“I see retrofuturism as a conservative way of coming to terms with the present. It’s odd because it’s such a temporal loop: instead of wanting to replace the present with the past, as would be a pure conservative’s dream, we want to replace it with the way we imagined the future (our present) to be in the past.”—Enthusiasms
“One of the trickier aspects of this formulation of foresight is the need to keep an eye on how the dynamics of change themselves are evolving. It’s easy to get locked into a particular idiom of futurism, calling upon standard examples and well-known drivers as we work through what a turbulent decade or three might hold. It’s comforting to be able to go back to the old standbys, confident that the audience can sing along.”—Open the Future: The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be
“In Hapax Phaenomena and other projects such as Google Earth Sites, you refer to your art objects as artifacts or curios. Do you see yourself as an observer documenting an endangered technological curiosity? Yes. These things will all disappear, and probably soon, in the name of progress. These artifacts are atypical ephemera, and often accidental products created by various internet algorithms. There is very little direct human hand in these artifacts. Though the purpose in collecting them is not simply for their preservation. It’s more about framing them, allowing them to be seen, and showing a kind of bizarre byproduct of these super-functioning and useful systems, such as Google.”—Rhizome | Artist Profile: Clement Valla
“I’ve been a big believer in historical pendulum swings—American sociopolitical cycles that tend to last, according to historians, about 30 years. So maybe we are coming to the end of this cultural era of the Same Old Same Old. As the baby-boomers who brought about this ice age finally shuffle off, maybe America and the rich world are on the verge of a cascade of the wildly new and insanely great. Or maybe, I worry some days, this is the way that Western civilization declines, not with a bang but with a long, nostalgic whimper.”—You Say You Want a Devolution? | Style | Vanity Fair
“Ironically, new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze: now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived and it’s all about dreaming of the past. Our culture’s primary M.O. now consists of promiscuously and sometimes compulsively reviving and rejiggering old forms. It’s the rare “new” cultural artifact that doesn’t seem a lot like a cover version of something we’ve seen or heard before. Which means the very idea of datedness has lost the power it possessed during most of our lifetimes.”—You Say You Want a Devolution? | Style | Vanity Fair
A digital artefact has no physical characteristics, therefore cannot be dated independently of its claims as to the time when it was created or posted. What follows – along the lines of what Paolo Cherchi-Usai has written about the moving image, and of one of the main corollaries of the contention that we live in a ‘post-photographic era’ – is that a digital artefact cannot be regarded as a historical document. More than that: we cannot keep time digitally. Not without a commitment to establishing and maintaining common timelines. Not when I can turn around in a day or a year’s time and change the content of this post without leaving a discernible trace.
There is no era in poster-art that won’t get cleverly reinvented as alternative past or present. There is no worldwide current event that won’t make Hitler angry, or that cannot be represented as a series of status updates on Facebook. Endless film prequels, the current vogue for period television drama, vintage tastes in fashion and the retromania in pop music described by Simon Reynolds are all manifestations of the folding of the past into the present
ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity. Taking account of seasonal variation and accommodating a wide range of modes and means of transport, ORBIS reveals the true shape of the Roman world and provides a unique resource for our understanding of premodern history.
“The result will be a state of constant psychological warfare between the present and the future, where reality changes far too fast for either a global Field or a personal one to keep up. Where adaptation-by-specialization turns into a crazed, continuous reinvention of oneself for survival. Where the reinvention is sufficient to sustain existence financially, but not sufficient to maintain continuity of present-experience. Instrumental metaphors will persist while appreciative ones will collapse entirely.”—Welcome to the Future Nauseous
Space is becoming as malleable and fluid as photographic images. We can know everything now. Everything from everywhere at anytime. The notion of the mysterious or the unknown is fast becoming a nostalgia. While the romantic may lament the loss of the unknown, the detective celebrates it, for it is his job to discover the unknown and reveal the latent messages encoded in space.
The result will be a world population with a large majority of people on the edge of madness, somehow functioning in a haze where past, present and future form a chaotic soup (have you checked out your Facebook feed lately) of drunken perspective shifts.
This is already starting to happen. Instead of a newspaper feeding us daily doses of a shared Field, we get a nauseating mix of news from forgotten classmates, slogan-placards about issues trivial and grave, revisionist histories coming at us via a million political voices, the future as a patchwork quilt of incoherent glimpses, all mixed in with pictures of cats doing improbable things.
