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An Introduction to Futures

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What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible?
— F. T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto

In a forest outside Oslo, one-thousand trees are edging skyward. Their timber is being cultivated to supply paper for an anthology of books that will be printed and published in the year 2114. This process and (eventual) end-point forms Future Library by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, an artwork in which tending to the forest for one-hundred years finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to produce a work in the hope it finds a receptive reader in an unknown future.

It is this speculative ‘tomorrow’ that this issue of fine print is concerned with. We take as a starting point, Paterson’s push against the tendency to think in short bursts of time and focus our eye forward, towards the possibilities held by futures imagined, distant and near.

Called upon to question, criticise and suggest alternatives, artists are well placed to present propositions as to where we might be headed. Critic Jerry Saltz pointed to their potential as prognosticators, saying that artists often ‘see patterns before they form and put them in their work so that later, in hindsight, the work explodes like a time bomb.’

A focused examination of the contemporary moment and its afterlife concentrates us on the critical and creative potential of the unknown and the unexpected. This openness is precisely the position needed amidst these times of climate crisis, shifting demographics and geopolitical upheaval. It offers us the chance to analyse the present to prepare an argument for ways forward.

But artists, curators and theorists at the beginning of the 21st century have been arguably distant from this fascination with futurity, instead adopting a reflective view that excavates, preserves and interprets the past. Described by Dieter Roelstraete in 2009 as ‘the historiographic turn’, there has been a fixation on history - archives, memory, reconstruction and documentation - in content and in form. A decade later, where are we now? Who is looking forward, and what do they see?

And what of art itself? Do new technologies, virtual realities and the online space offer us everything we might have hoped for at the point of their conception? Are we moving towards the de-material in the exhibition space: less formalism, more connectivity and dialogue with the viewer? Curator Jeffreen M Hayes posits a future that is decidedly representational; more artists of colour, queer and female-identifying artists gaining institutional recognition and expanded platforms.

On a practical level, there is a sense that with funding and support for art-making in a state of extreme flux and particularly in South Australia, the future of the artist is an urgent thought in the minds of many. If their role is as an artist-entrepreneur hybrid, what room is there for the rigorous work of research and experimentation – the conceptualisation and the making itself?

It seems fitting that our twentieth issue, a milestone that prompts us to take stock, considers what might be next. Our writers speculate on a multiplicity of futures, examining utopias, dystopias and the messy, flawed possibilities that lie between.

The conversation begins with Olivia De Zilva (SA), Callum Docherty (SA), Michelle Millar Fisher (USA), Sasha Grbich (SA/PRT), Hester Lyon (VIC), Alexandra Nitschke (SA), and Kelly Reynolds (SA).

— Joanna Kitto for fine print