April 13, 2018

London Visions: Exaggerated realities for possible futures, Museum of London review

High Density London, 2017, SquintOpera [Image sourced from The Museum of London]
Tomorrow’s World

Peter Schwartz, ‘Scenarios are a set of organised ways for us to dream effectively about our own future’.

The Museum of London is situated in the Cultural Mile, a collection of vibrant arts, cultural and educational organisations, from Farringdon to Moorgate. Attracting tourists as well as welcoming the local community this museum is the prime place to explore the changing landscape of London looking into the future as well as the past. The Museum holds the largest archaeological archive in Europe which offers the chance to investigate the city’s past and contemplate the future. A key part of this organisation’s aim is to engage with and inspire school children and aid their discovery of the capital. Another aim of theirs is to ‘stretch thinking’ in whoever visits the museum. The recently opened exhibition ‘London Visions: Exaggerated realities for possible futures’, part of the City Now City Future programme covering urban developments worldwide, provides space for people to think about London in a new way. London Visions has a commitment to explore ‘the ever-changing story of this great world city’ from the past to the present day.

The future can be a site of anxieties, fears and hopes especially when considering the possibilities of the futuristic landscapes of London that the London Visions exhibition explores. Dystopian realities have been portrayed through books, films and artworks for decades and at their core they are an exaggeration of elements of our current society. This exhibition mainly explores the future of our built city environment, from the way we will travel to the future of how we will work to where we will live – most of them centred around how London will change due to environmental impacts and politics. Throughout this exhibition the audience is challenged to consider life in the future and how decisions today can lead us into different realities. Economic, social and environmental factors are all considered in these visions of the future.

Brightly backlit images, architectural visions and detailed visual films line the walls and comprise most of the exhibition and are effective in presenting a virtual reality. Flooded residential streets, bustling city centres and newly imagined high rises are key elements explored in London Visions. The heavily backlit images are particularly enticing as they are extremely detailed and the audience is left wondering if they are photographs or another form of rendering.

These images and films are imbued with meaning and every detail is there to present a sense of the future of London. The future scapes are similar to the photographer Gregory Crewdson’s works (who recently exhibited in the Photographers’ Gallery) that explore uncanny scenes that are often visually rich and full of suspense.

As a society we are equally fascinated and alarmed about the possible futures of our world. The rate of technological and scientific developments lead to a ever changing landscape that is hard to predict. Past visions of the future, our present, included the presence of robots in everyday life, extreme methods of communication such as the hologram and accessible space travel. It is interesting to consider how such visions of the future were formed and settled on. With the recent technological developments and world events thinking about the future once again is being lead by art, design and architecture. The current visions of the future have a more pessimistic and dystopian view. Many of the artists and designers in this display focus their work around current worldwide issues such as pollution, housing shortages, cost of living and global warming effects.

Even though the exhibition is from a combination of artist and designers, there is a strong sense of coherence in the hypothetical realities suggesting that there is a shared sense of the future. Automation and privacy are crucial elements that this exhibition explores – reflecting the concern for loss of jobs due to outsourcing roles to robots and increasing surveillance in everyday life. Squint/Opera created a series of images, ‘High-Density London’, that explored the idea of claiming back more public spaces in the city due to the use of autonomous vehicles. They stress that more green spaces and socialisation places are needed to match the needs of the growing population. The reshaping of the outskirts of London will also develop and lead to continuous urban sprawl. They also created images, ‘Flooded London’, that explore a flooded London in 2090 due to global warming. Interestingly they explore this in a positive way where people have successfully adapted to the new environment. Liam Young’s video, ‘In the Robot Skies: A drone love story’ is the first film to be shot using drones. The film is set on a council estate and explores the future of drones and the effects surveillance has on privacy.

Throughout this exhibition I considered the possibilities of how these artist and designers’ visions of the future might actually be self-fulfilling. That in imagining what London will be like and creating visual ideas will propel London’s future in the course that they predict. Creatives have power to influence communities and with this comes responsibility. Creating a negative picture of future cityscapes could be harmful to society.

The future depicted in this exhibition seems to revolve around the influences of environmental changes. Climate change, being one of the biggest concerns in the current society, is unsurprisingly a central theme in visions of the future. The future visions suggest that if we do not change our way of living now we may face more drastic consequences. These are explored in relation to how they will effect our quality of life.

From a museum known for its exploration of London’s history and uncovered past, this exhibition provides the perfect space to contemplate the future of this rich city. In drawing on current fears and exciting possibilities this exhibition creates a series of futures that both intrigue us and make us question whether these are futures we want for the city of London. The exhibition ultimately “triggers us to ask ourselves: is this how the future of London will look?” (Foteini Aravani, Digital Curator at the Museum of London).