Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mars Products

The three shops opened their doors to the public at ten A.M., on the tenth of March -- in local time and day. In New York, the letters spelling out MARS PRODUCTS had been displayed for eight days, and a good deal of curiosity had been aroused, both among the public and the press. But until actual opening, no information had been offered.

During those days, four objects had been on display in the shop windows. No doubt the reader of this pr├ęcis has seen or examined these objects, each of which stood upon a small crystal display-stand, framed in black velvet, for all the world like precious jewels, which in a sense they were. The display consisted of a clock, an adding machine, an outboard motor and a music box...
This advertisement was hardly the first word in the press concerning the Martian shops. Already, every columnist had carried an item or two about what was, without question one of the most imaginative and novel publicity schemes of the space age.

Futurist colleague Howard Rheingold, in Honolulu with his family last week, drew to our attention a 01959 science fiction short story by Howard Fast (01914-02003) called "The Martian Shop".

Fast, a versatile, prolific, and politically conscientious writer, was at one time a member of the American Communist Party and was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He may be known to movie buffs for Spartacus, a novel which he started writing while serving three months in prison for contempt of Congress, and on which the Stanley Kubrick film was based.

Anyway, the work we've been doing with public installations of future artifacts reminded Rheingold of the story, a nifty account of the intriguing, sudden appearance of luxury stores showcasing Martian technology in Tokyo, Paris and New York. Fiction, yes, but a tale of proto-future-shock therapy nonetheless (or so I'd like to think).

The full text of "The Martian Shop" can be found here. It's well worth a read.

Thanks, Howards!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Second Nature

This week, while searching for visualisations of future cityscapes, I encountered for the first time the work of American artist Mary Mattingly. Mattingly produces astonishingly beautiful images that moodily, and seamlessly, blend landscape photography with future-inflected human subjects and dwellings. Her website is replete with these gorgeous shots, some of my favourites shown above. Most appear to be part of a strand she calls Second Nature; "a name that articulates a point in time of my ongoing work. This work continues, through photography, sculpture, video and podcasting."

The last of the images above, "The New Mobility of Home" (02004), was featured in an exhibition called "Ecotopia" at the International Center of Photography last year, which I came across via this Scientific American blog post referring to "surrealist depictions of a semi-post-apocalyptic future". That post links to a New York Magazine article and a review in the New York Times (check out the audio slideshow). From the Times piece:

"Ecotopia" might be described as "An Inconvenient Truth" in exhibition form. It is a tale of beauty and devastation told by nearly 40 photojournalists and artists. Their viewpoints vary, as do their subjects and forms, but you rarely escape a sense of nature's vast, incalculable richness or of photography's ability to do it justice. There may be no greater meeting of subject and medium.

Interesting to see Mattingly's work drafted here under the rubric "photography", which doesn't quite seem to do it justice. From an interview with Mattingly transcribed at her website::

In my artwork I will use any medium to realize an idea, however, I usually finalize a piece through photography, video, or sculpture because these mediums, to me, allow for a direct translation of reality or of a created real-space and because they either represent the world around us or sit in the world around us, they carry a truth. Photography and video have an inherent honesty – we continue to want to believe what looks believable. Manipulating "reality" within these mediums to create futuristic scenes allows for the ability to provide latent meaning. Indelible, purposeful and fantastic.

In a sense, the narrow, documentary connotation of the label and practice of photography, conventionally understood, are part of where these plausible-yet-fantastic vignettes draw their strength. The visual codes of photorealism are belied by seemingly impossible (futuristic) subject matter.

Asked about these futuristic themes, she elaborates:

My work has always been an interleaving of the past, present and future, understanding that the future is imminent and immanent. I have always practiced some form of future scenario-planning, and have always been environmentally and politically concerned in my life and art. Out of everything that interests me, some things tend to frighten me, and the things that frighten me tend to eat away at me. It is those things I usually end up making work about.
Kurzweil states that, with the exponential acceleration of development in technology and so-called progress, the human condition will reach a point when we can no longer process our environment from our present perspective as the accelerating speed of growth outpaces our faculties. However, Bertrand Russell made an excellent point, saying that if the bath water got only half a degree warmer every hour, we would never know when to scream.
Kurzweil is predicting singularity as a future happening, but as far as I can tell, it is already here and will continue to grow.

