Future of Mirrors, Mirror of Future: Methodological Remarks

As I write in the About section of this blog, I am not an art critic or art historian. My area of interests can be vaguely described as ‘future studies’.  I am trained as a psychologist and then social scientist (sociologist, with a focus on transitory societies), but most of my life I was doing fairly practical things, helping people (i.e., companies, organizations, governments) to work with the ‘possible futures’, to think about them, to explore them and eventually to prepare for them (hopefully, better).

While doing this, I kept encountering a few typical problems, or ‘issues’, that people have when they think about the future. And these problems are not about ‘predicting’ these futures accurately, as one may assume. The main difficulty is to understand that the futures will be different from now, and not just ‘slightly better’ versions of the now, of what we see around today.

If we look backward and analyze the previous efforts to imagine ‘the futures’, we find numerous examples of such future myopia, of how we project the assumptions and beliefs of any given time into the future.

And in fact, into the past, too. We tend to be so embedded in the now, so attached to the realities of the today – physical, cultural, societal – that we start assuming that these realities were always present and immanent, and always will be.

So, the more accurate representation of the situation looks like that:

There is no even a ‘starting’ moment here. We are ‘culturally born’ with this attitude. Similar to a fish in a water, we don’t reflect the very ‘waterness’ of this water.

It takes significant efforts, and the special tools, to estrange the context you live in, to somehow transfer yourself into a position of a reflective observer of the things around you (and most difficult, an observer of yourself).

It is from this position one can imagine the very possibility of different futures, not just slightly brighter versions of today, but radically different possibilities. It is from this position you can imagine Futures Complex.

Bear in mind that I use the transition from laminar to turbulent dynamics only as a metaphor, of the very possibility of such a radical transformation. And contrary to the dissipating smoke in this example, I believe that social evolution moves into an opposite direction, of higher intensity and energy, into a social plasma of some sort, if to further use physical metaphors.

The last logical step is of course to assume that our past was also radically different from what and how we tend to think about it now. And that it also requires a very special position, an observational point that is freed from a simplistic assumptions about the past (e.g., that the past times were “like your, just a bit more basic’).

How to arrive to this meta position? How to achieve such an elevated, reflective state of mind capable to transcend the omnipotent pressure of contemporary comme il faut?

There are few tools and methods, and exploring and trying them – as well as developing the new ones – is what I do professionally.  And mirrors – both actual, physical devices and ‘mirrors’ as a metaphor of reflective feedback loops – are just one of such ‘elevating’ and ‘transformative’ meta-tools.

I decided to make a number of ‘mirror journeys’, both into the past, and eventually into the futures too, and to explore how mirrors had been depicted in art – as well as perceived and used in ‘real life’ – in different times.  These journeys are prone to be exciting exercised themselves, because of additional light (sic!) they may shed on art and art history, on history of technology and cultural and societal history in general. But I would like to also take them with a double purpose in mind, with a dual perspective, and to capture our current presumptions, the lenses through which we look at the world, at ourself, and at the past and the futures.

So, here they are, my Mirrors of Future.

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