Participants are challenged into envisioning an utopian Future Ephemera collection of artifacts.
The Lab remains open and online. New contributions are welcome at https://
The Future Ephemera workshop aims to exercise a re-belief in The Future. Participants are invited to create, using their preferred media (words, images, sounds, digital collages, &etc.) artifacts from a Future Ephemera collection, in what will be an experience in shared utopianism. Artifacts are to be grounded in tangible possibility (no extropian digital mind uploads, if you will, or other kinds of transcendental hypotheses). Envisioning present day struggles as past victories, participants will envision a Future regained, a Future freed from projections of anxiety.
Here’s a stream of thoughts to frame this workshop: https://goo.gl/crkD8n
On Mementos From a Better Future
The Lab had a deceptively simple challenge. As an exercise in design fiction, participants were asked to imagine media artifacts from a future Utopian exhibition about the struggles that brought that utopia to reality. The aim was to for this exercise to stoke political and social imagination, a practice much needed in this time of chilling, stifling ideologies that claim There Is No Alternative. Thirty three participants overall attended the Lab, a large majority being first year students of Daniel Brandão at ESAP and of Sofia Silva at ESAD, only present in the first session.
As a preliminary exercise, participants in the Lab were invited to individually reflect and write down some of the attributes they would foresee in an Utopian future society; and later they were asked to copy some of their ideas to the whiteboard. The contributions stressed the need for this Lab and similar initiatives. Most of the young participants envisioned no further than the application political agendas already in the mainstream (eg. drug decriminalization) or the larger dissemination of existing technologies discussed in the media (eg. electric and self-driving vehicles, augmented reality). Most participants didn’t consider how that dissemination of technologies may shape societies in wildly different ways and didn’t venture to imagine transformations spanning decades in the future.
The round-table discussions that followed these individual writing exercises revealed the extent of how the contributions in the whiteboard were a product of the contemporary media landscape. Some young participants tended to mimic the opinions of pundits in the media, dismissing alternatives to the status quo. It can be noted that though these discussions highlighted the fundamental nature of utopia, that of an impossibility – hence the existence of politics – many young participants in the Lab seemed to be under the inverse impression: that this is the nearly the best of all possible worlds, and the status quo may only be questioned under traditional agendas (eg. gender equality, ending poverty), not addressing the systems that underpin those inequalities. (Fluffy help us all if Silicon Valley is the last repository of political imagination!) A consensus did coalesce around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, in the face of present-day struggles, may well be the closest to a blueprint for a future utopia.
Looking at historical artifacts (as those in the Ephemera archive) was proposed as a means of envisioning the Mementos to be designed. Participants were asked to extrapolate from the past to the present to the future and consider that the latter activists use and will use different media and face different dangers. Whereas secret police and political repression remains a very serious threat in many parts of the globe (and the West may well not be excluded), activists in democratic societies presently face more immediate dangers from online scrutiny (eg. from potential employers) and from online forms of harassment and their extreme manifestations (from doxxing to cyber-attacks to the long-hypothesized crowd-sourcing of murder). Internet memes replaced mimeographed samizdats as the new medium of struggle, and their wackiness and anonymity may offer a degree of safety, both in numbers and through their veiled language.
Some images were produced over the two lab sessions and have been aggregated in a blog. I feel most artifacts so far produced were either too cryptic or mere mimicries of the vaporwave imagery I had beforehand presented just as an expression of nostalgia for technology’s lost potential and of that yearning for utopia that I still think is universal.
Eduardo Morais (Porto, 1979) is a lecturer at Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Porto. He also has a MSc in Multimedia and is currently a PhD candidate in Digital Media at the the University of Porto, pursuing studies on the intersection of software and art education.