The prolific Mattingly's labyrinthine website is intriguing to explore, and contains detailed photographic records as well as written (esoteric, theorist-sprinkled) statements for her varied, and frequently interwoven, projects, as well as critics' responses. She fearlessly develops a wide-ranging and idiosyncratic vocabulary -- conceptual, visual and verbal -- with projects including a Spatial Lexicon (a "Dictionary for functioning in a New Space"), New Time (a proposed "universal time scale without confusion"), and the Waterpod™ (billed as "a completely sustainable, navigable living space"). She also has a statement specifically addressing The (Kurzweil) Singularity, including this observation:
When people are imbedded with different forms of technology, from the wireless to the plastic to the drug, and when we procreate solely outside of the body, we just continue the abstraction from nature and person that began before the Greeks invented the cosmos.

Of all the work I've seen at her site, aside from the images above, I especially like the Wearable Home, designed for nomads, including a substantial future cohort of environmental refugees -- and downloadable patterns for producing your own.

Altogether, there's an interesting mixture of deadly seriousness and playful irony in this body of work, which from my point of view is highly appealing. With a freewheeling combination of lyricism, tragedy, hopefulness and wry comedy, it's hard to peg Mattingly down. Such are the tightropes the futurist needs to walk, and she does so with skill and grace.

Which brings to mind the words of my mentor, Jim Dator:
Should I be optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
I believe the answer is: neither. I should be aware and active.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The value of hypothetical currency

The science of money -- numismatics -- is not typically the bread and butter of futures discourse. But I'm impressed by coin designer Daniel Carr's hypothetical currency for a North American Union -- the "Amero".
Bruce Sterling's Beyond the Beyond blog picked up the story via World Net Daily (WND), which reported that:
Parody coin designer Daniel Carr has launched production of an "amero" coin which he is marketing to coin dealers and collectors.
"Like any artist I have to survive by selling my work," Carr said. "I have been reading about the amero and I started asking myself what I would come up with if I was in charge of minting the amero coin for the North American Union."
He is also known among collectors of privately minted coins for his parody state quarters.
Carr's calling card is a one dollar brass coin celebrating his anticipated election as the 45th president of the United States, designated as serving a term from 2017 to 2021.

Like the Amero, this tongue-in-cheek exercise in self-promotion is also a future artifact:

(From Carr's website: "Obverse self-portrait by Daniel Carr. 45th President, 2017-2021. To comply with US regulations, the reverse is marked 'S1' rather than '$1'.")

The WND article links to an organisation called the Unrecognised States Numismatic Society (USNS), "the first and only group catering to numismatists whose collecting interests largely focus on coins minted by groups purporting, pretending or appearing to be sovereign states, but which are not recognised as such by established governments."

This territory can be controversial. Mr Carr's website, in addition to selling these and various other designs, links to an exhaustive catalogue of micro-national and fantasy coins, maintained by numismatist Eric McCrea (USNS member #002). Writes McCrea of Carr's Amero designs:

Just days after the first pieces had been produced, members of at least one online numismatic forum were already suggesting, with some very hostile words, that Mr. Carr may be part of a conspiracy to replace the dollar under a global dictatorship. Mr. Carr, a member of that forum, replied: "Wow, I really stirred up a hornet's nest here...I guess the nest was just waiting all along and I just happened to be the one to stir it up."
We must bear in mind that Mr. Carr is an artist and he has to earn a living by selling his work. Amidst all the fuss, he reminded everyone that "The goal of any art work is to provoke some sort of thought or emotion."
In order to fully appreciate Mr. Carr’s Ameros, we must place them in the context of the North American Monetary Union (or North American Currency Union), a speculative entity in which the main countries of North America (Canada, the United States, and Mexico) would share a single/common currency. This idea, which has existed for many years, is based on the common European Union currency, the Euro. The hypothetical currency is sometimes referred to as the "amero", but I have also seen it referred to as the NAMU (North American Monetary Unit).

On the front page of Carr's website is a disclaimer, explaining further:

I have received numerous inquiries as to my personal stand on the North American Union (NAU) issue.

My goal with these coins is not to endorse a Union of North America or a common "Amero" currency. I fully support the United States Constitution, and I would not welcome (in any form) a diminishment of its provisions. I expect that these coins will help make more people aware of the issue and the possible ramifications. I leave it up to others to decide if they are in favor of, or against a North American Union. And I encourage citizens to voice their approval or disapproval of government plans that impact them.

It seems that Carr's "Amero" design has, perhaps unwittingly, administered a dose of future-shock therapy to parts of his audience.

So, a couple of quick remarks:

First, the symbolic importance and weight -- literally -- of coins (and objects struck in metal generally) make this a nice example of a simple, yet provocative, future artifact in 3D; standing out against a landscape where so much is done in 2D imagery. (The bronze memorial plaque for FoundFutures:Chinatown's "Bird Cage" scenario, our single most expensive artifact, drew part of its impact from that same sense of physical permanence or tangibility.) USNS again:

As well as fulfilling their basic fiscal function, coins have been used for several thousand years to advertise the legitimacy of the regimes that create them. Because they are seen as an important symbol of sovereign power, and because they are easily distributed, groups who aspire to, or who maintain pretensions to independence outside or in competition with established political structures - or who wish to promote some other agenda, be it commercial, cultural or social, frequently produce coins as useful tools of propaganda.

