Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 November 2019

Predicting the future: Alserkal Avenue exhibit puts our obsession with 'what next' in the spotlight

Alserkal Avenue’s Foretold Now summer series explores why we are constantly speculating about the future

The American University of Sharjah’s College of Architecture, Art and Design's project called on for students around the world to revisit the Chateau and predict what it might look through a Utopian world view. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue. 
The American University of Sharjah’s College of Architecture, Art and Design's project called on for students around the world to revisit the Chateau and predict what it might look through a Utopian world view. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue. 

Why is it that we’re always trying to predict what our future might look like? What is it about the unknown that intrigues us so much, and makes us want to uncover what it might look, smell, or even sound like? Why, exactly, are we so speculative about what the future might hold?

These are only some of the questions that Kevin Jones hopes to answer this coming month through the programme he has put together for Alserkal Avenue’s Foretold Now summer series. The Dubai arts writer is also a brand strategist and art critic.

“There’s a lot of conversation at the moment in Dubai about the future, and I feel we are in a very future-focused space in many ways,” Jones says. Every day, he drives by The Museum of the Future on Sheikh Zayed Road on his way to work, and every day it inches closer and closer towards completion. There’s Expo 2020 just around the corner, promising changes for many. There are initiatives launched by the Dubai Future Foundation, and regular talk about smart cities.

Dubai arts writer Kevin Jones hopes to get people engaging with a different type of future. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue. 
Dubai arts writer Kevin Jones hopes to get people engaging with a different type of future. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue. 

What intrigued Jones, however, is less what the future holds and more why we are constantly speculating in the first place.

“Why do we need to forecast and foretell? Every year, trends emerge in fashion, food, hospitality and so on," he says. "Why do we need these trends? What in us draws us to this idea of prediction?”

Last Saturday, Jones launched Foretold Now at Alserkal through a presentation that began by ageing him before his audience’s eyes. He used the popular FaceApp age filter (which uses a predictive algorithm to show what we might look like in 10, 15 or 20 years) to transform himself into a 75-year-old man.

We want to predict everything now: what we will look like, what we will be eating, who our politicians will be, what the climate will be. What is fall out of all this prediction? Is it ­anxiety? Is the future over-hyped to start with?

Kevin Jones, curator

“What underlines this is fetishisation of this projection? We want to predict everything now: what we will look like, what we will be eating, who our politicians will be, what the climate will be," he says. "What is the fallout of all this prediction? Is it ­anxiety? Is the future over-hyped to start with?”

Through a series of debates, live musical performances and dialogues that Jones has ­curated, as well as a reading group that will be running throughout, Foretold Now will examine what drives us to ­predict the future.

This Saturday, the scheduled dialogue will encompass an architectural component. A group of architecture students from the American University of Sharjah’s College of Architecture, Art and Design (Caad), submitted a proposal entitled Ecotopus. The 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Chateau de Chambord in France, widely believed to be influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, was the catalyst for this project, which called on students around the world to revisit the Chateau and predict what it might look like through a Utopian world view, ­considering the environmental and ecological challenges we face today.

Alserkal Avenue’s Foretold Now summer series features a series of debates. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue.
Alserkal Avenue’s Foretold Now summer series features a series of debates. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue.

“The students submerged the Chateau de Chambord under water,” explains Jones. “They wrote an essay around the project to be read by Allison Williams, founder of the Dubai Literary Salon, and it will be set to a soundtrack the students chose. It’s a mysterious, ­waterlogged project – beautiful, haunting and disturbing at the same time.”

As a complement to that, there will be a performance on Saturday, August 17, by artist and professor at Zayed University Isaac Sullivan. Originally a sound artist, Sullivan will present Utopics: Three Drafts on Timelessness.

“He examines what the apocalypse sounds like,” Jones says. “He is riffing off my idea that it is invisible and he will admit that, but it has to have a sound. His piece, a projection of text and sound, was performed in Venice in May and includes field ­recordings that he has taken, other soundtracks that he then ­distorts into almost sonic decay, but he layers one thing over the other and every ­performance of this piece is added to future performances, so that adds yet another layer.

American University of Sharjah’s College of Architecture, Art and Design (CaadAAD), submitted a proposal entitled Ecotopus influenced by the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Chateau de Chambord in France. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue. 
American University of Sharjah’s College of Architecture, Art and Design (CaadAAD), submitted a proposal entitled Ecotopus influenced by the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Chateau de Chambord in France. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue. 

“A crescendo of all of this is looking at the end of time itself,” Jones says. The apocalypse and how it is visualised – and more importantly, by whom – is an ongoing theme of the summer programme that will be brought to a head through the debate titled The Invisible End: Artists and the Apocalypse on August 24.

“Maybe the artist is not the one to visualise the apocalypse for us any more, but the scientist instead. The scientist is perhaps more adept at depicting the conditions of this new apocalypse than the artist.” And though he will not be taking a stance in this debate, Jones will be the one to unite thinkers, artists and futurologists and get them to hash out their positions.

Alongside Jones’s opening presentation, Foretold Now launched with a reveal of the season’s reading group book: the 1972 novel Roadside Picnic by Russian brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which will be explored in several sessions throughout the ­summer. Jones showed excerpts of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, which was inspired by Roadside Picnic, and Cinema Akil will wrap up the season by showing the film in its entirety on ­September 7.

So, what did Jones think of the initial reactions from last Saturday’s audience? “This is all quite dark,” he says. . “And that’s fine – these are dark subjects we’re discussing. I don’t want to replicate the conversations that others are having around the future, which are really interesting and not to dismiss them, but I want to look at this idea of prediction and get people to question the act of predicting and why are we so caught up with it. These are, after all, only explorations.”

Foretold Now is on Saturdays at 4pm until September 14. All events are free and open to the public, but registering at

rsvp@alserkalavenue.ae is essential as spaces are limited

Updated: July 31, 2019 08:36 AM

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