I’m ravenous for the future, but my longings are incompatible with the
available versions of it. Bummer.
Billy-Ray Belcourt – A History of My Brief Body 2020
I am one who has maybe over-futured. Over the last decade I have spent upwards of 2000 hours either actively fleshing out futures with other people in my ‘futuring workshops’, or trying to figure out how to best design the experience of collective futuring–primarily asking “Where could we be? And what would that feel like?” rather than “How the hell do we get ourselves out of this?”
Being in collaboratively authored futures filled with critical systems, speculative objects, autonomous organisations, and respected difference is awesome. You learn a lot about people. Privilege, assumptions, and entitlements can be laid bare. You dip your toe into ways of being for one another that seem a little out of reach right now, but not impossible. Futuring can help us to see the tangled mess of today from another angle, and to find our places in it.
You might think it ridiculous that talking about futures together could make us more present, but underlying any projection of a different time there is always the comparative anchor of the now, the felt, the at-hand.
Can you feel it? …What about now?
Any opportunity to collectively dwell in the shades of possible futures should be taken. Ride this health advice. Tools to combat paralysis, complacency and hopelessness when faced with horrifying projections (or presents) should be shared. Let’s rehearse them. Shine those babies up and distribute them widely. This day we are in is our possible futures taking form. Mutant visions, shapeshifting from ideas and potentialities to actual felt moments with impacts. When we are putting out fires, it is difficult to imagine life without smoke, or stinging throats. It is in the times between fires, that we need to future.
Many future fabulations are 80s’ flavoured if you don’t follow some of the well-established futuring steps: identifying the assumptions in the room, naming the drivers of change, acknowledging that in any future scenario there are opportunities and obstacles, and recognising that for some groups of people this time is already post-apocalyptic. If you are ok with being up to your neck in it (like me) there’s a whole lot of new terms: backcasting, double-variables, pendulum futuring, design timescapes, and all the ‘Ps’ possible, plausible, preferable, potential, preposterous…
Invitations are powerful. The only humans living in the Jetsons future are Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. That is company I have no desire to keep. It’s a party I do not want to go to. Sometimes it is easier to articulate what we don’t want. We rarely have access to the what-ifs that go through the minds of others. The what-ifs that determine whether they will say yes or no. Consider the decisions made on a dating app, where with every profile a rapid-fire potential hook-up or relationship scan takes place.
I can’t even. But we can.
Being invited to respond to an exhibition I cannot take physical part in amplifies the 1581km distance between us (a 249 hour walk not including ferry time, a $212 restricted flight away)… the curiosity and the missing physically hurts. Where there was FOMO there is now just a constant MO.
What does a collective, public rehearsing of futures afford that private fantasy does not? What role does a gallery have in hosting (and nurturing) futures? Like Seméprendre (one of the writers contributing to this journal before me), I really like the idea of time having a space. A single site. An experimental test. A pluriversal sampler.
Someone somewhere has made plans for your future. Not for you, the individual, but you the census filler-in-erer, you the citizen, you the user. Your behaviour and choices (including disengagement) are rich data with which strategies and pathways are formed by those holding power. Is it of some comfort that you have been factored in (or out)?
The first of the six basic concepts of futures thinking elucidated by Sohail Inayatullah is the concept of the used future. He asks “Have you purchased a used future? Is your image of the future, your desired future, yours or is it unconsciously borrowed from someone else?” (2008, p.5) Inayatullah stresses the need for the big picture thinking to be broken down to align with our day-to-day… down to our rituals (sharing meals, connecting with family, seeking out sources of entertainment, content preferencing, search techniques, dancing, cleaning, reading). He talks about “organizational indicators” and visions failing due to the performative nature of these visions–untethered from the actual nitty-gritty everyday (p.6).
In my cumulative futuring hours, one of the recurrent themes is new metrics. In whatever new futures we inhabit and practice, how do we measure connectivity, pleasure, trust, joy? Is it possible to shift these metrics now? Will it help us to get there?