Currency is at once tangible, symbolic, and socially embedded. It's an icon with practical applications; with genuine social purchase (pun intended), and also carrying associations of identity and deep-seated commitment, similar to those borne by national flag and anthem. Which accounts for the hints of hysteria and ideology that seem to have attached to this phenomenon like a bad smell:
Fantasy coin my ass! Is this a government-sponsored disinformation site? Eat Sh*t
~Featured comment at the Amero Currency discussion website
Second, despite the oddly esoteric air and disreputable conspiracy-theory connotations around this topic (see Wikipedia's North American currency union article, editing of which was restricted at the time of writing this, owing to vandalism of the page); I think this is a particularly interesting example of a future artifact -- precisely because of its political charge.

As an outsider, one can only guess at whether this is a calculated bit of muckraking or a genuinely accidental foray into a "hornet's nest"; the other point is of course that what is "effective" (for getting attention) is at the same time ripe for misinterpretation. For me, the perennial question this raises is as follows: how can one bring to public attention genuinely difficult or sensitive issues (using futures artifacts or not) without being dismissed as wantonly provocative, irresponsible, or ideologically biased? That is, how should we be effectively radical? Says Carr: "The goal of any art work is to provoke some sort of thought or emotion." But how to draw the line between useful provocation and counterproductive pot-stirring?
I don't propose to answer that question here. But fantasy coin expert McCrea may shed a little light on the situation:
I believe that the existence of the Union of North America coinage is a very historic event, numismatically. Once in a blue moon, the line between "fantasy" coins and "real-world" coins becomes blurred. These Ameros truly reflect a realistic modern-day geo-political scenario, and I think they are definitely "crossover" pieces that will have major implications in our community that go far beyond the usual impact made by a typical privately minted coin.

However far the conversation gets this time, I think in principle he's already right.

When hypothetical artifacts assert a tangible presence in the world, there's an epistemologically ambiguous, yet politically important, moment in which we're called upon to grapple with their sudden thereness. We need to negotiate their meaning internally, and may discover with unexpected clarity what we really think about the possibilities they portend. A future artifact, erupting ahead of schedule into our consciousness, commands the type of attention normally reserved for a fait accompli. Therein lies its power.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Further long views

Long Views, the blog of the Long Now Foundation, tracks news, art and ideas related to large-scale and long-term thought and action. As Research Fellow of the Foundation I contribute occasionally, and am grateful for feedback as well as leads to interesting stories in this vein.

My recent posts:

Other regular contributors include Alexander Rose, Kevin Kelly, and Stewart Brand.

There is some worthwhile reading here for anyone concerned not only with cultivating the forward (futures) view, but with developing sensitivity to our macrohistorical context, the "long now" -- an antidote to the short now in which we otherwise tend to become trapped.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fragments of a low carbon future

The UK's Forum for the Future has released a project called Low Carbon Living 2022. Its rationale:
A low carbon Britain doesn't have to mean cutbacks and sacrifice. Climate change is an enormous challenge. But if we respond in the right way, many of the changes we make could improve our quality of life.

Based on a literature review, and interviews with people campaigning for carbon reduction, they developed a series of visions -- scenario sketches depicting aspects of everyday life -- set in 02022. The selected date is, admirably, "far enough in the future for some new technologies to have become available and for progressive policies to be put in place, but similar enough to today to be recognisable".

I'm especially taken with some of the hypothetical products developed alongside the visions, and which feature throughout them -- nine new goods and services that could enable low carbon lifestyles. For instance, the Kinetica generates electrical current from body movement, to be used to power personal electronics or charge batteries. U-Grow provides equipment and training for growing produce in the small spare spaces in urban environments, and aggregates any surplus for sale to local customers.

The parting question posed under each product or service outline, to solicit public feedback, is "If this was a real service [or product], would you be interested?" This is an interesting approach, sort of a hybrid of focus-group product testing and scenario workshopping. This seems a useful way of doing long-range product planning -- and open sourcing promising elements -- for preferred futures. However, I'd be tempted to use more visual material ; some of the nine concepts are described in text only, while others have a pictorial counterpart, in the form of mocked-up advertisements, several of which appear at the top of this post. Concepts with an accompanying image appear to have attracted more feedback to date.

