Automated plantations, “locked” dwellings, and immortality — 39 Strelka students turned forecasters this year and presented to the city their collective vision of the future.
You can witness the results straight from the bridge — a 27-metre canvas stretched on a bright red 7-meter high scaffolding. Anyone can get a glimpse of the future by dropping by Strelka yard or following the bigfuture.ru link. Strelka Magazine talked to those who made this exhibition possible about the choice of format and how 40 students could come up with 11 scenarios for the future in just 9 months.
Theme of the year, the difficulties of talking about the future and the language of futurology
This year we offered our students to look at several global trends that according to various experts — from Stratfor analysts to the UN experts, from Roland Berger Consultants to The Economist magazine team — would shape our living environment (and not just urban) in the next decades. For us it was very important to describe different scenarios that those trends could follow, what specifications they would acquire in the Russian context and how our country could get involved in the global processes.
But it wasn’t just the trends that we were interested in — after all there’s no shortage of world class experts. We wanted to try imagining what settlements of the future might look like. Among ourselves we used this slightly odd term “settlements”, because we were not entirely sure that in future people would carry on living in cities.
Russia has a very strong tradition of futurism: the previous hundred years saw several wonderful projects realised. At the beginning of this educational year we were celebrating the centenary of the publication of “The First Journal of Russian Futurists”. But today the language of the Russian avant garde movement or the New Element of Settlement group can no longer be utilised. We have to devise our own language by the method of trial and error. Make no mistake: we did not seriously believe that this could be achieved in 9 months by a group of students. But at least to try and describe those future settlements — this seemed like an achievable goal to us. We asked our students to work with texts, video and collage thus allowing them to approach those descriptions from various vantage points.
It must be said that the language of futurology is a language of big numbers: large human masses, millions of tons of fossil fuels, global climatic changes — futurologists operate on a macro scale. Once a trend is more or less explored, understood and explained with a reference to authoritative sources and its development can be more or less predicted, the next step is speculation. The moment you start translating all this “hugeness” into the language of the everyday, you find yourself on shaky ground. What would a kitchen space look like in 50 years? What would we sleep on? What would we be eating?What would be considered beautiful and what — useful? Anyone attempting to discuss what everyday life would be like in future finds himself in a vulnerable position: you cannot chose a better object for criticism and self-criticism.
I think this was the hardest part for the students. Yes, they collected large amounts of material, read a number of texts on their chosen subject, interviewed amazing experts, but they still felt that there wasn’t enough information to propose anything serious and grounded. But the problem is, whenever you’re talking about the future there’s never any information available.
The most meaningful lesson that we’ve learned this year: if you understand the current situation well, using this knowledge you can carefully develop an understanding of tomorrow. As the programme director I could see that people found parting with what seemed to them reliable knowledge psychologically difficult. How can one express their point of view without being able to give any proper arguments or justifications? There’s the high risk of coming off as a daydreamer, but also the danger of proposing something banal and stereotypical — this project required the ability to skilfully navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. Nevertheless, once the right balance is reached, our method of research-based design starts to produce wonderful results. It’s important to underline that this year the projects were meant to follow very concrete goals and develop very particular skills. Speaking from my own experience and the experience of my colleagues, I can say that the ability to make bold and sharp statements based on the knowledge of the past and of the present is becoming a basic skill for any professional working in an era shaped by the speeding up of time. Those who are brave enough to structure and project the future that is so rapidly coming would become in-demand experts in a whole array of spheres.
ON PANNEAU, REAL ARTISTS AND CULTURE CODE
This year is Strelka’s fifth anniversary and obviously we wanted to mark this occasion somehow. When the idea of making an exhibition came to us, the director of Strelka Institute Varvara Melnikova offered me the role of the curator.
We knew straightaway that a simple retrospective of what has been achieved and how good we are at what we do is not something we desired. We realised that the topic that the students were working with this year perfectly reflects all the various directions that Strelka has taken and is ideal for the final exhibition.
For 9 months they were studying global trends, how they reflect on the urban environment and offered their own interpretations of the possible future developments. I believe that presenting our own vision of the future is the most appropriate way of celebrating 5 years of Strelka, because the institute will carry on existing, shaping the environment, the agenda and our city for years to come.
It’s worth noting that the process behind the preparation of this exhibition had very little in common with the traditional curator-artist interaction. We needed to create a unique product by answering several questions: what is it about, what does it look like and consist of? So this was not just a curatorial task (assemble, organise and exhibit), but also a creative one.
It’s not easy working with a team that big, but we’ve devised a very convenient structure. 11 trends — 11 teams of 3-4 people, with one person in each group responsible for the visualisation. I worked closely with those 11 representatives of each team. Professional illustrators, who helped us bring those images to a higher level visually, joined us at the very last stages. The final look of the canvas couldn’t have been achieved without the illustrators from Bang! Bang! Studio. But various compositional and conceptual components were all developed by the students themselves.
We intentionally chose collage as our technique for this piece so that to avoid being judged on the grounds of high art. Our students are not professional illustrators. We are not trying to compete with museums of modern art. But we are devising our own language of symbols and we tried to make it understandable to anyone who would care to look at the canvas. We also knew that the viewer would need a key to read and understand this piece. That is why at our exhibition we have the same very indexes that you can find in almost any museum. Via this index the viewer can both understand the way of thinking that our team employed and decipher the elements that constitute each episode of the future.