“Sure, we can all see the small clues all around us: cellphones, laptops, Facebook, Prius cars on the street. Yet, somehow, the future always seems like something that is going to happen rather than something that is happening, present-continuous rather than future perfect. Even the nearest of near-term science fiction seems to evolve at some fixed receding-horizon distance from the present.”—Welcome to the Future Nauseous
“I want to give it a name, and at this point I’m calling it Network Realism. Network Realism is writing that is of and about the network. It’s realism because it’s so close to our present reality. A realism that posits an increasingly 1:1 relationship between Fiction and the World. A realtime link. And it’s networked because it lives in a place that’s that’s enabled by, and only recently made possible by, our technological connectedness. I think these are misreadings of Network Realism. This writing exists on a timeline, but it’s not a simple line back-to-the-past and forward-to-the-future. It’s a gathering-together of many currently possible worldlines, seen from the near-omniscient superposition of the network. The Order Flow of the Universe. Speculative Realism, Networked Fiction: Network Realism.”—Network Realism: William Gibson and new forms of Fiction | booktwo.org
In the case of atemporality, the most pernicious parts are our inability to map ourselves historically in order to take stock of our condition and the lack of alternative temporalities together with the possibility of rupture.
5 The INS rejects the Enlightenment’s version of time: of time as progress, a line growing stronger and clearer as it runs from past to Future. This version is tied into a narrative of transcendence: in the Hegelian system, of Aufhebung, in which thought and matter ascend to the realm of spirit as the projects of philosophy and art perfect themselves. Against this totalizing (we would say, totalitarian) idealist vision, we pit counter-Hegelians like Georges Bataille, who inverts this upwards movement, miring spirit in the trough of base materialism. Or James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, who, hearing the moronic poet George William Russell claim that ‘Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences,’ pictures Platonists crawling through William Blake’s buttocks to eternity, and silently retorts: ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all Future plunges to the PAST.’
6 To phrase it in more directly political terms: the INS rejects the idea of the Future, which is always the ultimate trump card of dominant socio-economic narratives of progress. As our Chief Philosopher Simon Critchley has recently argued, the neoliberal versions of capitalism and democracy present themselves as an inevitability, a destiny to whom the Future belongs. We RESIST this ideology of the Future, in the name of the sheer radical potentiality of the past, and of the way the past can shape the creative impulses and imaginative landscape of the present. The Future of thinking is its past, a thinking which turns its back on the Future.
“As the arc of innovation becomes a branching, radical network rather than a cutting edge, we don’t need to look to the future anymore, but to our unfolding interfaces for things that already exist.
We might call this “the uncertain ethical implications of atemporality.” In only a few years, the span of history and the calm, orderly narratives it wove were effectively collapsed into a multi-dimensional space most closely modeled by Google Instant results after typing a single character in to the search bar.”—
Al Gore envisioned networked technology as the “information superhighway,” tempted by the symbolic power of the road. In the analysis of Russian thinker Mikhail Bakhtin, the road’s properties of openness and motion make it a common literary setting for encounters among individuals of diverse backgrounds. Time’s forward movement, doubled by the road’s linear shape, is transfused into social exploration.
“Although they’re now simply known as the Anaheim Ducks, Walt Disney Co. originally founded the pro hockey team The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993, one year after the theatrical release of the similarly titled Emilio Estevez-starring hockey film.”—11 Actual Products Inspired By Films And TV | Slideshows
After Priestley, the form of the timeline caught on. In addition to its visual effectiveness, the timeline amplified conceptions of historical progress that were becoming popular at the time. The relationship was mutually reinforcing. As Priestley himself suggests, the timeline filled in as a kind of fantasized visual referent for an object without material substance. In its simplest form, it appeared to guarantee the simplicity and directionality of past and future history. But Priestley’s commentary points to a problem too. History had never actually taken the form of a timeline or of any other line for that matter. And simplicity, the great advantage of the form, threatened also to be its greatest flaw. The timeline could function as “the most excellent mechanical help to the knowledge of history” because it could impress the imagination “indelibly.” For the same reason, a century later, Henri Bergson would refer to the “imaginary homogeneous time” depicted by the timeline as a deceiving “idol.”
“the object of any of our senses, and no image can properly be made of it, yet because it has a relation to quantity, and we can say a greater or less space of time, it admits of a natural and easy representation in our minds by the idea of a measurable space, and particularly that of a LINE.”—CABINET // The Trouble with Timelines Jason Priestley
So you are saying that technology came before humans?
The archaeological record shows chipped stone tool technologies earlier than 2.5 million years ago. That’s the smoking gun. The oldest fossil specimen of the genus Homo is at most 2.2 million years old. That’s a gap of more than 300,000 years – more than the total length of time that Homo sapiens has been on the planet. This suggests that earlier hominins called australopithecines were responsible for the stone tools.
