An obsession with ruins can risk a fall into mere sentiment or nostalgia: ruin lust was already a cliché in the 18th century, and its periodic revivals may put one in mind of Gilbert and Sullivan: “There’s a fascination frantic / In a ruin that’s romantic.”
The great interest in the remarkable images of decayed Detroit – in the photographs, for example, of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, on show at the Wilmotte Gallery in London from this week – is easily understandable but seems oddly detached from analyses of the political forces that brought the city to its present sorry pass. It may be that as a cultural touchstone the idea of ruin needs to slump into the undergrowth again.
But the history of ruin aesthetics tells us that it would likely resurface in time, charged again with artistic and political energy, and we’d find ourselves looking once more at blasted or burned cities with a visionary or melancholy eye, just as Rose Macaulay did in 1941, ambiguously lamenting a bombed-out house where “the stairway climbs up and up, undaunted, to the roofless summit where it meets the sky”.
It has been said that the past is a foreign country—but it is the future that remains undiscovered. Despite the obvious truth that no one has been to the future, that no one has even seen a photograph of it, the last two centuries have witnessed the rise of a body of visual codes and tropes that are commonly seen and understood as “futuristic.” These “progressive” or “modern” attributes are derived from an entirely imaginary landscape, indicative of a destination that is impossible to visit; yet nearly everyone can recognize the place where no one has been.
“We tend to see the future as a continuation of the present. It never is. Today more than ever we can imagine a variety of good and bad futures. Here is a lively portraiture of some of them. They don’t have to happen. The choice is – mostly – ours.” Sir Crispin Tickell, Director of the Policy Foresight Programme, Oxford University”—Postcards From The Future
This doesn’t begin to cover the constant “come here and see this” requests, where said person will not be able to come there and see that due to falling plot. We live in a world already where no one need come and see anything, a quick picture upload obviates the need for O’Brien to come squint at your shit in person. Part of the reason, I think, that Minority Report continues to be a watchwod for interface technology is that it showed a new(ish) way for people to interact with technology. In DS9, instantaneous information tech is available and evenly distributed, but the writers do not live in a world, yet, where anyone has begun to figure out what to do with it. So walkie talkies are still, in 1999, the model for communication. DS9 cares about physical presence in a way we are already beginning to leave behind.
“There’s an old fan theory about various Trek series that says that what we’re watching is nothing more than Federation-produced propaganda, showing the citizenry how wonderful Starfleet is, how it protects people from the menace of other races etc This is to cover up that it’s really a pretty nasty military dictatorship (with the extrapolation that Blake’s 7 is revolutionary samizdat - hence the lower production values - from the same universe) Therefore it’s quite logical that the characters don’t do anything frivolous as they’re all perfect examples of New Soviet Starfleet Man who have risen above such temptations, though I imagine much of that technology is being used to pacify the 24th century masses.”—#shitsiskosays - Charlie’s Diary Nick Barlow
Climate change is central to London’s future. It will affect every aspect of the city, from buildings and public spaces to the way Londoners live and work. What impact will climate change have? Postcards From The Future is concerned with taking ideas and projections and juxtaposing them with contemporary visual images. This creates surprising, contradictory concepts that challenge our daily preconceptions of the world around us. Created by Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones the exhibition is based upon a series of 14 views of London which are transformed from the familiar to the startling, using the visual language of climate change to create provocative images Presented as large scale back-lit transparencies, each pristine image is defined by an astonishing degree of clarity and definition. Kew Nuclear Power is a mischievously humorous take on tapping energy in the suburbs of south-west London, while The Mall – Royal Power presents a pragmatic response to change. Postcards From The Future sets out to create illusory spaces in which people can explore the issues of a changed world and not reject them as ‘stuff that happens to other people’. “We want to create a space in which people can consider how climate change may impact on their lives. We are committed to making beautiful and arresting images which tell their own story. We have deliberately chosen ‘postcard’ shots of London, places that all of us are familiar with. By focusing our creative energy on these well- known panoramas, the images have taken on a life of their own. Even we were surprised by the way the story unfolded as the scene was created. Each picture has become a mini soap-opera, alive with colour, drama, triumph and adversity as our city is transformed and Londoners adapt to meet this change.”
In any case, what seems more provocative here, on the level of design, would be to appropriate this protective stance and reuse it in the design of future objects, but emphasizing the other end: to allow for the scanning of any object designed or manufactured, but to insert, in the form of watermarks, small glitches that would only become visible upon reprinting. We could call these object cancers: bulbous, oddly textured, and other dramatically misshapen errors that only appear in 3D-reprinted objects. Chairs with tumors, mutant silverware, misbegotten watches—as if the offspring of industrial reproducibility is a molten world of Dalí-like surrealism.
“Clearly in need of a creative outlet, he sets up a botnet of thousands of infected computers to try to take control of the moon rovers. He will have to wait, however, until those robots have landed and their calibrations finished to start hacking the servers of NASA and what would then be a greatly expanded interplanetary internet. But once appropriated, he will upload a different set of instructions. He will program them to terraform a full scale, regolithic Versailles on the surface of the moon.”—Pruned: Terraforming Versailles on the Moon
What kind of merit is there to Gingrich’s proposals — which he’s self-described as “grandiose” — for developing a rocket that can reach Mars, establishing a permanent moon base, and so on?
Well, let’s start with the “51st State” bit that’s being bandied about. Speaker Gingrich knows as well as the next political mammal that the Outer Space Treaty forbids any one nation from claiming sovereignty over the moon. So, not so much with the 51st State crap.
