At the beginning of FUTURE MEMORIES lies the realisation that we have arrived in a present that looks like a bold vision from the past, but feels nothing like it.
How has our idea of the future changed in the last couple of decades and how does it influence our present? It is this question that pervades the work of Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. Their photographic work oscillates between hopeful visions from their childhoods, brief moments of euphoria of having arrived at a turning point and dystopian outlooks of our contemporary reality.
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE ARCHIVE
During the pandemic, all traveling plans and research ideas for the FUTURE MEMORIES project became impossible. After an initial standstill, a period of planting vegetable gardens and long rambles through surrounding forests, we started traveling through our own archives. Collected across many continents, thousands of images just sat in folders full of negatives, stacked in our shelves. Many of them had never really been properly looked at. Through different experiments we found a technique which lets us create new images from old ones. Our large-format negatives were cut into pieces with a laser cutter and combined into new visions: a definite form of image manipulation. Essentially, all images of the future are made from images of the past: the areas in our brains which imagine and the areas which remember, are the same ones. The future and the past are rooted in the same place. Or, in the beautiful words of Carlo Levi: The future has an ancient heart.
WHAT´S TO BE REMEMBERED
Many images in the FUTURE MEMORIES carry indications of time and bring in the act of remembering. Display cases and cabinets are places of remembrance, storages of the past. Puddles of sulphuric liquids from hot springs remind us of the primordial soup. The ruins of ancient temples function as markers on a timeline, cities become memorials of human existence carved into stone. They make us think of how we will remember our current age in the future. What will remain to be studied and looked at? Our ability to imagine and invent becomes the last refuge of hope for a liveable future.
THE GLOW OF THE FUTURE
An important element in this work is the radiant light. It descends from the sky, lights up buildings, doorways and artificial reefs. We use a vector programmed projection laser to cut, burn, highlight and transform. As a reference to the first light of the day or the last glow on the horizon after sunset, the laser beam signifies a promise, a transformation. The glowing light has a special place in the history of the image, from religious iconography to social realism . Recently, a new meaning was added. The radioactive glow is the light of the eternally irradiated, forever destroyed space and matter, rendered useless.
THE FUTURE WE FOUND IN THE PAST
Many places we visited in the past re-appear in FUTURE MEMORIES, emerge from oblivion and become alive again.
While working on THE GREAT UNREAL fifteen years ago, we visited BIOSPHERE 2, a large-scale research project built in Arizona in the early 1990s. The idea behind it was to create a self-sufficient ecosystem, in which a group of humans could survive long term without the help of the outside world. Although the project drew enormous media attention, it was prematurely terminated for various reasons after only two years.The media declared it a failure. We visited this gigantic facility on one of our many cross country trips through USA. At that time it was in rather poor condition, as if it would be a place straight out of a JG Ballard novel. We were guided through the BIOSPHERE 2 by one of the scientists for several hours and the visit left a lasting impression on us.
Another cornerstone of FUTURE MEMORIES was our trip to China just a few months before the Corona virus appeared on the event horizon. We travelled to Guangzhou to install an exhibition organised by the Institut für Auslandsabeziehungen. What we encountered and experienced in China blew our minds.
Visiting China felt like being on another planet. Already during the long plane descent, the sight was mesmerizing: endless rows of apartment towers, dense networks of railways and highways, civilisation and infrastructure to the horizon and beyond. It seemed to be the sci-fi future that we imagined as kids.
While in China, we travelled from Guangzhou to Shanghai to visit a venue for an upcoming exhibition and to plan a workshop. We learned it‘s possible to travel the 2000 km by train, and It turned out to be a journey with a lasting impact. Not only did the train drive with an average speed of 300 km/h with an overall travel time of 7,5 hours, but also the entire track turned out to be a bridge. Over the course of the trip, there wasn‘t a single moment without buildings, fields or highways. China appeared to be an exclusively human-made planet. We looked at each other, thinking: is it just us or is this beyond anything we have ever experienced? Our cameras registered the speeding world flying outside of the window. The feeling we brought home from China was the foundation for FUTURE MEMORIES.
Interview with KATE NEAVE for OpenLab
What inspired you to start the FUTURE series?
It was some years back when we’re talking about what role art should take within the world we live in today. The climate emergency will dominate the rest of our and everyone else’s lives, and the coming generations too. It was that moment when we realised that it would be not only interesting but necessary to make it part of our practise to form a response. It’s a shift so big, that we have to at least try to learn how to deal with it. The rapidly expanding field of Eco-psychology is trying to do exactly that: to come up with ways of responding to the looming crisis and all its related emotions, most of them new and unprecedented. Art can take a similar function. We have to learn how to feel before we are able to react. As artists we have the privilege, to make it our task, our job. The first question we asked ourselves was: how did our imagination of the future change within the last decades and how does that change our lives today? The imaginatively painted future of our childhood and the contemporary imagination of the tough challenge that is upon us, looks essentially different.
Could you talk about some of the processes and manipulations the photographs went through back in the studio- the lasers and manipulations?
