In the latest instalment of cabinet of curiosities, we’ve departed this world for the next, and have hurtled towards the eeriest of futures. At what year we’ve arrived in exactly, we can’t be too sure, but all of your wildest dreads about where the world is heading might just be about to come true before your very eyes. Today we’re serving up monstrous humanoids, oil slick bathtubs and spectacles of the surreal.
Selfridges and Berlin-based Reference Studios, together with the minds of 13 artists, designers, brands and creators, have crafted a hybrid vision of tomorrow’s world: SUPERFUTURES. The exhibition, curated by Agnes Gryczkowska, is an exercise in examining the relationship between humans, nature and technology, one that challenges our current way of living and thinking, to reimagine what our universe would look like dissolved of the binaries of our current world. Whether or not mere mortals fully understand this artistic vision, it certainly arrives at a poignant moment in time – the year 2022 - when our foggy future horizons have never been so shrouded in doubt.
Lending their famed futuristic savoir-faire to the exhibition is master-makers of the uncanny, Gentle Monster. Their installation, ‘Giant Head’ is a fittingly ominous prototype for the future that blurs the boundaries between man and machine, mutating into a sprawling humanoid face that looks curiously out at passers-by. Safe to say, if this is the future of humanity, it’s a future we want no part in.
Gentle Monster joins the likes of artists Oliver Laric, Joey Holder, Katja Novitskova and Monira Al Qadiri whose exhibits critique human behaviour and riffs indulgently on the absurd, the shocking and the distorted. Jakob Kudsk Steensen's Liminal Lands explores a future environment where biology and data become fluid and interconnected, and a pneumatic, black PVC padded cell by Jan Vorisek and Ottolinger, which yes, is as disturbing is as it sounds, aims to create a sense of disorientation and collapsing to highlight how spaces can shape our feelings. Meanwhile, artist Monira Al Qadiri’s sculptures reflect on our fossil fuel consumption, in particular the chemical compounds of Benzene – a major component in oil, coal and gas production. Her installation Deep Float speaks to this addiction - because what is a woman drowning in a bathtub of oil if not the most harrowing metaphor for our future?
If this all sounds a touch profound, and just a little close to the bone, well, you would be correct. But questioning the human existence through the lofty lens of art is the best canvas in which to do it.
Why do we love it?
We’ve all at some point in our lives pondered that vast existential question of what the future might look like after we’ve had our time on this planet. Will Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror fantasies flourish into our twisted reality? Are we destined to pledge allegiance to The Line, the quite frankly chilling 105-mile-long mirrored skyscraper that Saudi Arabia are proposing as the one-building-city solution to future living? The exhibition is exactly that: an exploration of the unknown. It’s certainly no utopia, but an existential question mark delivered as art, prompting a succession of new ones, asking us: what kind of world do we want to live in?
Art is a vehicle for understanding the world; it’s a salve in hard times but a sounding of the alarm in the urgent. SUPERFUTURES is displacing and enticing in its unfamiliarity, and Selfridges time again pushes into brave territory by proving that retail can play at the intersection of art and culture, and now, existentialism. By disrupting the peace and placing art and its urgency in front of thousands of unsuspecting shoppers that might not be your regulars at the Saatchi, they’ve created a confronting and futuristic mirage manifest on Oxford Street.
The exhibition is on until the 16th October at Selfridges London, or if you’d like to dip your virtual toe from the reassuring surrounds of your home in the present, you can explore the oddities of the future here.