This seems to me a very constructive and carefully thought out project. It would be great -- though logistically difficult, perhaps -- to track whether and how these initiatives (together with others developed at the Low Carbon Living workshop) lead to development of actual products and services for a low carbon future.

Friday, November 30, 2007

How future-shock therapy works

I've been thinking a lot about why we're doing the type of work we've been doing over the past couple of years, manifesting alternative futures in the form of immersive experiences and tangible artifacts (postcards, products, props). This question is central to my doctoral dissertation topic that's been gestating throughout the semester, but I find it hard to write about -- there's a tangle of related ideas that don't seem to want to let go of each other, so pulling at one thread seems to disturb the whole clump.

But here goes.

There are three points I want to make, and I'll spread them over several posts. First I want to say something about the concept of future shock and how it gives rise to the idea of future-shock therapy. Next I'll talk about the "therapy" aspect of it, the immersive or experiential role of arts and design in this effort. Finally, we'll examine the relationship between scenarios, simulations, and hoaxes.

/Part One/

Although there may be many things about Alvin Toffler's famous 01970 book Future Shock that are intellectually questionable (see for instance Richard Slaughter's reappraisal in this 02002 article), I think the underlying thesis remains valid, and the challenge he describes there is even more pressing today. I recently went back to "The Future as a Way of Life", the article published in Horizon magazine in 01965 which introduced the concept. (It was republished in the 01971 book Society as It Is: A Reader, which is how I got a hold of it. I quote at length here because it's interesting reading but hard to come by -- although the full text of the book version, which makes the same basic points with a lot of extra fluff that most readers can do without this many years later, can be found online.) Anyway, Toffler writes (pp. 450-451):

Culture shock is the effect that immersion in a strange culture has on the unprepared visitor.
It is what happens when all the familiar psychological cues that help an individual to function in society are suddenly withdrawn and replaced by new ones that are strange or incomprehensible.
Yet culture shock is relatively mild in comparison with a much more serious malady that might be called "future shock." Future shock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future. It may well be the most important disease of tomorrow.
Future shock is a time phenomenon, a product of the greatly accelerated rate of change in society. It arises from the super-imposition of a new culture on an old one. It is culture shock in one's own society.
This is the prospect that man now faces as a consequence of accelerated change -- the prospect of dislocation far more subtle, complex, and continuous than any we have known. Change is avalanching down upon our heads and most people are utterly unprepared to cope with it.

He briefly describes a whole range of areas in which accelerating change can be discerned -- including energy, information, agriculture, work, urbanisation, biology, and the brain --then elaborates on the nature of the challenge as he sees it (pp. 457-458):

The commanding point is that we can anticipate volcanic dislocations, twists and reversals, not merely in our social structure, but also in our hierarchy of values and in the way individuals perceive and conceive reality. Such massive changes, coming with increasing velocity, will disorient, bewilder, and crush many people.

We think of ourselves as sophisticated and well educated, but how well prepared are we, as a society, to cope with the sudden new sensations, pains, intellectual turnabouts, eruptions, and shifts in perception that are likely to confront us as we speed forward into a culture in which computers can learn, and can improve upon their own performance, in which man is no longer the only manifestation of high-level intelligence on the face of the earth, and in which, in fact, he may come crash up against the realization that his globe is not the only inhabited parcel of real estate in the universe?
For the current upbringing of most people, and the subtly inculcated sense of time that comes with it, are both inimical to adaptability.
The fact is -- and simple observation of one's own friends and associates will confirm it -- that even the most educated people today operate on the assumption that society is relatively static. At best they attempt to plan by making simple straight-line projections of present-day trends. The result is unreadiness to meet the future when it arrives. In short, future shock.

As Slaughter notes, Toffler's prescription for education is, broadly, right on (pp. 458-459):

What, if anything, can be done to lessen this shock and the disorientation and disability that come with it? Society has many built-in time spanners that help to link the present generation with the past.
No such time spanners enhance our sense of the future. We have no objects, no friends, no relatives, no works of art, no music or literature, that originate in the future. We have, as it were, no heritage of the future.

Despite this, there are ways to send the human mind arching forward as well as backward. We need to begin by creating a stronger future-consciousness on the part of the public, and not just by means of Buck Rogers comic strips and articles about the marvels of space travel or medical research. These make a contribution, but what is needed is a concentrated focus on the social and personal implications of the future, not merely on its technological characteristics.
We offer our children courses in history; why not also make a course in "Future" a prerequisite for every student, a course in which the possibilities and probabilities of the future are systematically explored, exactly as we now explore the social system of the Romans or the rise of the feudal manor?

We train our Peace Corps volunteers by attempting to give them advance knowledge about the conditions and culture of the country to which they are assigned. Why not devise an education designed to minimize future shock?

