Forever Future

What happens to technological visions when they do not come true? Do they just disappear or is there a place where they live on until they eventually may be materialized? Or are there phantom futures that might forever stay at a certain distance from us and can we even feel nostalgia for them?

Robert Walker is a fictitious character who remembers the visions of space that dominated the American public imagination until well into the 1980s. He expected to follow the Voyager probes into the unknown and spend part of his life in space. Fifteen years ago, however, he realized that this future is unlikely to happen and he started a space program of his own. He collects technological predictions that had been made for the present year and conserves the ones that didn't come true. In an annual ritual, he visits a storage facility in which he keeps his 'ship', a semi-autonomous archive that will fly through time until it gets recovered and the mission ends.

Every technology is embedded within society and the factors which contribute to a certain vision of the future are complex while its promises may be simple and alluring. If the political, economical or societal parameters are wrong it may go nowhere but do its ideas persist? Every technology is also ultimately about transcendence. Whether it is leaving the gravitational pull of the planet, genetic engineering or media technologies, their common goal is to extend the human capabilities beyond. From this perspective, JPL-cofounder Jack Parson’s interests in solid rocket fuel-chemistry to enable physical transcendence in space flight and in spiritual transcendence through occult magic after Aleister Crowley seems an unlikely but almost consequential combination.

Walker's map for reaching escape velocity

We do not know what happens when technological dreams don’t come true, both on a cultural and on an individual basis. The assumption is that ideas, once they have been part of the public imagination, do not go away. They might go to another place we do not have an expression for, a cultural limbo from where they might be materialized at another point in time. This place might be shared with ideas from science fiction, a pool of possible futures which engineers and entrepreneurs are tapping into. There might, however, be futures that for various reasons may never materialize, which appear to be speeding away and thus stay at a certain distance from us. Phantom futures that some even feel a certain nostalgia for, because they may have been part of the dreams and wishes of their life.

Walker's 'ship'

Forever Future is the attempt to synthesize some of these aspects into a narrative through the character of Robert Walker. In order to preserve still unfulfilled visions he constructs an object that vaguely resembles a space probe and which he keeps in an storage facility in East Pasadena. He has put money in the bank which will pay for the space well beyond his lifetime. Each year he collects technological predictions that had been made for that year and conserves the ones that didn't come true in the form of 35mm slides. The ship itself consists of a refrigeration unit to help preserve the slides, a slide projector and light box in case these technologies have become extinct by the time of its recovery, and a system to get power from the outside. In an annual ritual on April 11th Walker adds another box to the mission. Stuck to the surface of the planet, he drives in circles, mimicking the way in which spaceships gain speed. The location of the storage facility in his mind is a 'Lagrangian point'. A spot where objects in space can remain stationary and which was meant to be the home of the space colonies that he remembers from the 1970s.

Installation view at the Wind Tunnel gallery, Pasadena

Played by Martin Marlow, Walker explores how an individual may deal with the side effects of technological promises, many of which are bound to not, at least immediately, materialize. Like with many of the early pioneers of a new technology, in his mind the lines between scientific thinking and fiction are not as clearly drawn. What underlies his imaginary space ship, however, is the realization that narratives of the future in every form are an integral part of what writer Norman M. Klein calls 'Fantastic Infrastructure' and therefore as important as every other resource.

Created with assistance from Hae Jin Lee.

Forever Future was produced as part of the Made Up research residency at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.