre- even erotic0 excitement of mass psychic damage under intense capitalism and looming structural ruins of every kind. Things are changing really fast, though, so I can’t single out a cultural artefact that makes sense to me. Maybe David Bowie’s [apocalyptic song] ‘Five Years’- but does it make sense to create dystopian thought forms? I read somewhere recently that the future is shaped by emotions rather than plans. There’s also a Tibetan monk on the internet who says that all the different species have one thing in common which is the desire to be happy. I don’t think he means an Aldous Huxley ‘Brave New World’ scene where we’re farmed to shop and take [fictional escapist hallucinogen] soma.
Acclaimed young multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriting prodigy from Portland, Oregon
When I was a child, I though about the future when I played with my spaceship Lego. I imagined a cold with personal spaceships and intergalactic battles. I can remember what I think might have been the first time I really though graphically about the future. I might have been five or six years old, and my family was watching the news on television one evening. A man came on and said that they projected that there would be flying cars by the year 2000. It flashed to scenes from Back to the Future, and I was in awe for months about this idea. It was so optimistic. I thought that when I grew old enough to drive there would already be flying cars! Here we are, it’s almost 2010, and by this time I’ve realised, it’s just not that simple.
Acclaimed Warp Records sound and installation artist
My father is a jazz buff and Nina Simone was his easy listening, although nothing about the song ’22nd century’ is easy. I can’t remember when I first heard it exactly; it must ave seeped into my consciousness. I barely understood it but I knew it was about the future, and not necessarily a bright one. It may be far from cheerful in its lyrical content but it’s such a beautiful song, sung with such passion, that even given its dystopian outlook somehow you are to hope. It begins with the lines, “There is no oxygen in the air/ Men and women have lost their hair”, and perhaps that is something yet to come in our future. If all the environmental predictions are correct, then it’s certainly a gloomy possibility for the 22nd Century. That’s 90 years away now and seems so close. It seemed so very far away when I first heard this. I’d like to think that some of the more optimistic lines have come to pass: “Liberation of animas/ Prevention of cruelty to animals, man and beast”, but I fear that very much depends on geography and the lottery of your birth. Perhaps a closer reflection of our current society is in the line: “Man became the thing that he worshipped/ Man truly became his god/ Man became his good/ Man became his evil.” I guess it depends from which angle you’re looking at those around you. I would rather the song’s prophesies of “Revolution of music, poetry, love and life”, had come true, but I guess part of growing up is realising the world is paradoxical, and the future, like the present is very different for us all. I’ll keep on hoping.
Pil & Galia Kollectiv
Pil and Galia Kollectiv are London based artists, writers and curators working in collaboration
The Future isn’t one place. It’s an accumulation of images, of people walking in line, in uniform, all the same colour, in a totalitarian society. On the outskirts, a handful of survivors from some yet unknown catastrophe struggle to stay alive. In the slick interiors of a cloistered city, decadent blood sports entertain the well-to-do, dressed in technicolour shifts with strange headgear. Bulky instruments with flashing lights share screenspace with bizarre anachronisms and neo-medievealisms: new barbarians ride horses past a fleet of bright, white spacecraft. Abstract laser shows represent extra-terrestrial consciousnesses trying to connect, benign 3D arrangements of ultraviolet lines alongside more sinister balls of bouncing light.
This is because the visions of the future prophesied by the films and TV shows of our youth blur in retrospect into a kind of post-apocalyptic mish mash, where the choppers of fascist looking Knights of God cross the same barren plains as the streamlined rescue trailer of Arc II. The pyramid-shaped child-friendly alien Chocky somehow gets confused with the triangular domination tools of The Tripods. The strange pastimes of Quintet, Deathrace 2000, Rollerball and Westworld become one strange game that knows no boundaries. And the sterile dystopias of Polish soft-porn romp Seksmisja, talking canine post-nuclear caper A Boy and His Dog and J.G. Ballard adaptation Low Flying Aircraft fuse into a childless nightmare of spend humanity.
As scared as were of these worlds that Buck Rogers and the time travellers of The Time Tunnel kept finding themselves in, we crave their colour co-ordinated promise. Surely by the new millennium, we too would inhabit highly aestheticised plastic-moiled worlds? What we didn’t realise, was that this world was already past. By the time we had seen these films and shows, with at least a few years of inevitable delay, they already represented the look of yesterday’s tomorrow, not ours. While the questions raised by these representations of the future- questions of freedom and equality, simulation and technology, spectacle and decadence- remain relevant, the aesthetic they embodied has had a king of half-life survival in redo subcultures, but never really transpired as global vision. This is probably because of the inherent contradiction embedded in the idea of taking the extreme idiosyncrasy of fashion and applying it as authoritarian law: the means necessary to make us all dress in angular silver outfits elude most totalitarian regimes, and their very expressivity seems to go against the kind of oppression that would be required to enforce them.
Instead, if anything, the future ends up looking like Kin Dza Dza, the Russian masterpiece of sic-fi satire: cobbled together bits of old technology define the way most of the world looks today far more than the sleekness of the Apple Mac and its iProgeny. Much of the dystopian fiction of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s seems positively utopian by comparison tot he broken down machinery of more recent shows like Firefly, or the remade Battlestar Galactica. If the future is more of a space shanty town defined by a king of speculative favela chic, it’s more of a space shanty town defined by a kind of speculative favela chic, it’s because in the wake of communism, in the face of the failure of free market liberalism, the only other we can think of at the limits of our horizon is ourselves.
Proprietor of Touch Records, noted repository of the esoteric and avant-garde for over two decades- and a man obviously who contemplates the future through the sage aphorisms of the past
The Art of Composting and Plato’s Influence on Time Travel
1983 DJ Mike Pickering: “This is what it’s got to be like… this is the future, you know.”
1936 TS Eliot: “Time past and time present/ Are both perhaps present in time future/ And time future contained in time past.”
1919 Lincoln Steffens: “I have seen the future, and it works.”
1850 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Trust no Future, however pleasant! Let the dead Past Bury it’s dead!/ Act, act in the living present!/ Heart within, and God overhead!”
1796 Edmund Burke: “You can never plan the future by the past.”
1605 Francis Bacon: “Men must pursue things which are just in present, and leave the future to the Divine Provenance.”
1st Century BC Horace: “Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret” [You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, she will nevertheless come back.]