The emergence of the academic field of futures studies during the second half of the twentieth century can be seen as a response to this challenge. It is exactly what Toffler calls for --- an attempt to devise an education designed to minimise future shock.

But it has, I think, failed to have the mainstream impact that it should have.

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, like other futurists I frequently find myself in conversations with people who have never heard of futures, are incredulous that it exists (because of their assumptions about what it entails), and who accordingly think there is something wrong with me because I study it. (This misunderstanding occurs with monotonous regularity in the press, too, most recently in this abysmally lazy piece in The Economist -- among the suitably appalled futurist responses so far: Michele Bowman, Jamais Cascio, and Maree Conway).

Even if we're doing good work, the what-futures-is-not conversation that ensues in nine out of ten first meetings with anyone of even moderate intellectual curiosity suggests strongly to me that the formal study of futures is not having the impact it should be having on popular discourse about "the future".

One of the reasons is that the idea of making the study of the future intellectually respectable tends to be conflated with the hope of doing so on a scientific, empirical basis. The big mistake Toffler makes, I think, is his insistence on a singular conception of the future (pp. 459-460):
We must kill, once and for all, the popular myth that the future is "unknowable."
Every day brings improvement in man's ability to peer into the darkness ahead, and this is true in the social as well as the "hard" sciences.

He does acknowledge that "the future" is constantly in flux (p. 461):

[W]e might consider creating a great national or international institute staffed with top-caliber men and women from all the sciences and social sciences, the purpose of which would be to collect and systematically integrate the predictive reports that are generated by scholars and imaginative thinkers in all the intellectual disciplines all over the world. Of course, those working in such an institute would know that they could never create a single, static diagram of the future. Instead, the product of their effort would be a constantly changing geography of the future, a continually recreated overarching image based on the best predictive work available.

Yet at the same time it can be seen how he holds fast to the assumption that a singular -- albeit evolving -- idea of The Future is sufficient. "If the contemporary individual is going to have to cope with the equivalent of millenniums of change within the compressed span of a single lifetime, he must carry within his skull a reasonably accurate (even if gross) image of the future." (p. 458)

Our notion of future-shock therapy takes seriously the challenge of anticipatory, immersive experience -- educating to mitigate future shock, as it were. But it's integrated with the plurality of alternative scenarios which we believe to be essential; faithful to the radical contingency and unpredictability which increasingly mark the accelerating historical process. In contrast to Toffler's advocacy of a probabilistic single best-guess, our prescription for future shock involves entertaining a multiplicity of images of the future, based on differing emphases, interpretations, aspirations, and concerns -- each with their own logic and legitimacy.

/To be continued.../

Friday, November 16, 2007

It was the pest of times...

During the Bird Cage installation for FoundFutures:Chinatown, we ran into some difficulty finding a property owner willing to have our bird flu memorial plaque mounted on their building. After the controversial reception of McChinatown, one party who had agreed earlier changed her mind, citing concerns about the impact that being associated with even a hypothetical disease could have on business.

Shortly before our deadline, we were referred to Oren Schlieman, a local graphic designer and owner of the company Info Grafik. Not only was Oren highly encouraging, but he saved the day by allowing us to install the plaque on his Chinatown building (as seen here). He also noted that the "artifacts from the future" and hypothetical products design memes, though increasingly visible as the decade wears on, have been around a while. So saying, he referred to a public awareness campaign for Hawaii's CGAPS (Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species) produced by Info Grafik a decade ago, employing a similar approach.

CGAPS was created in 01995 (as explained in this pdf), and its public awareness effort, Silent Invasion, launched two years later (love those old time websites!). The images below are scanned from the print version of that campaign.

Invasive species is an issue of particular concern to ecologists in the Hawaiian islands, and in recent years its importance has been increasingly recognised in political decision-making. Says the website of the state government's Hawaii Invasive Species Council:
The legislature finds that the silent invasion of Hawaii by insects, disease-bearing organisms, snakes, weeds, and other pests is the single greatest threat to Hawaii's economy and natural environment and to the health and lifestyle of Hawaii's people.

So what's the role of these quasi-futures artifacts in all this?

They aim to elevate concern for and visibility of the invasive species issue to an appropriate level, by embodying an undesirable, near-term future (note the 01999 use-by date on the malaria pills), implicitly seeking to arouse and galvanise the concerned reader around this risk. They serve to warn of the adverse impact of invasive species, by exemplfying them -- envisaging the aesthetic and ecological costs thereof. The postcard below employs a familiar strategy...

...very similar to the Sierra Nevada mountains campaign blogged here earlier.

