Alexander Lee. The Botanical Factory III. 2017.

Shared from: Harper’s Bazaar Arabia

by Katrina Kufer

Following intense renovations by architects Axel Vervoordt and Tatsuro Mikki, the Museum of Contemporary Art opened its doors with the experimental exhibition A Temporary Futures Institute.

Turning the institute into a laboratory-cum-studio, it fuses art and future studies under the umbrella project The Uses of Art by the European museum confederation L’Internationale. Instead of living in a retrospective or nostalgic reality, the exhibition invites viewers to think critically about what is yet to come and to adopt the practice of ‘foresight’ (forward thinking). A means to holistic thinking and understanding process as opposed to a fast-forward method towards an answer or defined knowledge, “the plural is important; it reminds us not to try to predict one single future,” the exhibition statement explains.

The show is formulated around the “four futures” concept professor Jim Dator presented in the 1960s as a way to explain the way in which the future is envisioned through the terms “continued growth”, “collapse”, “discipline” and “transformation”. These keywords form the foundation for sub-themes within the show, alongside a visual aid created by Alexander Lee, whose dynamic paintings and installations introduce the exhibition. Curators Anders Kreuger and Dr Maya Van Leemput then pose additional questions such as “How shall exhibitions stimulate our thinking? Must they become immersive environments to lure us away from our screens?” and “How autonomous will exhibitions, and the art and artists they feature, be in relation to the rest of the world?” Artists and academics Michel Auder, Miriam Bäckström, Kasper Bosmans, Simryn Gill, Guan Xiao, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Alexander Lee, Nina Roos and Darius Žiūra work to metaphorically interpret and critique existing and stereotyped ideas of the future with a touch of fantasy and an uncomfortable dose of reality.

Here are six ominous interpretations not to miss.

The London-based Center for Postnormal Policy & Futures Studies is represented by director Professor Ziauddin Sardar and deputy director John A. Sweeney’s installation Postnormal Times (2017). It predicts futures characterised by “Contradiction, Complexity and Chaos”, where all that was ‘normal’ has evaporated. A sub-work, Polylogue (2017), comes in the form of a game, which upon collapse demonstrates the uplifting potential for new beginnings.

Michel Auder’s observations of the ups and downs of metropolitan life since the 1960s comes forward in 1967 (1967-2017), a nine-channel video installation based on silent film footage. Harking back to the optimism of 50 years ago, the installation dichotomously features three videos that offer deep insight into the American psyche that prefigure 9/11 and Trump: It’s Hard to Be Down When You’re Up (1978-2005), shot at New York’s World Trade Center; Voyage to the Center of the Phone Lines (1993), eavesdropping on mobile phone conversations; and Mixing Up the Medicine (2015), a free-form essay film.

Mei-Mei Song, assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taipei, presents a technology-assisted pricing system for consumer goods in an imagined highly disciplined society, where items for sale are valued in euros and Carbon Footprint Points – work is a privilege to be paid for. Additional work Time Machine (2017) is a role-play exercise instructing participants to ‘look back before looking forward’.

Miriam Bäckström shows four tapestries from the series New Enter Image (2016–ongoing) where the works, based on multiple high-definition digital photographs of textiles and everyday objects woven onto computerised jacquard, articulate the impossibility of central perspective in digital reality, suggesting instead that we are already in the image, inextricably entwined in it.

Dr Stuart Candy, who defines himself as a professional futurist and experience designer, creates the installation NurturePod (2017), which highlights society’s increasing and unavoidable dependence on information systems by fitting out an infant with a headset.

Guan Xiao’s video triptych DengueDengueDengue (2017) features footage from the technology-obsessed and reliant modern day transformed into a “panchronic” reality where the past, present and future attack society simultaneously.

Temporary Futures Institute runs until 17 September at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium. For more information visit