Is This Tomorrow? Whitechapel Gallery

Today I questioned if it was tomorrow and tomorrow began with Enclosure an… enclosure created by 6a architects and artist Amalia Pica. How the single-route sheep management system can be described as ‘Maze-like’ in the brochure is beyond me, but it does provide an unusual sight for a gallery setting and immediately invites play. However, the brochure kindly asks that we speak to an assistant before entering the installation – ergo one must ask the institution to become a sheep. Which I thought rather amusing.

Enclosure – 6a architects and Amalia Pica

I’d perhaps suggest requiring the viewer to travel through at least some part of the installation (though this may not be very wheelchair friendly) or have some manner of directly inviting the viewer to engage unassisted, as when one person starts interacting with art, others tend to follow, rather like sheep, however when ambiguity arises about how we’re allowed to use the space, people tend to err on the side of caution and not engage. We can run down that rabbit hole about how that may be a comment on the future, but I don’t think this piece exists to be a meta-critique of the gallery and therefore society in that way. Instead the message does seem painfully obvious – you are an animal, here is your path, here you are measured (at the weighing station) and in your freer pens, here are simple, bright toys for your amusement. The most poignant aspect of the piece being self-election for processing and even the suggestion that one might request it from the assistants, almost masochistically.

Sankofa Pavilion – Adjaye Associates and Kapwani Kiwanga

The next piece, the Sankofa Pavilion is a much more comfortable experience observing than inhabiting. Ostensibly a place that would ‘allow for exchange and… that could register as a recording device’ the pavilion stands as a star of glass suggesting openness and fragility. When inside the jagged sides lead to a hall of mirrors style disorientation where every external view is a semi-reflection. I was concerned about bumping into the walls lest the whole thing topple over my head, though I’m sure it does stand strong. I find this unsettlement metaphorically strong, exchange requires vulnerability and openness and would have enjoyed testing this out had another volunteer joined me within the star.

Adjaye states that ‘Sankofa is an Ashanti word for reaching into the past to guide you into the future’, or as a quick google search suggests its meaning as ‘Go back and get it’. I must admit that this concept was lost on me as I stood there. There’s also some talk about ‘fabric which absorbs the soundwaves from the conversations that take place within’, referring, I assume, to the crumpled bit of fabric in its own wall-hanging glass box. I could buy this yarn they’re spinning if say there was a traditionally woven fabric as a carpet on the floor, hanging from the roof of the pavilion or dressing its sides (being that which we are reaching back for inspiration from) – but to suggest that a folded up bit of fabric inside it’s own reflective box is listening in and absorbing conversations from 10 feet away is nothing short of bollocks.

Thugz Mansion – APPARATA, Hardeep Pandhal

Thugz mansion does a lot of things rather well, but does not suggest to me the given name or its description as being ‘somewhere in between a construction site and a ruin’. I like the cutout (pictured) of the nuclear family, suggesting figures in an architectural model, I like the concrete slabs placed almost hearth-like around as seating to read the words and listen to the rap song via given headphones. The song I liked, a seemingly endless sequence of dystopian socio-political buzzword-phrases often comedically juxtaposed in this uncomfortable rap-flow. The circular mirror propped up by a steel prop, I liked. And the giant aluminium plane redirecting the lighting from above, hanging at a slant, shading everything below I really liked. But there was no feeling or subversion of homeliness. This piece exists as very much singular elements, with a slight suggestion that tomorrow is going to be a rather clean, intentional gallerified ruin covered up by shiny metal.

I want to be the future – Cao Fei, mono office

Cao Fei and mono office’s ‘I want to be the future’, takes the form of two parts, one a large ‘architectonic totem’ and the other a series of ‘Obsessions’, wall based images detailing the future for which the pylon is a machine for. The totem stands quite interestingly, as a weather station recording and predicting the patterns of technological adaptation, production and seduction. The wall pieces were rather interesting, detailing plans for construction of this weather station-like entity being connected to a giant Buddha’s head. Blueprints and digital manipulations detailing uses, interiors and landscapes of the future.

Neon may be tired, but here at last was something I could point to (at least in jest) and say ‘This is the future’.

The next installation was black amorphous mountain and accompanying hill (housing the projector). Displayed were an assortment of digitally modelled films of weird shit doing dumb things over ambiguous backgrounds. There’s a place for this art and I don’t want to talk it down, but I wasn’t going to stand there as the various screens of text scrolled their way though essays that straddled political relevance and fictional realities. I’m sorry. But a weakly projected series of winged horses ridden by topless rendered figures over a stylised map of London was more really than I was prepared to engage with. I remember some of the text referring to oil drilling and that made me think the whole construction was related to fossil fuels, therefore the black and all the objects, many of them plant-like, being stuck into the surface. But then another of the essays was talking about LLC’s buying property in New York for their Billionaire owners in order to avoid paying tax… This piece wanted to do a lot, but my advice is, give us a chair. The whole structure wasn’t imposing, it was just big and black, there was nothing about it that made uneasy or desire to try and experience it. And having to stand in the middle of the screens pictured, just made me feel awkward when someone else wanted their go at turning on the spot to try take in what they were surrounded with, which ultimately turns you off from reading any of the message. Again, a meta-discussion can be had here as to whether that makes a case for our future being so saturated with slow-process information that we just jump out of the way because someone else wants a go in the bright-lights machine, but I don’t think that is the intention.

Spirits Roaming the Earth – Andres Jaque / Office for Political Innovation, Jacolby Satterwhite

Comparisons between the next piece and some Meccano are impossible to ignore, but to my surprise, it apparently has no relation to the beloved engineering toy. Nor indeed does it bare any relation to the box constructions of Rasheed Araeen, whose work I have previously discussed on this blog. No, this piece, titled ‘Mind Garden, Heart Garden’, is about the Mesoamerican Calendar.