Now, a few weeks ago the President of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club, Jeff Mikulina, presented a seminar at the East-West Center (sponsors of my doctoral studies here at the University of Hawai'i). Jeff has been trained by Al Gore to give the Inconvenient Truth presentation on climate change, but one of the additions he made was to point out that risks which tend to receive attention are "soon, salient, and certain" (quoting Helen Ingram, a University of California-Irvine professor of planning, policy and design.) The point was that difficulty meeting these criteria (and hence motivating an appropriate response) is inherent in the nature of climate change -- a slow, distributed and ambiguous process, albeit one with massive risk implications.

We can surmise that the human brain developed risk management criteria along the lines Ingram suggests as a sort of prioritisation heuristic. Clearly, though, that filter might not serve us so well in facing less visible/immediate, and more distributed/long-term risks.

So it seems to me that one of the functions of monitory artifacts (and images of artifacts) from the future, such as the above, is to assert a claim on our attention that cuts the mustard on Ingram's scale. By manifesting a feared future now, tangibly or visually, we are forced to take account of a risk that might otherwise be dismissed as remote, irrelevant, or improbable.

Like invasive species. Or bird flu. Or earthquakes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

If the lights go out

"Mid-21st Century Light Bulb" by Frank Sheriff / Photo: Bram Goots

The Arts at Marks Garage exhibition, Alternative Urban Futures, remains open through the end of this week. Above is a photo of my favourite piece: "Mid-21st Century Light Bulb", an elegantly simple, pointedly insightful artifact from the future, by sculptor Frank Sheriff. An effective futures artifact, like a good scenario, need not be a literal forecast made in earnest. Symbolism and satire work fine too.

Tomorrow, Thursday 15 November 6-7pm, the gallery has scheduled an artists' talk, when those featured in the show will have a chance to explain themselves, answer questions, and that kind of thing. Jake and I will have an opportunity to say a word or two about the FoundFutures artifacts on display. This Saturday 17th, wearing our futures researcher hats, HRCFS is running a Chinatown Futures Workshop at the gallery, intended to help residents, business owners and other interested parties to think more deeply about possible paths for the district over the next generation or so. The workshop is free to the public, and runs 12 noon to 4pm. Please RSVP to info at foundfutures dot com if you plan to attend.

The Arts at Marks Garage is located in Honolulu's Chinatown, 1159 Nuuanu Avenue, at the Pauahi Street intersection.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Outdoor installation takes cover

Photo: Jake Dunagan

Elements of our ambient foresight "exstallation", FoundFutures:Chinatown, described in these three previous posts, have been moved off the streets and into temporary residence at The Arts at Mark's Garage, Nuuanu Avenue, Honolulu. They form part of an exhibition on Alternative Urban Futures which opened on Tuesday, and runs until 17 November. There is some other very cool stuff in the show which we haven't had a chance to look at closely, so far, but anyone in the area is encouraged to check it out.

The introductory matter to our contribution in the gallery reads as follows:

FoundFutures injects futures into the present. It is a multimedia, collaborative project based on the idea that a wider range of possible futures should be made visible and thinkable to people in their everyday lives. The project was created and is led by two doctoral candidates in political science at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, who are also futures researchers at the Hawai'i Research Center for Futures Studies (HRCFS). We aim to provoke thought, conversation, and action by creating and distributing art, artifacts, images, performances and other media that embody possible worlds to come.

Making alternative futures tangible is an antidote to the singular, colonized future we are given by mass media, consumer culture, and an intrinsically shortsighted political system. We want participants to be directly confronted with long-range choices, to feel just how different their various futures could be from the present, and from each other. We call this future-shock therapy. Our aim is not to push people towards particular conclusions, but simply to invite deeper engagement with the field of possibilities.

Photo: Jake Dunagan

This side of the display shows elements from an earlier foray into experiential scenarios, for "Hawaii 2050", a statewide discussion which launched in August 02006. These pieces suggest aspects of a high-tech future Hawai'i (artwork by Sky Kiyabu and Steve Kiyabu). Next, in May 02007, we sent to leaders across the community four postcards from alternative versions of Hawai'i in 02036, on consecutive days and with no return address (designed by Yumi Vong).

On the other side of this panel are elements from four immersive futures designed for our first foray into community and street art – FoundFutures:Chinatown. The first future (McChinatown) was staged for the First Friday art event on October 5. Two others have been displayed since (Green Dragon and The Bird Cage). One will continue beyond this show (Dig Deeper). If you are interested in exploring the futures of Chinatown and Hawaii beyond the urgent, immediate concerns of today, please consider attending our Chinatown Futures Workshop on 17 November (RSVP to info at foundfutures dot com). To discuss futures thinking, or specific issues raised by this distributed installation, don't hesitate to contact us.