We developed a toolbox: a whole new set of processes for image creation, because we wanted to develop a new visual language. How can you talk about the future with a tool that always just represents the past? We photographed on film, mostly 4x5 or 8x10 negatives, by itself a rather outdated technique. But by combining with different and very contemporary tools, like vector based laser precision cutters to cut up the negatives, we are creating a new world of images. We like how the burned edges of the negative create an anchor, a reminder of the physicality of the image. Something we tend to forget in the digital era, where everything becomes immaterial, just electrical impulses without a body. We like to hang on to this physical aspect in our work. In some of the images, the manipulation happened directly in the moment when we photographed: we added different layers of material in the camera body and photographed through it, to create a mixture of photogram and photography. Again, the shadow or light-trace of the materials used, remain like stand-ins for the material world. It’s important for us to keep our minds rooted in the physical world, to feel its limitations and also the existential threats it’s exposed to.
Could you talk about the iconography of the image of the hermit crab in its plastic home - what does this image represent to you?
In our pre-travel research, we found indications of hermit crabs choosing trash pieces over the „traditional“ shell house. On the very last day on one of the Maldivian islands, we discovered a crab that carried one of those new housings. Even though it was obviously too small, the crab decided to stick with the small green plastic container. We followed the crab for a while and filmed it. It became an encounter that stayed with us since then. Its image represents a very ambiguous and layered emotion towards our role in the ecosystem and how we influence every other being on the planet. The image carries two divergent streams: the tragic, painful fact that human existence is the dominant factor in the destruction and pollution of the ecosphere. AND the hopeful, unpredictable turn that nature overcomes and even uses us, as hosts, as providers, as food and some beings might even thrive just because we are what we are. At the moment it is a virus that found its novel way of using us and there will be many new ones to come. We tend to forget that we are embedded into a large and dynamic system that we share with all living beings and its not a hierarchical structure with us on top. Our bodies are ecosystems, deeply dependent on the wellbeing of all its inhabitants. If your gut-bacteria becomes unhappy, so will you. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if one day we would find out that a lot of our character and what we like to sell ourselves as free will, is the making of a symbiotic culture, that we don’t even know exists.
How can visual images reflect this period of ecological crisis we are living through? Images or Art in general should take over a specific role: the role of the priestess, who leads the community spiritually and provides courage and strength, the role of the psychologist, who provides the space to reflect, to understand and accept, or the role of the friend who provides comfort, space to mourn and eventually, hope.
Can you describe your perception of the future?
Most of the time we imagine the future as an altered version of the past. The colours are mixed together and combined in a new way, like green skies upon red earth, but seldom we imagine an entirely new colour on the horizon. The sky of the future might as well be gomber or sendas, with touches of ultra yeng. I hope we’ll have a chance to see all those new colours, they will be exciting.
We couldn't help but notice...
In this short film, the artists present a narrative about their project, Future Perfect, where documentation and fiction come together to reflect on the fragility of the planet. Their public installation, was sited in Toronto’s Metro Hall in 2021.
IMAGES COMING OUT OF THE DARK
The pandemic has catapulted us into a weird world. Even weirder as it already was before, every shape is even more distorted and all the tendencies amplified. The alienation and seclusion led us to create new images entirely created in the darkroom.
The photographic darkroom is a relic from the past. Everything is tinted in warm, red light, with the soundscape of flowing water, ticking clocks and dripping chemicals, time gets los. It feels like a mixture of an alchemistic laboratory and the warm and safe inside of a body.This internal space became our magic chamber full of possibilities.
Excerpt from an interview with Silvia Gaetti, Museum Grassi, Leipzig
You work with a laser in the darkroom, right?
Exactly. We've been experimenting with a vector-controlled RGB laser on and off for about 2 years now. We use it to draw directly on light-sensitive paper in the dark. In this case, on Direct Positive Baryta paper.
Do you use the laser to expose the paper?
The laser is our primary light source. Our pictures are created using it in combination with many other materials and processes.
Is the machine element in this photographic process also important to you? Or rather, what role do you see this connection/collaboration between man and machine playing in the project?
Our work operates at a new interface between digital and analog techniques. We are interested in what new images and pictorial languages can emerge at this interface. We see experimenting in the darkroom as a kind of counterbalance to our work in the visible, light world. A lot is left to chance in the dark, and loss of control is part of the process. Since our primary tool is still light, our eyes read the images that appear on the paper as a photograph—that is, as a depection of reality. We understand this process as a kind of alchemical research, in which unforeseen things unfold and over which we only have limited control. In changing small parameters, completely new worlds emerge. Ultimately, the creative process in the darkroom is perhaps closer to painting than photography. For us, this is also a form of liberation and a way to test new boundaries.
FUTURE MEMORIES published by Edition Patrick Frey
FUTURE is a series of five or six publications by Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs to be published by Edition Patrick Frey over the next few years. The various chapters in the series will be published on an ongoing basis, though not according to any content-based planning or timetable. The idea is to react promptly to current events and sensibilities and publish the results swiftly too.
The first installment of the FUTURE series, entitled FUTURE MEMORIES, explores how our conceptions of the future have changed over the past few decades, how that affects our take on the present and our reactions to changes that lie ahead. Re-created by Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs for the most part out of archival material, the pictures in this book constitute a material exploration of the fact that every vision or illustration of the future is bound to be a collage of images drawn from the past.
Using a combination of large-format analog photography and various digitally controlled laser technologies, the artists have created a visual world that makes sci-fi allusions and takes an associative approach to an emotional world that swings back and forth between the optimism of the artists’ childhood and the dystopianism of the present day and age.