‘Tomorrow’s Parties’ programme note by Tim Etchells
Here in the future, I’m looking back at a photo-project that Hugo Glendinning and I did ten years ago, titled Looking Forwards. For it, we invited a small handful of individuals to sit for photo-portraits whist thinking about the future, asking them afterwards to identify themselves as either optimists or pessimists.
Looking at the photographs the people in them seem doubly far away; the contemplative state of posing to be photographed, plus the passage of time since the pictures were taken, somehow combines to multiply the distance. In any case there’s something warm and generous about the presence of these thinkers-about-the-future; perhaps it’s because this state of thinking, privately, (or of trying to think privately), produces such a tension with the demand to compose oneself or performing for the camera. They are pictured trying to be elsewhere, instead of trying to be there, back there in the past, with Hugo and me, and the camera. Or perhaps it’s because, sitting there, in the past, they are anyway thinking themselves towards us here in the future, composing themselves in anticipation of this moment. Either way, a dynamic energy, made of folds and circuits of time, circulates around these images. Pushing and pulling, forwards and backwards. What will happen? What has happened? What is to come? What has already arrived?
Re-looking at Looking Forwards I am also thinking about a much more current project – the performance Tomorrow’s Parties – which I made and directed with Forced Entertainment, and which you’re watching tonight. Tomorrow’s Parties is also an attempt to think about the future although here, the guessing game of the Looking Forwards – reading silent photographed bodies and faces for clues – has become a playful public attempt to put the future into words. Two performers take the stage and proceed to name as many possible versions of the future as they can think of – from workless utopian idylls to post-technological disaster zones, from socialist paradises and democracies that respect difference, to worldwide shopping malls and brutal robot dictatorships. Shifting through science fiction scenarios and half-baked fantasies of what’s to come, to the familiar terrors and dreams we get daily via the news, the performance switches angles, weighing up the different stories we tell ourselves about where we might be headed.
At the heart of this game we get to see the two performers very clearly, moment by moment, taking turns, competing, riffing off each other, out-doing each other and at times supporting each other. Like the people we photographed for Looking Forwards, the performers are not experts on the future, nor students of it. Instead, like the rest of us, they are interested amateurs with a serious but small vested interest – humans whose daily existence is intrinsically bound up with the ebb and flow of bigger narratives – scientific and political, banal and larger than life – which mark the globe, sometimes transforming things slowly, sometimes shifting things suddenly.
A version of this text previously appeared in Adjunct, Cambridge Junction’s zine.