I taught three sessions introducing to future thinking in the framework of ‘WHAT IF… We already started?,’ a 3-weeks lab at the art school DAS Theater in Amsterdam.
I introduced the students to future thinking – building on research in modern futures studies, sustainability research and performing arts discourses and practices.
© Dust Institute
What we call the future is generally envisioned as a target to be reached by appropriate plans and decisions (strategic planning, roadmaps, etc.) drawing on an analysis of probable or plausible future possibilities (i.e. forecasting or foresight exercise).
Thus in a first step, I introduced western concepts and uses of the future in order to make explicit this naturalized, often implicit way of thinking of the future – a prerequisite for opening our imaginaries to a wider horizon of futures. I drew in particular on modern futures studies and its leading methods: forecasting or predicting probable futures by extrapolating the past into the future, and foresight or anticipating different plausible future scenarios.
In a second step, the lab participants were introduced to what I coin ‘futures as processes in the making,’ a process-based view of futures which is relevant both to sustainability research envisioned from a human and ecosystem perspective, and to specific artistic processes, i.e. practices, within the performing arts (such as practice-based research and collective authorship or commoning).
An original approach and framework to futures, ‘Futures as processes in the making’ is an attempt to put forward a more sustainable understanding of the future as plural and indeterminate, away from the future conceived as some goal to attain. It is western, neoliberal thinking which impose this hegemonical conception of the future as so many goals or targets to reach – should it be economic interests’ rates or CO2 emission reduction targets. These futures as targets tend in turn to impose imperatives (economic, social, political, ecological) on the present. Here lies the performative nature of the future, which enacts itself constantly in the present. In so doing, these goal-oriented futures constrain human imagination as well as spaces of agency toward truly alternative futures. Contrary to the future as a target, sustainable futures are those able to generate and sustain possibilities and potentialities for many different futures over time. Instead of enclosing the future, their aim is of keeping futures open. Keeping futures open can be archieved by establishing and nurturing processes and practices that remain open to yet unforeseeable needs, possibilities and desires. In other words, processes that contain their own transformative undoing. Panarchy theory which describes the life cycle of ecosystems is a good illustration thereof, which goes over growth, maturity, conservatism, decay, death, and renewal, in an endless regenerative circle. A prime example of transformative human undoing is given by the very concept of democracy, which aims at no specific target but at establishing the processes by which present and future needs, opportunities and desires/purposes, in their plurality, can be taken into account. Thus, futures as 'processes in the making' do not only imply thinking of alternative futures, but also changing how we think of the future. It is about moving from target-oriented to process-based, open futures, and from a linear to a circular and evolutive time perception. And most importantly, it needs us abandon our assumptions about the future. From then on, we will be able to see more opportunities in the present.
by Pankaj Tiwari and Tom Oliver Jacobson with Agat Sharma, Ainhoa Hernández Escudero and Luis Guenel | November 2020 | DAS Theater Amsterdam
Part of an ongoing speculative institute, this lab explores the relationship between imagination and uncertainty for fostering artistic responses; The futures that we often imagine in our impassioned discourses but never find the energy to act out will be rehearsed.
What options do we have as artists to relate to this reality in creative ways – and what tools can we develop to imagine beyond it. If we choose to wait, and deepen into our own imagination, what are our responsibilities to those that cannot afford to do so?