At the same time, the canvas itself is not the only final product made by the students, it’s just an illustration. Each trend is accompanied by an essay and a video clip that shows the dynamics behind its development. I underline, creating a striking visual image was not enough, the undertaken research had to be included as well. Each story has its own symbols, images and decoding process. And the bigger story unites them all into one big piece done in 11 distinctive creative styles.
ABOUT DIGITAL VERSION OF THE PANNEAU
We work really hard making sure that the projects of the educational programme become more accessible to those outside Strelka. This year we launched the “Special projects” section, archived all the projects of our students and re-launched our website.
The digital version of the exhibition was necessary for two reasons. Firstly, because we wanted to give a chance to see our anniversary exhibition to those who couldn’t make it to Strelka. Secondly, bigfuture.ru in general seemed like a logical step for us taken that our focus has gradually switched to digital this year.
Bigfuture.ru was made in two steps. First step — a teaser that hinted at what was about to appear on the website. It presented some of the trends that have been around for centuries in their various forms. Second step — the website itself, a digital representation of the 27-meter panneau with a detailed description of each trend. Just creating a copy of that piece in digital space would have been too easy. So we ensured that people could access additional features online: zooming, moving around the images, not just looking at each element up-close but also finding out its meaning via popping up comments. As the project manager, I can say that our designer Maxim Karlevich and CTO Valentin Fetisov managed to create a beautiful and truly interactive project.
When you come to the Strelka yard to take a look at the panneau and when you open it in the browser on your phone or computer — it’s two completely different ways of approaching this piece.
The material version gives you the sense of scale, the digital allows you to take a closer look at all the intricate details. This project is another opportunity to appreciate the work of our students and illustrators.
After launching bigfuture.ru, I now really want to archive the projects of this year’s students, as soon as possible. So that anyone who wishes to better understand those trends could open the Special Projects page and read the full text and watch the video.
Team: Paul Cetnarski, Natalia Shavkunova, Yulia Popova, Elmira Kakabaeva.
Group curator: Kuba Snopek
Our topic was both the hottest and the most researched. So the main goal was the overcoming of established stereotypes. We wanted to understand how this trend could affect the lives of people in future.
We all had different approaches to this problem. Paul’s outlook was characterized by scale: from traces that users leave behind in digital space to principles that we employ when constructing our worldview. Natasha was interested in power relations. Julia and I looked at behaviour: both of those under surveillance and behind it.
Because of this variety of interests, we had to consult a considerable number of experts: media artists, political scientists, journalists. Of course it would have been naive of us to suppose that the events will unravel in accordance with our predictions. The important part for us was drawing citizens’ attention to the conflict between comfort and privacy.
Russia has a rich history of surveillance and state control, invasion of private life by the authorities and manipulation of information — so this topic seemed very relevant. Moscow is turning into a proper smart city and we hope that its inhabitants would eventually become smart citizens as well and would find the delicate balance between protection of personal rights and safety of the living environment.
Team: Alexandr Zinoviev, Katya Krylova, Audingas Šumskas.
Group curator: Daria Paramonova
Today the time spent outside of work has some of our most valuable emotions and aspirations attached to it. We wanted to find out what role does leisure play in the life of a modern person. While doing our research we learned that the amount of free time at our disposal is actually growing, so the question of how we are going to use this time is becoming more and more influential.
In order to find answers, we consulted many experts: sociologists, economists, architects, development and tourism industry professionals. Our meetings with Vladimir Gimpelson, professor and director of Centre for Labour Market Studies at Higher School of Economics, Mikhail Mayatskiy, researcher at HSE and Anastasia Mitushina, director of the educational department at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art were especially memorable.
We have absolute faith in the results of our research, although the scenario that we propose shouldn’t be taken literally, in some cases we intentionally used hyperbole. For us city is not just physical objects, but rather a complex system of relations between various groups of people. As a result, we were able to come to certain conclusions regarding the extent to which the Russian path of development intersects with that of the West.
Team: Ivan Erofeev, Sofik Minasyan, Ekaterina Romanova
Curator: Nicholas Moore
While working on this project, we had the luck of meeting many amazing specialists. At first we were dealing mainly with geopolitical issues and for this we consulted one of the leading experts in the field — Parag Khanna from Singapore, and after that the author of many works dealing with planning future scenarios Richard Watson. He was the one who proposed the idea that in future the value of water will fundamentally surpass that of oil.
After we had delved deeper into the subject, we realised that on one hand Russia has huge water potential, on the other — many problems related to its rational use. When studying this troubling trend we found books written by professor Victor Danilov-Danilyan, the director of Water Problems Institute at Russian Academy of Sciences, especially helpful.
We are also grateful to Vasiliy Auzan who introduced us to Angelina Davydova, a journalist specialising in ecology issues. Angelina, in turn, recommended Sergey Sivaev, professor at Higher School of Economics.
All the specialists that we talked to share the view that a huge water crisis is imminent. In order to tackle it, urgent measures must be taken. Opinions and works of different experts form the foundation of our work.