The End of Future and the NEW NOW

My journey into the NEW NOW started two years ago in summer of 2018. Then I was invited for a residency in La Tallera in Cuernavaca in Mexico. It was my first residency ever. So, my plan for the duration of the residency was, not to have a plan. I had been working very long on plan and with plans, all of them fully dedicated to Cabaret Voltaire. They were dedicated not only to the joyful curatorial work on an artistic programme,
but unfortunately above all to the laborious fundraising and political justification in the local province of Zurich where the birthplace of Dada is located. In my donquijotesque struggle with the Zurich windmills of bureaucracy, the deep valley narrowmindedness of cultural politics and the incestuous sheets of the local art scene, the book «Philosophia» by Iliazd gave me much comfort. Of course, my Dada saints were a safe space comfort zone, but in that moment, it was the Georgian writer Ilia Zdanevich.

For at one point in the story, Iliazd realises that all the efforts and plans that he and his Russian Tsarist companions are forging to reconquer the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople as a Byzantine Orthodox sanctuary are nonsense. For Iliazd, their conspiratorial strategy of conquest and its implementation is first and foremost nonsense. The idea is even more nonsensical than the nonsensical sound language Zaoum, which he and his colleagues Velimir Khlebnikov and Alexeï Kroutchenykh invented during this period. Iliazd, however, discovers an enormous pleasure in nonsense and, out of sheer pleasure in nonsense, becomes even more involved in the great conspiracy organised by his colleagues in Constantinople.

« […] He was happy like crazy, the matter interested him immediately, because it was nonsense, in this case it made sense to stay, it made sense to fight, one can and must put everything on one card when the opportunity arises to do a little nonsense, a very rare opportunity, a very extraordinary, extremely valuable opportunity, for which Iliazd was prepared to fly over seas or swim through them, an opportunity that unfortunately no longer existed in normal life. […] playing St. Sophia, historical tasks of Russia and similar sublime subjects, for the sake of which so many educated idiots and learned fools have scribbled down tons of paper, shed so much ink and blood, playing Tsargrad, you can't think of anything better, little cloud Oblatschko, you are a genius! […] Iliazd wanted it to be played, wanted everything to end up as «nonsense», nothing more, and since he wanted it to be this way and no different, it was this way and no different, so that was all said, and as little philosophy as possible, please»

In the first night, alone in that villa with pool in the jungle of Cuernavaca, I wrote the word «animism» on a piece of paper.

A word I had learned half a year ago in the paradisiacal oasis of a riad in the desert of Morocco, when I read for smooth entertainment Yuval Noah Harari's first bestseller «A Brief History of Humankind». According to Harari, when it comes to the development of our DNA, we are basically still nomadic hunter-gatherers. However, Harari's hunter-gatherers have the wonderful ability to be animistic.

They live in a magical world full of spirits that animate all beings and non-beings in their environment and beyond. With their magical animism they are so connected to the world that they live in harmony with nature, with plants and animals, with flora and fauna, as well as with rocks, rivers and mountains.
They all have universal abilities: All of them are doctors, hunters and gatherers, cooks and carpenters, educators and artists. Harari's hunter-gatherers are specialised in everything, because they do not have specialists. They seem to be superhumans who made their age the golden age of humankind.

Today, we have a great romantic longing to return to the womb of Mother Nature and Mother Earth, to Gaïa. It is a kind of De-Alienation of humankind, that we are trying to create in an auto- or sympoietic way. We want to make humankind great again.

And, we want to start talking with octopuses. Countless activists, philosophers, biologists, science fiction and bestselling authors, artists and architects, see this harmony of humans and nature as the only solution to save the planet and with it, humankind. They paint the icon of our post-apocalyptic life with the golden background of this age in bright colors.
View from the residency villa in La Tallera, photo: Adrian Notz, 2018

In the naive isolation of my residency, I had to admit to myself that I also tend to take this pathetic view of things and events. The kitschy idea of the magic of animism is also very close to my heart. These tendencies are probably the reason why I am quoting a bestselling author and not some fancy speculative realists, obscure object-oriented ontologists or cutting-edge cyberfeminists. 

I don't know what traumatic experiences Harari had, that gave him such a pathetic and kitschy picture of the world. But in my case, it was a brainwash by avant-garde art and thought, that created total art works by the metre to guide humankind into a better future. And as I discovered after a few hours in the Spartan villa with its lush garden in Cuernavaca, the man in whose bed I was sleeping had a similar inclination towards universal missions. He explained that there is no other way than theirs. «No hay más ruta que la nuestra.» There was no other way than that of the muralists. Muralism, David Alfaro Siqueiros explains, is the only real artistic innovation since the Renaissance.