Now, a rocket that can reach Mars, or the Moon, with a crew-rated module. NASA used to have those. They were called Saturn V launchers. They stopped making them. And, right now, I don’t believe anyone is building a launcher with comparable juice. Space-X are making noises about one, but getting a stack crew-rated is a long haul. The Chinese, who seem to be basically cloning Apollo technology, aren’t there yet, but could be inside ten years. Everyone’s aware of this. The sort of lifting power we had with Apollo is gone. And Apollo would have been a crappy way of going to Mars anyway, because it’s still too slow, everyone would get cancer and it’d make being cooped up in the ISS for a year feel like living on Richard Branson’s private island.
Basically, because NASA stopped being able to try and solve all the problems, and because no-one else was all that interested, the science of crewed spaceflight really hasn’t advanced all that much since the 70s. So he can be as “grandiose” as he likes, but the term for what he’s actually doing is “bullshitting,” because neither NASA nor the private sector are in a condition to make his fantasies happen within the timeframe. There’s bugger all worth mining on the moon. The idea of extracting helium-3 from the lunar regolith to drive nuclear-fusion power stations that don’t exist yet… it’s all dream stuff.
Going to Mars is important. Going back to the Moon is, I think, important. But his plans and reasons for going make about as much sense as if he had said we had to go to Mars to find him something new to marry. I’m genuinely interested in seeing the human race escape the planet and go exploring. Speaker Gingrich would like to be elected.
In the same week (04/11/11) that the “astronauts” in the pretend space mission to Mars emerged from their 500 day solitary confinement, the Phobos-Grunt probe, which was supposed to go to the actual Mars, developed a fault which kept it in orbit around Earth. As metaphors go this is pretty compelling: the Soviet Union/ Russia may be drawn towards Mars, but seem ever to be bound by the gravity of Earth. Twas ever thus. Soviet visions of Mars have always been far more powerful than the sporadic attempts at exploration of the Red Planet.
“But for archaeologists and historians worried that the next generation of people visiting the moon might carelessly obliterate the site of one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments, these designations were important first steps toward raising awareness of the need to protect off-world artifacts.”—A Push for Historic Preservation on the Moon - NYTimes.com
But interest in the moon has perked up again. Russia and India plan to send robotic landers. NASA was going to send astronauts back there until the Obama administration changed course a couple of years ago.
Most crucially, the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition among 26 teams to become the first private organization to put a spacecraft on the moon, offered a $1 million bonus for visiting a historic site there. At least one team announced it was heading for Tranquillity Base.
“I have a strong memory of staying up all night to watch the Apollo 11 Moon landing as a small child. The space race circa 1969 had such major cultural influence and significance, and I think forms part of our belief in technology and its ability to change our futures and in the concept of progress itself.”—Republic of the Moon exhibition explores lunar living (Wired UK)
“Other functions are performed today in our network-society milieu of retromania, but their alienness is underestimated. We think that because we read the words on a screen, and hear the music as a file, it’s still somehow the same words and music as it was on paper and vinyl. But it isn’t.”—The WELL: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2012
“Stross was talking about the state of the future; I think in this
conversation we’ve been staying closer to the present, which is weird enough to keep us busy. The present is where we are, after all; the future is completely unreal. We want to imagine a future that’s different, and of course it will be to one or another extent, but seldom in ways we can predict. We keep predicting because we’re bored with the present, we want the future to hurry up, dammit, and bring us something new.”—The WELL: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2012
“So then we look at a picture of the globe at night. What’s out there in the dark spaces where the enlightenment has not yet reached?"
I’m inclined to think that the “dark spaces” are the ones where the enlightenment is in full retreat. Chernobyl and Fukushima, for two.”—The WELL: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2012
“Just like legacy code makes life difficult for programmers, legacy futures can make life difficult for futures thinkers. Not only do we have to describe a plausibly surreal future that fits with current thinking, we have to figure out how to deal with the leftover visions of the future that still colonize our minds.”—Open the Future: Legacy Futures Jamais Cascio
Patina is easy to fake. A whole industry has grown out of the desire to own things with a sense of history, perhaps inspired by the denim industry from the late 70s). But whereas Retro design uses the visual cues and forms from an earlier age (something we’ve written about at length here), pre-patinated design goes further. For now, pre-patination is a decidedly left-field operation, catering to a particular niche – the steampunk fascination with tarnished brass and varnished wood, for example. But there are signs that the hunger for built-in history is crossing over to the mainstream, especially in areas that are particularly threatened by digital culture.
“Or maybe we do not have yet enough history of computing devices to be able to notice the digital patina of them (missing pixels on a screen), pieces of codes. The Web has much more patina with all its old, dated or rotten links”—Karl Dubost things magazine
“One of the more nuanced quirks of Ethiopia is how locals refer to time. The country is notionally on Eastern Africa Time (EAT), which lies at UCT/GMT 3, but locally the clock-day starts at dawn (06:00) rather than at midnight (12:00) meaning that locals will quote times six hours ahead, or given that I’m writing this from Ethiopia – that I am running 6 hours behind. Time is an abstract and this is arguably less abstract than most: Ethiopia’s proximity to the equator provides limited variation to the dawn/dusk.”—Future Perfect » Time, Date Will Tell
“In a study by Science Magazine, students were asked to type in pieces of trivia, and depending on their group were told that their information would either be erased or saved. The group that was told their data would be saved were less likely to remember. This study indicates that people have lower rates of recall when they can expect to be able to access information in the future.”—15 Big Ways The Internet Is Changing Our Brain