Stuart Candy & Jake Dunagan
Directors, FoundFutures:Chinatown
22 October 02007

Photo: Jake Dunagan

Our contribution to the Arts at Marks exhibition has been quite an effort, involving many people. Below is a list of acknowledgements from Jake and me, as it appears at the show:


Jesse Arneson
Mark Guillermo
Ryan Yamamoto

Installation assistance:
Duk Bu
Brady Fern
JoDee and Ernie Hunt
Pegge Hopper
Rich Richardson
Roy Venters
Melanie Yang

Guen Montgomery (lead)
Jason Adams
Christina Hoe
Bianca Isaki
Rohan Kalyan
John Maus
Josh Pryor
Lorenzo Rinelli
Matthew Stits


Yumi Vong
[for more of Yumi's outstanding work, check out her website]

Additional scenario
Aaron Rosa

Cultural advisors:
Roger Ames
Matthew McDonald

Chien-Yuan Chen
Tianyuan Huang

Installation assistance:
Brady Fern
Charles Wong


Matthew Jensen
[development of many of the beautiful artifacts for this scenario, designed or overseen by Matt, can be found at the Ritual Lab website, dating back about a month]

Additional artwork:
The Great Bendango
Kristin Dennis
Nathan Verrill

Installation assistance:
Oren Schlieman & Fran Butera
Tim Braden
Richard Lum, Worldwide Travel
Maya van Leemput & Bram Goots
Matthew Jensen

Production assistance:
Seong Won Park

Special thanks to
M.P. Lei Shop (at Maunakea & Pauahi), providers of leis for "Hang Ten flu" memorial plaque

This project would not have been possible without
the support of the following individuals:

Wiwik Bunjamin-Mau, Rich Richardson, and Erik Takeshita at The Arts at Mark's Garage

Matthew Jensen

Yumi Vong

Carolyn Borges at Tom Terrific's Printshop, Manoa

Prof Jim Dator, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies

The contribution of the following is also much appreciated:

Steve Kiyabu
Sky Kiyabu
Ed Korybski
Chetan Mangat
Bernard Uy

Photography by:

Stuart Candy
Jake Dunagan
Bram Goots
Matthew Stits
Yumi Vong

The Bird Cage

Photo: Stuart Candy

On Tuesday, 16 October 02007, this bronze plaque appeared on the corner of Maunakea and Pauahi Streets in Chinatown, Honolulu -- testimony to the resilient response of the community to a hypothetical tragedy that would not occur for another ten years.

Chinatown has in its history been ravaged by the plague, quarantined, and burned to the ground. In April 02016, the future rhymes with bygone times as bird flu rears its beady-eyed little head. Our distributed installation played out the scenario in reverse, from the installation of the memorial 18 months after the outbreak...

Photo: Bram Goots

Photo: Stuart Candy

To the revival of entrepreneurial activity shortly after the epidemic...

"Dust to Dust" flyer: Matthew Jensen

Photo: Bram Goots

Photo: Stuart Candy

"Jake Stuart" poster: Matthew Jensen / Photo: Bram Goots

Photo: Bram Goots

Photo: Stuart Candy

"Still Paradise" poster: Matthew Jensen

To official notices posted by the National Agency for Investigative Epidemiology (N.A.I.E.) as the crisis was brought under control...

"Evacuation" poster: Matthew Jensen / Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Bram Goots

Photo: Stuart Candy

"All Clear" poster: Matthew Jensen / Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

To impromptu messages placed in the streets by ordinary people when the outbreak first occurred...

"Missing" installation design: Matthew Jensen / Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Below, the outline scenario that Jake Dunagan and I wrote for this third phase of FoundFutures : Chinatown...

What if Chinatown were ground zero of a new influenza epidemic?

Chinatown has long been haunted by tragedy. In 01886 and again in 01900, it was burned to the ground. When a deadly strain of influenza called H8N2 broke out in April 02016, this tragedy in paradise was global news; but local authorities acted quickly. Aircraft were grounded and as Honolulu's "Hang Ten Flu" took hold, the National Guard immediately quarantined Chinatown and systematically raided all residences and businesses in search of individuals exhibiting symptoms.

The rapid response of authorities, and establishment of military/medical checkpoints along all highways across the island, meant that the crisis could be confined to O'ahu. Residents and visitors at risk of infection were relocated to mobile quarantine facilities in Honolulu or on the North Shore (several cruise liners were requisitioned for this purpose by the National Agency for Investigative Epidemiology, the newly established, disease-oriented tactical response branch of FEMA). The ill were then shipped to more secure facilities on Moloka'i for treatment -- and, in one out of every three cases, burial.

