We have hardly yet begun

written by Denis Maksimov for Node Center for Curatorial Studies  

 image by Node Center for Curatorial Studies

image by Node Center for Curatorial Studies

One artist and one theorist explore the darker side of our endless quest for ‘progress’.

From conversations with machines to Walt Disney’s ‘experimental prototype for a community of tomorrow’, Joseph Popper’s video We have hardly yet begun will take you on a journey through a history of corporate visions of the future. Mixing ‘top-down’ proposals with science fiction visionaries, the video connects and contrasts various ideas of progress along with hopes and fears for things to come. Popper’s video is a starting point for curator, researcher and theorist Denis Maksimov to delve into the murkier waters of our paradoxical relations with the future in his text below.

Watch and read on to find out how corporations sell their products by tapping into dreams of the future and why we should combine different fields of knowledge to close the gap between our imagination and potential realities. 

 screenshot of  We have hardly yet begun , 2015, Joseph Popper. Originally produced for The Victoria & Albert Museum, London © The V&A

screenshot of We have hardly yet begun, 2015, Joseph Popper. Originally produced for The Victoria & Albert Museum, London © The V&A

Can you begin to remember the futures? Every single moment of the present creates potential and desirable scenarios. The history of progress is a continuous endless race from the point of ultimate uncertainty towards a fictional finish line of total predictability. Today, we enjoy the possibility of keeping in touch with people across the planet, crossing vast terrains and oceans, while simultaneously gluing a sticker on the web camera of laptops, afraid of being spied upon by Big Brother. The idea of the technological panopticon* as an instrument of an omnipresent observation system is therefore sublime: both fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

There are many ways of dreaming about the future.For some, it can be an escape into individual reality as a consequence of an unwillingness to face the currents. The realm of aesthetic freedom seduces science when non-hierarchical thinking is evolving faster than the institutions of knowledge verification within the field of science will allow. Scientific thinking enters the mode that it appears to despise in our present-day: fiction,which can be considered the result of an extrapolative doodle about the potential application of something the scientists haven’t even closely approached.

Today, knowledge creation and its verification mechanisms are still predominantly separated by disciplines: economics, literature, physics, history and so on. This separation of knowledge limits the speed of human pace towards possible progress. The mental gap between the image of a possible future and the institutional restrictions of its arrivalbecomes unbearable. The frontier between the ‘fictional’ and the ‘real’, so evidently uncrossable before, is violently penetrated in the moments when formerly fictional ideas become suddenly materialized: air flight, voyage into space, etc. These moments liberate the mind into free float. We have been finally heading into the future of infinite possibilities and abandoned restrictions. When will we arrive there and if it happens – how is it to live there?

There is a Soviet anecdote: “the future is certain, it is only the past that is unpredictable”. The ultimate certainty of the future is plain: it is going to come regardless of whether we have a place in it. The future is a flimsy construction subjected to anthropological gravity at a certain point of intersection between time and space. The strength of the pull towards the usual ground is defined by human-centrism in acting, thinking and dreaming. And we have hardly yet begun to depart from fundamental egoism behind the conviction that the Universe is turning around us. The future is fascinating, merciless and situated within the perfect chaos of storms.

*A panopticon is a proposed architectural model for the most effective prison. Developed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the structure requires one single guard in a central observation tower who is able to watch any prisoner at any moment of time. This creates the feeling for the prisoners that they are indeed being watched at all times, effectively constantly controlling their own behaviour.