Besides the publication serie itself, as another output of my
research into words, imagination and future I share what thought,
cross-contamination, imagining or conditioning of futures has
taken place, in all the conversations I had with the artists in their
studio’s, in the fringe of the essays while editing, and what the
collection of words so far, tell me, and might tell us.
I do so in different forms of performative presentation.
On this page you find a video of the lecture (with band support) I did in Gent during ‘Het Literair Reservaat – "De toekomst van het woord - Het woord van de toekomst". As well as the text and photos of the installation-presentation I gave at Veem House for Performance during the Open House Festival, December 2017. In November 2018 the full series will be launched during a Words for the Future event in Veem's 100 Day House #2.
Each word is a thread for future weaving.
Lecture Presentations: Words for the Future
Installation-presentation of Words for the Future at the Open Huis Festival of Veem House for Performance, December 2017 - Photos, Ernst van Deursen
Words for the Future (a first attempt to reflect on a search for language)
Presentation text, Veem December 2017
It is raining. There is soup, and red wine. The word is LIQUID. Proposed by experimental architect and synthetic biologist Rachel Armstrong. Not as mere adjective or state of something. But as a way of living; liquid life, liquid bodies. Being liquid. I see it in Andrea Bozic and Julia Willms, or TILT’s, work, as they collaborate with dreams, with the weather and planets, in their overall idea of space as an organism. So I came to try out this word, LIQUID, with them. We have been calling it POROSITY they say. We discuss the difference. Material and energy. Different states of density. How an architectural and an organic space meet and become a third space. A porous space. A liquid space. Maybe.
Later, in their studio, Julia pours ink through a staple of papers with a small hole in it, by means of quick experiment, by means of thinking out loud. Andrea shows a plate with hardened coconut grease, two puppets are captured under the surface: before they were skating as if on ice, but it the summer the grease melted and made them drown.
With the project Words for the Future I am searching for a language, or words, that open up possible imaginations on the future.
If imagination is the underlying tissue of both reality and fiction, if everything we created has been ever imagined by us too, then language seems crucial in that process. As a way to express imagination. With language we describe, give name, bring something into existence.
A word: a world.
With Words for the Future I am searching for a language that opens up possible imaginations.
It is said that we are within a so-called crisis of imagination; that we cannot imagine alternatives for the current dominant systems that are failing. That we don’t know very well how to imagine beyond what we know, how to enter the darkness in front of us.
What does that say about language and the way we use it, and what potential is there in language to change this crisis? If we want to re-imagine our ways of being in and with the world, could we then start to describe it differently?
I am searching for a language.
I decided to go on a search, for words. Over the past months, my quest took me along about twenty people from various fields of knowledge that I felt are in some way ahead of their time. I asked them to propose a word for the future. Till now seven of them also really proposed one: LIQUID proclaimed the experimental architect from England resolutely, ECO-SWARAJ the environmentalist from India wrote, the American linguist brought OTHERNESS in, and the sociologist from Turkey brought HOPE to the fore.
LIQUID. A fluid perspective.
OTHERNESS. A state of being-other.
HOPE. Embracing the unknown.
PRACTICAL VISION. A doable vision.
ECO-SWARAJ. A by nature informed collective care and self-rule.
TENSE. The time between an event and its description.
UNDECIDABILITY. The quality of being undecidable. My collection of words for the future so far.
No verbs. No nouns that point to people, animals or things. All abstract notions. Maybe logical, the future is also a pretty abstract given. However, these words aren’t futurisms, there are not ‘of’ or ‘from’ a future. They touch me, as there is something about them that I recognise. They all seem to point to something that is already here. Not always on the surface but present as a potential.
Gurur Ertem, social scientist and performance studies scholar, added HOPE to the Words for the Future collection. In her essay she writes how in the light of the disruptive political events in Turkey, it appeared: "Hope is something that occurs in very dark moments" John Berger had said, and it did. Ertem started collecting a Syllabus of Hope of sorts: Are there any reasons to be hopeful despite the evidence? What are new ways of seeing in the dark? -- In HOPE, she explores some first responses to these questions through a strong political and poetic perspective and writing.
"Hope, I wish there was more of it, but reality is an obstruction" [He laughs] "No I take that back." Ogutu Muraya gifted storyteller and theatre maker at the start of our conversation on hope. Ya, How to keep your hopes up? In order to explain me how he relates to hope he takes me to the history - or his story - of Kenya. We end with the stories of the heroes of his latest piece I Always Feel Like Running; Kenyan runners, that each in their own way kept going for the finish line, no matter what. It makes Muraya wonder: What keeps you going despite it all? Two weeks later I see his older piece Fractured Memories in which he performed his poem ZERO. In it he celebrates zero as a space that contains every thing and at the same time as an empty space from which anything can spring. He doesn't say the word but the poem breathes it between all lines: HOPE.
