The Future Has Already Been and Gone

Exhibition text for solo show by Will Kendrick

The Vikings first landed on British soil in the Dark Ages, only back then they weren’t called the Dark Ages, and the Vikings went by many names. It just happens to be that during the mid-nineteenth century revival of archaic Norse cultures, Viking was the term that stuck. Vikings, or so-called, tended not to document their societal progress, nor did they document their daily lives, for they were far too busy letting fate have its way, and so our scholars and historians decreed that the time between the end of Roman occupation (around 450AD) and the Norman Conquest should be known as the Dark Ages.

Will Kendrick’s work extemporises a contemporary or near-future dark age, where the age of misinformation has been superseded by pragmatism and where practicality overrides the need for fact-checking. In Kendrick’s versions of the future the lights have gone out and The Cloud has dispersed. Data as we have come to rely on it has become all but inaccessible, leaving behind a world littered with enough plastic to define a new geological age.

Our devices are a potential Rosetta Stone of the future. Without them there will be no images of the early 21st century, its cultures, and their ways. Without them there will be no contemporary written account of daily life, be that picking up lunch on the way to work or convening the many social uprisings of the 2030s. In any case, only the Google Streetview camera can truly claim to be documenting with 360 vision. Everything exists in the digital realm. And much of it exists exclusively there, untouched by human hand, in a place where buttons are never pressed, and so many photographs go unthumbed.

AI is redefining trust, faith, and authenticity, but what of it matters when buildings crumble into the sea and societies collapse? When only the people remain, will they count on the symbols of today to inform them of the past? Is it true that the Romans used to paint their marble statuary? When does restoration become redecoration? And at what point do truth and memory combine to form totemic myth?

When survival is what matters most, and you fashion a water-filter from your tee shirt, will you consider its label? Maybe that label becomes the totem you paint on your water-well. Maybe that totem becomes the symbol for water itself. Time does strange things to truth and representation that further time can only overwrite; never undo.

Nationalistic history has heathen Vikings rape and pillage their way across the northern coastal regions of the British Isles, while the romantics have their trail-blazing kinfolk braving the North Atlantic to arrive on the American continent centuries ahead of Columbus. We accept both versions of Vikings as truth and get on with our lives while the serpent at the root of Yggdrasil feeds on our remains. In another culture, from another time, the serpent devours its own tail, and so the cycle continues.

The network interprets this, and all human achievement in a nanosecond, and determines the best course of action from here on in. The network is our educator now. On a long enough timescale, it can manipulate the evolutionary process not just in plant and animal life, but in human life too.

We have caught up with and overtaken the future of our childhood, and we find ourselves in control of devices and machines about which we understand little. If the machine tells you not to do something in case it causes the machine to cease functioning, who do you trust? We have singularly and collectively put our faith in the network, to the extent that we are now a part of it, and while knowledge and information passes through us, it never rests for long enough for us to make sense of it. We cling to its comet-tail and hope for a fair wind, like those romantic raiders from the fifth century. Stomach churning stuff, but the truth is you’re so accustomed to interpreting just about any technological advance as a force for good that your stomach barely flutters. You stick to carrying your keys and your phone. Never let them out of your sight. But understand that long before the Resource Wars rage around the globe your descendants will need to carry a knife.

The work considers this, imagines what might unfold when the network collapses, and opens up discussions around authenticity, origin mythology, and the hierarchy of symbols. Everything is of equal status – from keypads to coffee cups – and everything rests on this fragile set of associations we cling to through our symbolic imagery.

One man’s ring-pull is another man’s fishhook.