Future of Mirrors, Mirror of Futurists: A few teleological remarks

As I write in the About section of this blog, I am not an art critic or art historian. In fact, what I do for living can be seen as the exact opposite to anything related to the ‘past’.

The area of my professional interests can be vaguely described as ‘future studies’.  I currently run a small research practice called Summ( )m where we ‘summon the futures’ (in a less poetic words we help companies with strategic innovation projects (the ones that are usually labeled as ‘The Future of ‘_domain_ name_’).   Prior to that I worked for many years in an innovation team of one large company; the team’s name was changing all the times but once was even called ‘Strategic Futures Design’. And I joined this team already with a few years of practical experiences, after I got my second degree (in sociology, with a focus on ‘societies in transition.’)

If I was asked to summarise all these years of my experiences with the F-word, I would mention one central issue, one main challenge that people have when they need to imagine the future.

They don’t.

Instead of imagining possible futures and exploring the ways in which these futures  may be different from the current situation, ‘the now’, majority of people simply project this ‘now’ into the future. A colleague of mine once called it ‘colonization of the future with the present’.

Below is a simple illustration of this typical (mis)perception of the ‘future’, whereby this future is imagined just as a ‘slightly better’ (‘bigger’) version of today.

It takes special tools, and requires special, often significant efforts, to confront such misperceptions and misconceptions of the future,  and instead try to imagine the very possibility of the different futures, the ones that are radically different from the present.

 

 

There is a saying often attributed (wrongly) to Paul Valéry, a French poet, that states that ‘the futures are not what they used to be’. When the ‘futures’ arrive, we (sometimes) see how different they are from our earlier ideas about these futures. And what constitutes the real change was not even discussed in the past! Similar to a notorious fish in water, we rarely detect the very waterness of the water, thus can’t articulate what ‘different water’ could mean.

However, I would argue that the issue is not related to the ‘future’ only. What is really striking is that very similar dynamics misconceptions appear in relation to the past. We are so embedded in the now, so attached to the realities of the today – physical, psychological, cultural, societal – that we start assuming that these realities were always present, always there, perhaps even immanent (and by extension will always be that way).

More complete and accurate representation of our time-related thinking may look like this:

Not only we ‘colonise’ the future with our ideas about the present, we do the same with the ‘past’, too. Similar to the futures, we also project our current assumptions into past times, thinking that they were “like now, just a bit more basic’).

There is no even a ‘starting moment’ here. When we are ‘culturally born’, such perceptional framework is installed into us automatically and enforced by the current culture all the time. Cultures are always dictatorial, and the best way to rule is to rule out the very possibility of alternatives, making them unthinkable and unspeakable.

A more accurate way of perception is, of course, to realize that our pasts were also radically different from the now, and that the yesterday’s social and cultural practices were very different from the present ones.

Similar to the ‘futures’, this work of disillusionment about the past also requires a very special practice, and an observational point that is somewhat liberated from the pressure of the present (or at least can resist its force somehow).

In essence this is what this Art Mirrors Art project is about.

This is not an exercise in art history. It is an ongoing exploration of the ‘possible pasts’ and ‘impossible futures’ that use ‘mirror journeys’ as a carrying vehicle. I explore how mirrors had been depicted in art and they reflected the ideas and social practices related to mirrors at any given time.

More importantly I try to spot the differences of perception of these ideas and practices that emerged later, in different times, including our own. Most importantly, I gather the tools and methods that I used to prevent my uncritical projections of the now into the past  – with the hope that these tools will help me to avoid similar projections into the futures.

Sure, these journeys are often interesting and informative exercises themselves, I enjoy making them and this joy is one of the motivation forces behind this project, too. Sometimes they may shed additional light (sic!) on art and art history, and on history of technologies and societies, but by and large I merely reveal and rediscover already familiar facts. In other words, these are ‘big discoveries for me’ but very small discoveries for humanity 🙂

But I am making all these explorations and writing all these ‘mirror stories’ with an additional purpose in mind, to confront my current presumptions and to make my perception of the past-present-future continuum of the cultural flows less wrong.

Here they are, my Art Mirrors Art.

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