Where does our future start?

Spectacular yet sprawling, the V&A’s new exhibition ‘The Future Starts Here’ explores the impact of technological advances on the natural and human worlds. AML intern Josh Lane went along to discover where exactly ‘Here’ is. 

One of the more exciting displays that immediately catches the eye as you enter the Sainsburys Gallery is the interactive “terraforming” installation. Inviting you to interact with what is, quite literally, a sandpit, my childish delight at this was only heightened by the colourful projections of green land forms and water that adjusted to the height of the sand. The concept was interesting, a visually engaging demonstration of our impact on landscapes. Although admittedly the weight of this message was slightly overwhelmed by my burning desire to pile all the sand into one giant sand-cano.

“Raising awareness of our impact on landscapes.” Yeah right. You just wanted a sandpit.

Next, looming over the exhibition in a suitably Facebook, larger-than-life fashion, was Aquila. Facebook’s internet-providing drone boasts impressive capabilities, despite resembling an outsized boomerang. The idea is to connect people who live in remote areas and can’t access the internet. In a world where being disconnected seriously limits your opportunities, it seems like a step in the right direction. As long as Cambridge Analytica aren’t involved…

Is it a bird?! IS IT A PLA –  sorry. It’s just Facebook’s Aquila drone.

A welcome alternative to this can be found in Jaila Essaïdi’s vision of “A World Wide Web of Trees”. Essentially, the big idea is turning living trees into radio antennae that amplify signals over long distances. In an image reminiscent of James Cameron’s Avatar, the trees would connect to form a “living network” or a potential “alternative organic internet”. Essaïdi’s idea touches on a point more widely addressed in the exhibition: in the future, who will hold the keys to the information?

An archaic poster distributed by Shell to encourage petroleum sales sets up a striking contrast to the video piece on Cambridge Analytica’s targeted advertising, taken from the Concordia Annual Summit.

Shell Advert
Shell’s “scientifically-proven” ad campaign.

The contrast of the two – one terrifically simple, the other terrifyingly complex – is one of the more relevant and real moments in the exhibition. It’s a sharp elbow in the ribs, confronting you with the reality of what the future really holds for issues like privacy and the manipulation of media – and consequently ourselves. It’s not all solar panel t-shirts and coffees in space.

The most thought-provoking moments in the exhibition were those that were subtle and less stylistically “futuristic”: the pressing issues of Cambridge Analytica’s data collection, or a 13-year-old’s poignant cardboard vision of what Aleppo might look like one day. Lastly, the choice of The Future Starts Here is perhaps a little misleading. Collating things considered futuristic from not only the present but the past as well, the exhibition captures the transience of all things “new” in a world as dynamic and incessantly progressive as ours. I think the question is perhaps not when the future starts, but if it ever really ‘starts’ at all.

Two very different visions of the future.