From my kitchen on Gadigal land, I can see that on the last day of this you will come together. You will open up. You will “discuss experiences, concerns and imaginaries that have emerged from the rehearsals” Will there be hot people there? Will anyone show up in silver spandex? Will there be snacks?
When I use a term like fleshing out, I mean it in the meatiest of ways. We have to feel these stories in our skins. They must move us to grow outward and inward, and to sensitise us in times of proactive and large scale numbing. Talking about it, rehearsing it, practicing it helps us to feel our way forward, together.
Acknowledgements: This was written on Gadigal Wangal Country. I am grateful for the fierce and ongoing social justice leadership of Aboriginal Elders here, and grateful for permission to engage in futuring on Gadigal lands from Elder Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor. The thinking in this text is heavily influenced by the writing of Billy-Ray Belcourt, adrienne maree-brown, Arturo Escobar, and Sohail Inayatullah, as well as rich conversations with recent collaborators Lina Patel and Arunn Jegan.
Belcourt, B. R. (2020). A history of my brief body. UQP.
Brown, A. M. (2019). Pleasure activism: The politics of feeling good. AK Press.
Escobar, A. (2011). Sustainability: Design for the pluriverse. Development, 54(2), 137-140.
FOAM. (2015) Futures of Future Fabulators. https://fo.am/events/future-fabulators-futures/. Retrieved 19/8/21. Inayatullah, S. (2008). Six pillars: futures thinking for transforming. Foresight, 10(1), 4-21.
Seméprendre, J. (2021) https://contemporaryarttasmania.org/20-morphodynamica-the-clouds-have-cameras-by-jean baptiste-semeprendre/ Retrieved 19/8/21.
Clare M. Cooper‘s work spans futuring, pedagogy, interdisciplinary design research, workshop facilitation, design consultation, and performing arts. She completed her Ph.D. at Macquarie University, and is a Design Lecturer at the University of Sydney School of Design Architecture and Planning.
Over the last two decades, Cooper has brought together thousands of people to work together on community initiatives, creative approaches to governance, collaborative composition, speculative design, and critical listening through co-founding the NOW now (2001), Splinter Orchestra (Sydney 2000), Splitter Orchester (Berlin 2009), and Frontyard Projects (2016).
Cooper has consulted on government projects, community grants and policy development with the City of Sydney, Inner West Council, Create NSW, and National Association for Visual Arts.
Cooper has contributed to publications including Bomb Magazine (USA), Liquid Architecture (Australia), Portal Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies (Australia), All Conference (Australia), Echtzeitmusik (Germany), Australian Music Centre, and Space 3 (Australia). As a musician, her international performances and compositions have been featured on Australia’s ABC, Germany’s SWR and UK’s BBC and have been published by Mikroton (Russia), Splitrec (Australia), and High Zero (USA).
“the kind of thrill-seeker the music world usually loses to the electric guitar”
– TIME OUT CHICAGO
Clare Cooper has been an active member of the Sydney arts community since she co-founded the NOW now festival and experimental music series. Most of her projects these days centre around futuring and speculative design applied to context, performing, community organising, improvisation and graphic scores. She most recently co-founded Frontyard, a community research and futuring **frontyard** project space in Marrickville.
Cooper has presented hundreds of solo and collaborative projects spanning sound, improvisation, film, print, dance and theatre in 15 countries over the past 17 years including performances at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK), Offsite, Super Deluxe (Japan),mesto žensk (Slovenia), MaerzMuzik (Germany), Instants Chavires (France), Victoriaville (Canada), High Zero (USA), Audio Foundation (NZ), Molde Jazz festival (Norway), Nickelsdorf Festival (Austria), What Is Music?, the NOW now, Liquid Architecture, Unsound and Electrofringe (Australia).
As a musician, she’s ferocious with strings and sticks, her sound inspired by synthesizers and broken boom boxes. Her works for harp and guzheng have been featured on Australia’s ABC, Germany’s SWR and UK’s BBC. Coopers sonic and written works have been published by the Australian Music Centre, Mikroton (Russia), Splitrec (Australia) and High Zero (USA).