Mind Garden, Heart Garden – Mariana Castillo Deball, Tatiana Bilbao Estudio
Codex Fejervary-Mayer, Page 1

In essence the structure corresponds to a year on this calendar, for which I’ll take their word. The work ‘reflects on our relation to time and how spaces are inhabited and can be designed for living based on conviviality and shared activities’… Time and habitation, sure, it is a literal physical interpretation of a way of measuring time. But I feel confident in saying that it fails as a reflection on how spaces can be designed for living based on conviviality and shared activities. There is so little in the piece to suggest activity, unless that’s the joy of walking between scaffold poles.

Phoenix Will Rise – Rana Begum, Marina Tabassum Architects

Let’s bring some light in shall we? Phoenix will rise is a fun experience of light drifting into a darkened space, that opens out through this cylindrical portal in its roof, lightly coloured by the pigmented tissue paper that lines it. The installation is a reflection of the image of Bait Ur Rouf Mosque by Tabassum constructed as refuge for meditation and prayer in crowed Dhaka. I enjoyed this work, the large construction divides the upper gallery, and gives a close ominous sense of weight as low ceilings often do before it opens out into such a view, limited primarily by the gallery in which is resides currently, as opening up to a skylight would be my only suggestion on making the piece even more spiritually laden. It is very simple but rather effective.

The Salvator Mundi Experience – Simon Fujiwara, David Kohn Architects

Externally, architecturally very retro-futuristic, implications of Blade Runner spring to mind immediately with the trapezoid, lopped off pyramidal structure, and internally very reminiscent of modern middle east constructions, David Kohn Architects and Simon Fujiwara’s ‘The Salvator Mundi Experience’ is a biting dissection of the contemporary world of a rediscovered masterpiece.

The Salvator Mundi Experience – Simon Fujiwara, David Kohn Architects

The Salvator Mundi Experience is a model fictional gallery dedicated to the world’s most expensive painting. Inspiration arises from the Middle Eastern marvels of ‘content-easy spectacles’ such as the Burj al Khalifa and Ferrari world, in which this piece depicts the totality of the marketing genius of the paintings recent history. On view are the ‘Christie’s Experience’ the ‘Louvre Experience’, conservation, gift shop, the ‘Immersive chapel’ where one might worship the piece.

The Salvator Mundi Experience – Simon Fujiwara, David Kohn Architects

This is a work that unpacks the hype of the art world as a theme park for its most favoured son, not Da Vinci, but money. The reality we imagine ourselves engaging with in this work by Fujiwara is one where we worship an idol because someone paid so much for it not that they paid so much for it because we worship it. This is a temple to the reverse Mona Lisa, who’s value has risen steadily as the image became synonymous with art and beauty and the man-myth of Da Vinci grew. And now in the age of art-commodity, the ultimate commodity, a new Da Vinci, a new painting-celebrity, requires every aspect of it’s life to be on view to the adoring droves willing to pour money to dilute this celebrity among us all.

The Salvator Mundi Experience – Simon Fujiwara, David Kohn Architects

Borders/Inclusivity is a clever piece by Farshid Moussavi Architecture and Zineb Sedira. A series of nine turnstyles, rotate as you walk through their maze, triggering motion sensors that play a cacophony of sound including alarms, bird calls and flowing water. Crossing thresholds, passing barriers, being trapped and escaping to freedom are all parts of the experience of this work, that uses the familiar entryway to stadia, construction sites and amusement parks to kettle you in and give you a moment to think about the struggle of people crossing their metaphorical cousins.

Borders/ Inclusivity – Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Zineb Sedira

The final piece in this show concerning tomorrow, is a ‘living and dying organism’. Microbial Fuel Cell bioreactors generate energy that power a display showing a text shaped by conversations that took place around the project slowly unfolding word by word. A smoke machine acts as a curtain to catch the projection of a perpetually falling bird, like lungs breathing their last breath as dehumidifiers do their best to recapture the lost water.

999 years, 13sqm (the future belongs to ghosts) – Rachel Armstrong, Cecile B. Evans

This is a very interesting piece, and it doesn’t hide the ideas of decay held within. But equally, the hermetically sealed bioreactor area doesn’t seem to fit. With seed packets and other ephemera supposedly casually left, as the occupants have since died theres a disconnect to the machine-like sterile qualities of the living organism it’s trying to portray.

The title and construction of the piece are in reference to the smallest official living space in London (13sqm) and the longest leasehold agreements in the UK (999 years), which does give a sense of the relic of a future we have not yet reached, that being one of micro self-sufficiency, paired with the forlorn image of the ethereal bird, brings unease, a sense of the uncanny into the piece which I’d argue forms a successful outcome.

999 years, 13sqm (the future belongs to ghosts) – Rachel Armstrong, Cecile B. Evans

So, has the question been answered; Is This Tomorrow? Well, a lot of the work seemed confused, self-absorbed, expecting on the part of the viewer, not simply to engage but to complete the work. So in a way, yes this could be tomorrow, it’s not very comforting, but neither is it overbearingly dull or dystopian. The experience of the show was generally interesting and thought provoking, but a problem common when fantasising about the future is being caught up in one’s own imaginings and expecting others to follow your leaps of pretentious imagination. I am guilty of this myself.

However, during my visit to the Whitechapel Gallery, to this exhibition, there was one thing that really struck me as the answer to the question Is This Tomorrow?, but it wasn’t an installation, it was in the ‘Ideas Gallery’ where people are invited to draw or write on paper and stick them on the wall in answer to the question and other sub-questions, but it wasn’t one of the submissions. It was a little cardboard box, on the floor, by the door, with an arrow on it…

…This Is Tomorrow

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