“‘Modern’ has become almost an insult, which is why I am trying to dust it down and examine it as tool that could be used again. What if there really were a new modernity emerging beyond Postmodernism, as opposed to the dominant discourse? Rust is never where everybody thinks it is.”—Nicolas Bourriaud Frieze Magazine | Archive | Tate Triennial 2009
TM Both The Radicant and the Tate Triennial arrive at a moment of global economic crisis. Is this significant to your construction of ‘altermodern’?
NB The term ‘Postmodern’ first appeared around the time of the 1973 oil crisis, an event that caused the world to realize for the first time that our energy reserves were limited – i.e., it put an end to the idea of superabundance, infinite progress and the Modernist idea of culture as a projection into the future. The oil crisis represents for me the ‘primordial moment’ of Postmodernism. Since then the economy has been disconnected from natural resources and reoriented towards an immaterial ‘financialization’, whose limits we clearly see now, with the partial collapse of the system. While the economy was severing its ties with concrete geography, culture was becoming divorced from history as a coherent scenario. Postmodernism was the story of this disconnection, leading to a reified conception of ‘origins’. What I call ‘altermodern’ is the narrative of our reconnection with both, through a new set of parameters linked to globalization - instantaneity, availability, displacements …
TM Perhaps this is a very British question, but how does class fit into your formulation of ‘altermodernity’?
NB One could say that the Postmodernist period has seen the notion of ‘class’ erased as a historical subject and replaced by a myriad of ethnic, cultural, social or sexual communities. None of those groups in itself represents a threat to the ruling establishment, and the Postmodern period has seen a move from political to socio-cultural struggles. But at this political level the gathering of those communities into a ‘multitude’, as Michael Hardt and Toni Negri termed it, finally crystallized into the ‘alterglobalization’ movement, a cluster of intertwined struggles that, although deprived of any totalizing content, are coherent between one another. Modernism was preoccupied by the way history could be achieved according to prescribed scenarios. Again, the big Postmodern question was ‘Where are you coming from?’, which was the basis of its post-colonial, essentialist and post-political discourse. A new question arises today - ‘Where are we going to?’ We know that we can only reach this destination, wherever it is, by wandering. Real social divisions are economic. The modern gesture par excellence is the uprooting, the exodus – which is why I consider queer theory as more ‘altermodern’ than Postmodern.
TM How would you characterize your vision of space and time? It seems to me that written or spoken language is important to a number of artists in the Triennial. I’m thinking of the work of Nathaniel Mellors, Tris Vonna-Michell, Charles Avery ...
NB In order to understand it, we have to go back to Postmodernism, whose historical task was to level all chronological systems by criticizing the Western one. In our globalized culture time has become a space in itself, and the artists I categorize as ‘altermodern’ are the first to explore this new frontier. So yes, Mellors, Vonna-Michell and Avery are using written or spoken language in their works, in order to compose complex narratives in which time and space merge. I call this compositional mode the ‘journey form’, a ‘trajectorial form’; it includes elements that are absent, past or future, fictional or documentary. It can take the form of an installation connecting with diverse events or places, bringing together the co-ordinates of a unique journey, as a ribbon of signs. Simon Starling and Darren Almond, for example, displace objects in order to unveil their history - they ‘viatorize’ forms (from the Latin viator, ‘traveller’).
“I feel we’re in a time now where people can handle whatever you can throw at them as long as there’s something they recognize that they can hold on to, so why not just really fucking go there? Why not just have all these things from our past as well as all of the newest technology from today in one, and just really come up with the craziest shit we can?… With as much access as we have to all this stuff, to our musical history, our world history, we definitely can be killing shit way crazier… We have the technology!”—Articles: Maximal Nation | Features | Pitchfork Flylo
The overall effect of pulling from many different phases in the evolution of electronic music technology is a fiesta of retro-futures: as if flashing back simultaneously to all the moments when a bunch of new machines changed the sound of music could somehow redeliver that original shock of the now.
“Eventually the quality of Street View photography will peak and the website will achieve a perfect atemporality. The image quality of 100 Oak St in Google Street View in 2015 will look no different from a 2025 representation. Date is then determined by recondite indications of the landscape and architecture transforming. No sepia tone, no lens flare occurs to sort these images into their respective moments in history.”—Free
“Someday we will press a button to rewind and fast-forward through the history of Google Street View images. We will watch entire neighborhoods created, remade, destroyed, or left unchanged except in the subtlest ways.”—Free