That is the question posed by Cabinet of Futures, a recently-opened exhibition that is part of the Valletta 2018 Foundation’s cultural programme. Iggy Fenech speaks to one of the people behind it, Time’s Up-member Tina Auer.

It all starts with a make-shift, wooden bridge, which, as you cross, leads you to a parallel reality set almost 30 years from now. At first, the future may seem bleak and you’d be forgiven for getting the urge to turn around and walk back into the bleaker but familiar present. But venture beyond the first impression, and the future becomes a clean slate with just a few fragments of potential truths to help you decide how you want to shape it.

This is the immersive and interactive installation by the Austrian art and culture group Time’s Up, which is currently on at St Joseph The Worker Centre in Birkirkara.

“Our idea – which is a continuous in all our work – is to ask two simple questions: In which world do we want to live in?” and, “What kind of a world do we want our kids to grow up in?” says Tina, who has been an integral part of Time’s Up since its inception some 20 years ago.

Time’s Up are not novices at this sort of thing. Over the past six years, they’ve been working on a series of projects about the future including the one titled Future Fabulators, a Pan-European project with partners and associates in Belgium, Romania, Portugal, France and the Netherlands among others.

“These may sound like naïve questions to ask,” she continues. “But they’re such important ones. They are questions that make us realise a very imperative truth: that it is not just others that can change the world. We are changing the world and, with it, our future. And by changing our behaviour and current actions, we can start moving towards a world we want to live in.”

By changing our behaviour and current actions, we can start moving towards a world we want to live in

Having taken two years to complete, Cabinet of Futures has various sections that address a myriad of themes. Among these is the Ocean Recovery Farm, a unit in charge of keeping our oceans clean, and a Light House that gives a glimpse into the possible future of transport and trade.

The installation tackles some incredibly pertinent topics, too, including migrants (which may, in the future, be known as ‘new neighbours’), architecture and food. The Medusa Bar, in fact, which is just off the main square of Turnton Docklands (the fictional setting for these potential futures), goes into enormous detail with menus brimming with jellyfish-based delicacies and a mural of fish that are no longer served (Is that because our tastes have changed? Is it because they’re now protected? Or is it because they’ve gone extinct?).

Among the many things that will surely surprise you, is the level detail the Time’s Up team has gone to. A newspaper, full of news from 2047, can be picked up from the square, and posters hailing back to the biggest stories of our times and beyond adorn the walls.  Cabinet of Futures gives audiences a taste of the future which could be anywhere in the world. But, for the time being, it’s in this space – at the heart of a local community.

“You are in the possible; a parallel world that could easily become our own. But our aim is not to foresee the future but to get people to question it. For example, the Microplastic Reduction Lab [one of the sections of the exhibition] aims to show how, to the three Rs of waste management [Reduce, Reuse, Recycle], we will probably have to add Rethink, Refuse and Repair in order to help save Planet A [the Earth]… Particularly since we don’t have a Planet B.”

Some of the most prominent posters on display are for the Practical Utopia Directorate, an area in the installation that is not accessible to the public unless they sign up for one of the three workshops Time’s Up will be giving over September.

The first is called Practical Utopia from Afar, where local experts will discuss how waste is actually stuff in the wrong place. The second will be A Practical Utopian Moment, which will look at speculative design techniques for experimental futures. While the third and last one will be An Afternoon Spent in a Practical Utopian State of Mind, a full-day workshop in which participants will be allowed to think out loud about possible futures.

“This is a project that was done with Malta and Gozo in mind, but with a Europe- and world-wide context and appeal,” Tina continues. “In fact, many of the things that audiences can experience are a combination of things that were said during our last workshops on the islands held in 2016 and 2017.”

Open till November 24 and completely free to visit, Cabinet of Futures will get your brain spinning as you wonder what 29 years from now will look like. And, while it may seem far away, just remember that 29 years ago was 1989. How much has the world changed since then? And how much will the world change by 2047?


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