This arrived in the mail over a week ago and I just now managed to actually watch the thing, mostly because access to a VHS deck is not super easy. There are a few around the studio. Irony Number One: The first one I tried — which I tried because it appears to be connected via some piping of cables into a wall, probably up in a ceiling, then down the wall on the opposite side of the room, finally tumbling out in a completely incomprehensible bundle of unmarked, inconsistent wires which vaguely attach themselves to a fantastically huge piss-off-and-die flatscreen of the sort I am certain Sir Edmund Hillary would demand were he alive today.
The only thing that came through, despite a good 45 minutes of fiddling and wrangling from the guy who used to run the film loops and projectors and such back in the day — was sound.
A few days later, an attempt in the other room with a VHS deck, but the television — a proper, gentleman’s cathode “ray” tube — wouldn’t turn on. Just wouldn’t.
Finally, got one going in the other, other room and the tape rolled. Not wanting to push my luck as far as actually seeing something, I watched on my computer screen through my trusty ADVC110 video converter.
Called “Icky Futures” — the video cassette tape that Chris composed contains almost 1h:30m of corporate future visions, many of which I would be hard pressed to watch while keeping a straight face. Of course, some of that has to do with production style and value, or seeing yesteryears technology darlings (Bellcore, for example, Apple with a striped rainbow logo) pin their dreams on one thing or the other.
Well, despite these things having a compendium of past future visions of what some little aspect of the world might look like is fantastic stuff. These sorts of things should be required viewing for anyone who gets into the racket of trying to communicate their vision of possible near futures. Observing tried techniques for expression of sometimes tricky ideas is a quite useful approach to the communication craft. Talking heads combined with described scenarios? Or acted scenarios? Do you show the technology in its prototype form? Or do some visual special effects to make it seem as though it is working? What kind of people? What fields of trade? Business people? Cops? Etc.
It is also interesting to identify visions of the future that “failed” (or did not come to fruition, not yet at least.) So much attention is placed on things that happen, we rarely look at the things that were supposed to (according to some people), but did not. This is endemic to the futures community, I think. You can say lots of things, and you only have to be right once for those “misses” to fall away.
What I would say Chris and Natalie are doing or attempting to achieve in part is precisely what was enacted through this mishegoss of trying to get a VHS tape to play and be seen and potentially enjoyed. As well, the fact that the material is in a physical object and in some sense “unique” for each instance. I can’t actually “send it around” in the sense of uploading the digital bits without violating some aspect of the physicality of the thing. Yes, i know this is stretching it — I could “rip” the VHS tape into digital form, but then it is something else, at least I assume different from Chris’ intention with it. And I like having it up on my shelf this way. It has a certain integrity to itself. A different sort of media and content that will ultimately degrade into something barely viewable or not viewable at all because the extremes I would have to go to to find the equipment to play it will be way too much for me to endure.
There are some powerful ironies and a heavy wiff of whatever us optimistic cynics dose ourselves with before going on the hunt for the next ridiculous “meme” that everyone gets hopped up on. The combination of the means of delivery of this object (Chris mailed it to me, using the normal, human postal service), and the VHS tape (which forced me to stop and think about how/where I could actually view this), the scratchiness of the video picture (which is a configuration of zillions of magnetic particles intricately aligned on a microscopically thin plastic tape for chrissake) — all of these things force one to think about what futures were planned, which came to be and which did not, what futures we actually deserve, and the things we end up leaving behind.
Why do I blog this? A nice, evocative object to think with. Thanks Chris! Check out Chris’ project page for more.