“Does it have to be an English word?” Ashish Kothari environment researcher and activist from India writes me. “If not, I’d propose Eco-Swaraj.” Swaraj, an Indian word carrying different meanings: self-rule or self-autonomy, and responsibility. Later Ghandi added ‘the care for the other’. And Ashish connected the eco to it: ‘informed by nature’. He writes about small local grass-root communities in India that are ‘eco-swaraj’ – that take the responsibility to govern their way of living with their surroundings, creating their own politics, economics, ethics, etc. Ashish follows these evolvements all over India and other parts of the world and foresees they could accumulate in what he calls RED; a Radical Ecological Democracy.
Rodrigo Sobarzo, a Chilean artist based here in Amsterdam, says; eco-swaraj – it sounds like some kind of trademark to me. A few weeks later he sends me photos of the Andes Mountains shot with his phone through the airplane window. On Skype he gives me two words that should accompany them: Time Troubler. “We and the earth together, we share the time. By making trouble, you make it yours.”
“It is first of all through the name (or an ethics of naming)”, philosopher Patricia Reed writes, “that a thought can be opened up beyond what is, as a cognitive site where imagination can begin to de –or restructure the existent.” The attempt to open possible imaginations on a future then says a lot too about the present. Only through that engagement of what is, we can get beyond it, towards that space were imagination prefigures futures.
Every word in this collection actually already proposes how you could do that. They are about ways of relating to, and about ways of being. Every word says something about a possible attitude one could take on, and the agency and ethics that come with that.
Sarah Moeremans, director, tries out the ‘otherness’ that lies on the table between us in all kinds of ways. “Language fall short by definition”, she says, “You can only catch up with that by putting it in some kind of ‘overdrive’, by alienating it from itself.”
We speak about the convulsive diversity debate, about how she as a Flamish person is - after 18 years of living in the Netherlands – still being addressed daily about her ‘being other’, and about the (alienation of) language as the motor of her work; as a means to bridge differences.
I see the latent presence of these words often in the work or practice of artists. In what they already make or propose.
And I bring them this word. An the word turns into a conversation. A multi-voiced conversation.
Jalada is a Pan-African collective found in 2013. They are young writers, translators and publishers connected online while living in different parts of the continent.. They make digital anthologies on neglected but urgent topics. Like sex, afro-futurism, and, the issue of suppressed indigenous African languages of which there are over 2000. In 2016 they started the Translation project. Their vision: to translate one short story in as many African languages as possible. Moses Kilolo, Jalada’s managing editor, writes how the Internet - the speed of sharing stories through social media, that are then picked up, printed again, made into plays, translated again, published online again etcetera – allowed them to actually realise that vision. A PRACTICAL VISION: a way to make things happen in the world. He foresees a big future for publishing in there, in the digital.
I brought this word to the designers and printers of these issues; Klara van Duijkeren and Vincent Schippers, since I knew that their vision on publishing is the safeguarding and sharing of knowledge that would otherwise get lost. And according to them the digital would not be a place where knowledge would be safe. Thus they print and make books. “The digital makes it more then we are, but also makes it less human then we are.” They say in their studio in Amsterdam West. - To them, what is practical is also a matter of perspective. We speak about un-practicality, the power of misunderstanding, and about how we ‘develop ourselves unhandy’.
I collect these words and I share them. I am curious about what they tell us. Their meaning is in movement. The words are not untouchable. I propose that we try them, that we take them in our mouths. That we play around and see which worlds they open. And maybe the words even change in the process. Language and future are developing - parallel to each other, through each other, because of each other.
What is a language that does not fixate but opens futures?
A language that is continuous. Just like feminist philosopher and writer Simon(e) van Saarloos desires. Her word is TENSE; the time between an event and the description of it. She writes: The future needs a language that does not identify the future as a separate era. It needs a language in which the deadening force of words – [i]tense[i] – is countered with [i]presence[i], continuous life.
In another city scenographer Jozef Wouters says: “Right now many artists seem to question the future as a concept. I think that might be because the future is hijacked by tech companies in silicon valley, commodifying the future as a version one can buy, but that we do not recognise any more.” We are at the end of our conversation on UNDECIDABILITY, that we quickly translated into the ability to be undecided. Indeed, many people don’t accept any longer this occupation of the future, depriving that space of its metaphorical quality to be both dark, bright, unknown, free and undecidable.
And I realise that we are also searching for a language that gives us back the future as such.
A language that possesses the ability to be undecided.