The "Weeping Spring" of 02016 brought tourism and most other aspects of everyday life on O'ahu to a standstill. The origins of the virus remain controversial -- at first thought to due to low-quality imported poultry, the outbreak has reportedly been traced to a security lapse at a university research facility on the island. Investigations are still underway.

During the tragedy, the community of Chinatown was frozen. A high proportion of residents lost family members, and the cessation of construction which had occurred at first from necessity was extended while residents debated next steps. However, eighteen months later the citizenry has regrouped and, led by a newly elected, youthful Mayor C. Ballesteros, a renewed sense of shared purpose and identity is discernible. The temporary interruption in shipments and motorized traffic had the effect of heightening awareness of Hawaii's isolation, and increased calls for self-reliance. Many residents have begun cultivating their own food sources, and plans are afoot to turn a number of Chinatown streets into public gardens.
[Update 30 October 02007: See also previous scenario... Green Dragon / Next post... Outdoor installation takes cover]

Green Dragon

Art: Yumi Vong

The second phase of FoundFutures : Chinatown imagines an Earth-friendly China, two decades hence. Those campaigning Hawai'i to become independent of the U.S. look to the other side of the Pacific for support, and evidence of their new allegiance begins to appear in the streets...

Art: Yumi Vong / Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Bram Goots

A powerful citizens' coalition behind the renewed Hawaiian sovereignty movement rallies its supporters around ecological commitments...

Art: Yumi Vong / Text: Jake Dunagan

The "Sovereign Green Manifesto" reads as follows:

In Hawai'i, sovereignty without sustainability is meaningless,
yet sustainability without sovereignty is impossible.

Sovereign Green fights against the corrupt and
irresponsible governance of the islands and all its peoples.

The United States' illegal occupation, and destructive
military and environmental policies must be stopped.

Sovereign Green advocates independence for Hawai'i
so that current and future generations may live peacefully and happily.

Only with the ability to craft laws and policies
in accordance with the values and conditions of these islands
can we shape a nation that is righteous and responsible.

In reclaiming our sovereignty, we embrace our role as
caretakers of the land and stewards of our own evolution.

We welcome all races, ethnicities, and beliefs.

Stand with us!

In a gesture recalling the French gift in 01886 of the Statue of Liberty to the United States, in 02026 the Chinese donate a giant "Statue of Harmony" to the people of Hawai'i. This monument to international friendship (towering over vessels arriving in Honolulu Harbor, with Chinatown in the background) features Queen Lili'uokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, holding aloft a torch with Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen, who attended school in Hawai'i. They stand upon a huge granite platform bearing the word "harmony" in Chinese, Hawaiian, and (on the side hidden from view) English.

"The Statue of Harmony" by Yumi Vong

From 13-15 October, a large framed drawing of this exciting gift was on display at various locations in and near Chinatown...

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Photo: Stuart Candy

Already, souvenirs of the Statue of Harmony can be found in tourist shops...

Photo: Stuart Candy

Here's the scenario (co-written by Jake Dunagan) which inspired this part of the FoundFutures installation:

What might become of Chinatown in a world where China is the predominant superpower?

The strange dance of U.S-China relations has taken many turns in recent years. Seeking strategic advantage in renewable energy, for more than a decade the People's Republic of China has lent its prodigious industrial and diplomatic weight to the international movement to control carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. This has brought it increasing into conflict with the U.S, which, leveraging military power to protect its economic interests, has also become more vocal in supporting independence for Taiwan and Tibet.

But a whole new level of tension between the U.S. and China is rising over the leak of a top-secret memo from the office of the Chinese Vice Premier. The memo outlines negotiations between China and several Hawaiian agitators, notably the radical "Sovereign Green" coalition -- a rising independence movement which rests its support base on ecological rather than ethnic affiliation. It also refers to a long-term strategy for China's role in Hawaiian affairs, including a potentially explosive proposal to back Hawaiian independence from the U.S. Essentially, according to unnamed sources, the sovereignty of the Hawaiian islands could be recognized internationally by China and its allies, in exchange for their becoming a temporary protectorate of the PRC.

Whether an olive branch or a further provocation, China's proposal for an iconic "Statue of Harmony" in Honolulu Harbor is causing great excitement, especially in Chinatown -- which has for some time been a highly fashionable outpost for Chinese cultural products (from cooking competitions to immersive games). Chinatown has not only retained its status as a perennially interesting, changing neighbourhood, but it is also an important local node of global power in a geopolitical climate tilted decisively in favor of the so-called "Green Dragon".
[Update 30 October 02007: Next scenario... The Bird Cage / Previous... McChinatown]