In the underground spaces of 180 The Strand, “Future Shock” takes shape, the exhibition combining digital technology, artificial intelligence, electronic music, 3D mapping with laser works, and holographic projections. The artists: Ryoichi Kurokawa, UVA, Caterina Barbieri, Lawrence Lek, Actual Objects, Gener8ion, Weirdcore, Gaika, Nonotak, Ben Kelly, Hamill Industries and Object Blue propose the image of a near future through site-specific installations that transform space into an otherworldly, distorted world, offering visitors new ways of experiencing it.
Entering Future Shock through a dark curtain, we are offered a choice between urban and rural soundscapes. These become more glitchy and unpredictable with time. It feels significant that the ground melts in on itself like a cascading sinkhole. The juxtaposition of urban decay with nature, at first appears a comment on how everything will return to nature. Linear patterns that emerge later though makes the participant question everything. We are no longer viewing a real landscape but the blueprints of a programme. Is this all just a simulation? Then darkness, Blue screen and the sound of water. As if on a psilocybin trip, one thing is for sure, we can no longer “be sure” about what we see here and what has generated it. From beginning to end trusting the eye is one of the central preoccupations of “Future Shock”. Vortex by Hamill studios with accompanying sound from Floating Points continues the theme of trusting what we see as a Smoke Ring emerges at the background and then suddenly fully formed in the foreground without having to travel seemingly.
We move through to “Topologies” by UVA. It feels like the curator missed a trick by not sequencing this first. 4 sculptures project colour planes which disorientate and then reconfigure the space around you. Without wishing to make tired Blade Runner comparisons this feels like a staging post from that universe.
Nonotak by Naomi Schipfer and soundtracked by Takami Nakamoto use geometric light patterns that emerge on a screen. Light and sound combine to create a powerful architecture reminiscent of Villeneuve’s recent production of Dune. Something about it feels like it captures the very essence of being using a sun on the horizon that feels like it is cutting through a façade. Revealing something essential at the root of it all. A truth.
Kids enjoying the exhibit would hold out their hands towards the geometric circles as if they could interact with it and be enveloped by it. The music becomes more forceful as the shapes become stronger and more square. Harder percussion emerging from the rumble. This geometric rendering of light is also present in UVA’s Vanishing Point. All of these items seem bound by perception, whether we can trust it to awe, all machine generated. Like a new religion. This is reinforced by the way the viewers reach out to it, or patiently wait for the next smoke rings. The power dynamic favours the machines.
Lawrence Lek’s piece is a standout. His “Theta” piece, created in Unreal Engine, is set in the aftermath of an environmental catastrophe. It follows a self driving car, driving through the remnants of Sino Beijing – a “Smart City” which has become a ghost town. This self driving police car is devoid of purpose as it now has no-one or thing to protect and serve. The film explores “Solomon’s Paradox” the idea that we give better advice to others than ourselves by having the Car converse with a component of its own mind but given another voice and personality seemingly. The voice seems separate but is actually a facet of the Car’s own mind. With no Future, to speak of , the Car goes back into episodes from its own past. We are taken into an episode from its past where the car developed empathy for nature that went against its programming. The Car encounters Solomon’s Fox and swerves to avoid it. It then inhabits the fox. Whilst inhabiting the fox we are encouraged to sense – but remain blank. All you see is an illusion. The fox and nature embody the absolute present as “Tomorrrow never comes”: “The Future disappears because it hasn’t happened”. The spare score by Kode 9 emphasises the emptiness of the world inhabited by the car.
This future serviced by machines is escalated in Gaika’s “Convo 2.2 Complex”, an industrial looking machine that generates flashing text, offering confession through therapy, sex and religious ritual and highlighting he parallels that exist between them and their power dynamics. Pointing towards a future where our need for healing and satisfaction are serviced by Robots:
“The new slaves they made to save”
If the first theme is how the future is perceived and whether that can be trusted then the next theme is Humankind’s very place In that future.
Gener8ion series “Neosurf” by Romain Gavras and music by Surkin takes place in a 2034 that could be now. Cool nihilistic teens use deserted stadia, and quarries as their playground. Civilisation as we know it is something different for them. They hunt drones with rifles and a teen dances with an amazon package in the quarry. The meaning that we would give these objects seems to have receded. These are all empty symbols in this not too distant future. This is embodied further when the teens kiss old statues playfully – they don’t mean the same things to these teens as they did to previous generations. It has a plaintive beauty underlined by Surkin’s piano score. The last shot is the blonde teen surfing into an endless horizon on a hydrofoil that looks like a hoverboard. The piece seems to embody the fall of civilisation as we know it and a return to nature. It is also significant because it is the first time we see people in the exhibit too. Up to this point in the exhibit future presented in the exhibit has been devoid of people. “Vicky” offers another vision of the future and the people in it by Actual Objects shows how truth is shaped by a multitude of perceptions and will be more so in the future. It documents the days around a mega storm.
Whilst the exhibit offers AI generated landscapes, sounds and visuals and questions humanities place in that going forward. There are certain elements which whilst valuable in their own right, seem anomalous. Ib Kamara’s piece the “Queen is coming” is a collaborative piece with French designer Abdel El Tayeb. It charts tensions between the individual and the traditions they face growing up. It seems more historic than futuristic. Subconscious by Weirdcore uses what looks like a lifesize motherboard to map the inner mind and its pathways – soundtracked by Richard D James. It feels more like a set from kids play area. This merges into “Columns” by Ben Kelly who was one of the designers responsible for the Hacienda and its distinctive pillars. These are mirrored to create an infinite space with the classical underpinned by industrial – or giving way to it. Featuring classical pillars that are cut away to reveal Iron Girders. This could be seen to raise questions about the nature of progress, but t feels crowbarred in.
Future shock does certain things very effectively how we come to perceive the future and then our very place in it. But other pieces seem arbitrary in their conclusion and undermine the cohesiveness and ostensible message of the exhibit.