One of the last areas of uncharted terrain in this hyper-connected world is time travel. As this is something I have always wanted to try, it was with high hopes and a suspension of disbelief that I attended “Futurity Now” in Berlin presented by Transmediale, one of the longest running media arts festivals.
What is ‘Futurity Now’ ?
The diverse international fields of media art and cultural economics were well represented in the artists, speakers and hundreds of attendees of the “Furturity Now” festival. After a quick spin around the festival, my head was already whirling from all of the imaginative exhibitions – such as the Panorama Wifi Camera and White Noise.
One of the things about attending a science festival is that it brings so many people from the field into a confined space at the same time, which makes for lively conversations and random meetings. However, it also usually involves overloading the participants with visual, mental and social stimulation.
Through performances, visual art installations, speakers, and more – ‘Futurity Now’ looked at all elements of time, considering how we once viewed the future and what that means today. As their website states:
“Writers and commentators throughout the 20th century strove to depict 2010 as a shining example of a future framed by technological progress and social harmony. As 2010 draws near it is clear that global society is neither the utopia nor the dystopia traditionally presented in these fictions, architectures and theories of the future. Rather, it is an increasingly complex web of economic, political and cultural systems dependent on the convergence of rapidly evolving technologies. With the ubiquity of digital practices and social media firmly entrenched as an intrinsic part of our cultural code, we have caught up with our own notions of the future. The future is experiencing an identity crisis.”
Performing the Future
There were various live art performances that pondered these very questions. The first concert I went to was “Pattern Recognition”, a cacophony of white noise and minimalist drone. If this is the future, I’m on a long trip home.
The next evening I attended the Elektrolab concert, a performance involving glitchy sound made from intriguing glass jars. Jem Finer’s installation Long Player was presented – a slowly evolving musical composition played over 1,000 years. If you can’t make your own time travel machine, at least you know the music will still be playing.
I was thrilled by the musical and video performance POWEr, based only on the sounds and video of technology from the past century. A tesla coil – live on stage! – with a rich palette of aural textures and organic imagery.
The Future in Films
The diverse Film Program turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire festival. Everything from the first GDR Science Fiction film to the Arab Shorts (a fascinating and intimate selection of films that you can also watch online).
I also caught the shorts for Der Schweigende Stern (First Spaceship on Venus, 1959), the first space movie made in the GDR which pictured the “dark vision of a failed civilisation”. It was presented in ‘Total Vision’ (the East German wide screen equivalent of the American Cinemascope) “revealing how a global visual canon of utopian ideas began to be created in the 1950s; and further developed throughout the following decades until eventually coming more or less to a standstill for lack of new utopias.” If I could only turn back time.
The Future is Now
By the last day I was unable to follow the timetable or make any kind of plan, so I decided to hold my own transmediale dérive through the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. I drifted around the Future Obscura visual arts exhibition – still entranced by the white noise and Ryoji Ikeda installations.
A discussion on Cultural Organisations talked about the future of work, presenting ideas about sharing resources with a common vision and low budgets.
Keynote speaker Dr Richard Barbrook gave a great overview of theoretical politics of the imaginary futures. He warns that we are already living in the future and now we have to invent a new one!
Making Sense of it All
After the festival madness faded, I was left with a few reflections on the nature of culture and the concept of time, here there and everywhere.
Bruce Sterling gave the entertaining and inspiring keynote Atemporality: A Cultural Speed Control, starting with an outline of the atemporal knowledge-generating process. The idea of inventing your own future by claiming the right to dress up and enact it on the streets resonated widely with the audience. His example: making yourself an astronauts costume and space luggage to embrace the desire for space travel, and if you look ridiculous, well in what context?
Siegfried Zielinski offered a more theoretical take on the historical dimensions of abstract time using hand-drawn illustrations on an overhead projector.
A relay conversation lasting for 8 hours explored multiple possibilities of the future, from time travel to a new concept of time by Drew Hemment. Ideas about natural and synthetic time flowed through the discussion, as well as questions of whether or not we’re running out of time. As they say; wherever you go – there you are and as for the future, well it appears that we’re already living there!