Future Caucus

By Sven Lütticken

In May, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven organized the ten-day programme Becoming More, which it introduced as follows:

On the 10th anniversary of the research and exhibition project Be(com)ing Dutch it is time to convene again – to come together to strengthen existing alliances and to develop new affinities. Through the caucus we will ask how art can provide a productive, critical space where solidarities are formed and political visions rehearsed. In other words, it will ask: ‘How can we become more?’


Photo: Sven Lütticken. Doreen Mende and Kodwo Eshun.

As part of becoming More, Eric de Bruyn and I convened what we called the Future Caucus on May 20. Why “Future Caucus”? Historically, the humanities have revolved around a certain Western canon of the art of the past. In the field of art history, it only became accaptable to write theses and dissertations on contemporary art during the 1960s; an extension to non-Western and minoritiarian art practices followed later still. In the Netherlands, the humanities today are in the grip of academic research agendas that present themselves as forward-looking, as positively futuristic or futurological (meeting tomorrow’s challenges today!). Unfortunately, the overarching technocratic framework of the dominant funding structures and programmes allows for little fundamental reflection on the question which and whose futures are being posited and constructed. Are we talking about “smart” technological and social adaptation in order to maintain the status quo—about perpetuating the present—, or about something different?


Meanwhile, as politics in many western countries has taken a reactionary turn, there is a proliferation of neofuturist speculations. As we put it in the introduction to the Future Caucus:

Not too long ago, Fredric Jameson’s phrase that “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” was widely quoted and taken as proof of a decline—or indeed collapse—of the utopian imagination, which Jameson himself has analysed so compellingly in its literary (science-fiction) manifestations. Today, there is an abundance of neofuturisms, futurologies, speculative philosophies and accelerationist scenarios. What seems at stake here is a fundamental split between a “capitalist realism” that encapsulates the future in an ever-expanding process of accumulation, and a tendency that in the face of a looming planetary catastrophe attempts to imagine another future, which can be conceptualized as the liberation of human potential or, alternatively as the proliferation of posthuman alterities.

[…] The ‘future caucus’ is convened to address the following questions: Could it be that the total privileging of a radically different future (itself a modernist move) over various pasts and presents is not itself a dangerous impoverishment? What can be learned from historical futurities and potentialities? Do we need to distinguish between a return to the futurity of utopian thought and revivals of a specifically modernist, utopian imagination? Is there a repressed content of utopian thought to be discovered that might speak to our current predicament? 

Photo: Metropolis M. From left to right: Interpreter, Maurizio Lazzarato, McKenzie Wark, and Anna Teixeira Pinto (moderator)

We were lucky to be able to collaborate with one of the few truly critical (in more ways than one) art institutions in the Netherlands, and to get a compelling roster of speakers to discuss these and other questions. In the morning, Maurizio Lazzarato shared the stage with McKenzie Wark, and in his talk and during the discussion (moderated by Ana Teixeira Pinto) Lazzarato roundly denied the relevance and productivity of the notion of the future—equating it with accelerationism, and accelerationm with a profoundly obsolete nineteenth-century mode of thinking. The day continued with talks by Diedrich Diederichsen and Marina Vishmidt, and a final section with presentations by Kodwo Eshun and Doreen Mende, respectively on post-independence Ghana through the film Black Star and on GDR future films through defa-futurum; their talks, were linked by the figure of the East-German filmmaker Joachim Hellwig. In general, the day stood out for the ways in which the speakers drewup new geneaologies, excavating of past futurities that, for all their failures and compromises, may still hold a potential for rethinking and reimagining the present and its ever-shrinking horizon of possibilities.


A full report on the Future Caucus can be found on Metropolis M: http://www.metropolism.com/en/features/31782_van_abbe_day_1

(Featured image: still from Im Staub der Sterne, a film featured in the presentation by Doreen Mende)

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