Artistic Depictions of the Future: Structure as Prophet and Architect
Apparently, I wasn’t quite done with the Cloud Atlas inspiration of my last post. In continuing with that post on science fiction making the future permissible in our conscious thought, I might consider another element of science fiction and art depicting the future, that of a reliance on structure. I have noticed that much modern science fiction (visualized in film or art) or any depiction of the future tends to rely on architectural structure to project the ‘future-ness’ of the composition. In short, we imagine the future and the first thing we imagine is the architectural structure of that future. The geography of our future societies is perhaps more readily visible than the future interaction and composition of those societies.
I don’t want to make the case that this is due to a lack of imagination to our artists in regards to the future. I am intentionally isolating the visual away from the textual descriptions of science fiction. I just can’t fail to notice that we visually imagine our futures
- generally dystopian
Nothing wrong with this approach, but I believe it projects more about our current composition as humans rather than some future rendition of society. I suspect there are a few different reasons why this is the case, some of which I will highlight below. Please note that the websites hosting these images can be found by clicking on the images here.
Structure is easier than social composition
It is easier to suspect that buildings will continue to grow taller, that transportation will continue to expand in structured ways, and that society will grow and grow (until we hit the post-apocalyptic bit in much science fiction). This is a general trend that has been happening for thousands of years. So cityscapes, these geographies of perception and containers of action, will continue to frame our worldview. Much of my current perception of Seoul is that view from my apartment, the framing of the skyline lends action towards one direction or the other. A mountain here, an overpass there, a building over there, and my day is constructed through the navigation of diminished choice. There are only so many directions to go once I leave my building. This is how we shape our lives and it makes sense that projecting a futuristic cityscape would be a means of containing activity close enough to predict it. A useful tool for controlling change.
What interests me is how that structure has evolved based on the needs of the community it supports. Not only does it guide and dictate behavior to some degree (only so many ways to get from Point A to Point B) but it supports community practice. How people interact, what they want, what they need, what they do when thwarted from that need. The pathos of social structure. I would love to see more of the particulars of social composition as projected a hundred years from now.
Structure is an attempt to imprint the future with a certain direction
I also see perpetual depictions of the structure of the future as a race to imprint the future with a particular composition or even direction. I take this view because I am beginning to learn the nature of change. I used to believe that the past happened because it had to happen; that was its only path. This isn’t true; there are millions of potential realities looming in the future. Choosing one doesn’t exclude the possibility that there were others. More importantly, it also re-emphasizes the nature of choice in the crafting of the future. One consequence of one activity can tip scales in unforeseen directions and alter direction considerably.
Some historical events had some inalterable momentum; they were just going to happen and most of those tend to be based on the biological realities of life and death. However, much of what we know as history was derived from very intimate decisions. A thousand small decisions of the present have considerable impact on the future. This is the inviolability of choice; it is an action of empowerment for both the individual, the present and future society. History is laden with these ‘what if?” scenarios so I won’t recite them here. But choice does affect outcome. History is the confluence of when, what, how, and why. Hence the present is the progenitor of the future.
So depictions of the future foregrounding highly structural visuals is an attempt to cast that perception of the future onto the future itself. Predictions, if repeated enough, become mantras. Mantras are the drivers of collective human will. Subconsciously and collectively, we will be casting our futures using the predictions of the present. A bold plan, all things being equal, trumps everything else.
This is the role of science fiction as both prophet and architect. It announces a potential future and begins constructing it. I see a reliance on structure in future depictions as an extension of that.
In the future, biology still exists
This is a small point, but I find it highly suspect that a world of the future will regulate biology to the greenhouse and not allow it to perpetuate in open space. This is a highly volatile assumption as space and resource constraints might dictate otherwise, but I see our future (as I am starting to see events in our present) as a general migration back towards nature, not further away from it. A merging of our collective futures. So, I struggle with dystopian futures where the world is always dark, where metal dominates every view, where life itself as personified by structure seems in decay. I highly suspect there will be light and there will be green. Hence, my enjoyment of this image below depicting green and water. How novel.