Between Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and the wall paintings of Siqueiros, there was basically no art. What a beautiful audacity! It is therefore not surprising that Siqueiros later became known as a megalomaniac artist subject who created the greatest mural paintings of all time and, together with his two colleagues from the muralist boy band «Los Tres Grandes», Diego Riviera – who was Frida Kahlo’s husband – and José Clemente Orozco, used their muralist art – «the highest form of human expression» – as the central force of the socialist revolution.

«Los Tres Grandes» were in good company with other male avant-garde artists.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti stood on the roof of the world, singing about the love of danger, glorifying aggressive action and war, the beauty of speed. He had already lived for some time in the realm of the absolute, since time and space had just died the day before the publication of his Futurist Manifesto in 1906 and a year before, in the special theory of relativity.

Six years later, in 1912, Vasilliy Kandinsky saw the artist as the solitary culmination of humanity's spiritual development. In this position the artist was understood by only a few, but they pulled all of humanity forward. A few years later, in 1916, Kazimir Malevich realized that he was the origin of everything and founded Suprematism, which would clear the way for humankind and free them from the nets of the horizon like fish. Giorgio de Chirico moved in similar dimensions with his «Metaphysical Art». As the ultimate antipole of the animistic primitives living in fear based on ignorance, the metaphysician knows too much and is therefore already beyond all boundaries and horizons of the human mind and its logic, where he carelessly and cheerfully no longer receives impressions, but without interruption discovers new phenomena and spectral elements. Compared to these bold men, my saints, the Dadaists, were somewhat more humble.

In Zurich, the financial eye of the storm and the spa of the world, they sang, painted abstract art, made collages, composed poems and danced, in search of an elementary art and a new order that would heal humankind from the madness of time and create a balance between heaven and hell. In their search for "New Art", their boldest act was to say that they wanted to get rid of all "-isms".
Hugo Ball was already looking for a league of people that «orgiastically devotes themselves to the opposition of everything that is useful and necessary» since 1913, when he saw the world entangled and chained in an economic fatalism, and was longing for a power, that would be strong and above all vital enough to put and end to this state of affairs. Richard Huelsenbeck declared in spring 1916 in Cabaret Voltaire, that they found Dada, that they are Dada, and that they have Dada. Dada was found in a dictionary, it means nothing. With this meaningful nothing they wanted to change the world, they wanted to change poetry and painting with nothing, and they wanted to end the war with nothing.

And two years later in 1918, when the first wave of the Spanish Flu hit the globe and the Allied troops started their Hundred Day Offensive which finally lead to the end of World War I our Romanian friend Tristan Tzara shouted in the stage in the belle etage of a  bourgeois guild house:
«abolition de la mémoire: DADA, abolition de l’archéologie: DADA; abolition des prophètes: DADA; abolition du futur: DADA».

My avant-garde ghosts kept on visiting me "hauntologically" in the isolation of Siqueiro's villa and told me about a problem that is still very familiar to us today: rapidly developing technology.

We live, as the «technologist» and artist James Bridle called his book published in that same year, in a «New Dark Age». Bridle argues that «we are lost in a sea of information, increasingly divided by fundamentalism, simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories and post-factual politics. [...] Despite the apparent accessibility of information, we are living in a new Dark Age». He describes how we no longer understand how our world is governed or presented to us because the technology behind the presentation is far too complex to understand. Like many cultural pessimists of this and the last century he wants to reveal the dark side of the utopian dreams of the digital sublime hyperobjects that professionally stoned enthusiasts create in the Silicon Valley.

Kazimir Malevich, «Black Square», 1923
With their futuristic visions that went vertically beyond technology, they wanted to achieve pure energy and mark the horizon of nothingness with a «black square» that became the ultimate icon of modernity, beyond technology.

To overcome the progress of technology, the avant-garde had a strong idea of destruction. Or, as Boris Groys puts it: «The Russian avant-garde - and the early European avant-garde in general - was the strongest medicine against any kind of compassion or nostalgia. It accepted the total destruction of all traditions of European and Russian culture – traditions that were not only dear to the educated classes but also to the general population.»

Faced with the First World War, my Dada saints were more sceptical about technology and could not embrace the machines that killed millions in the trenches beyond their safe comfort zone in Switzerland. In medieval Zurich they drifted more into mysticism and Gothic, and were fascinated by so-called primitive art from Africa, Oceania, folk customs and indigenous peoples. They, like Harari, longed for animistic human being. It was only after the war in 1920 that they too were caught up in the belief in progress and then proclaimed in Berlin: «Art is dead. Long live the new machine art of Tatlin!»

Ignoring the paradox that I have a nostalgia for a movement that was totally opposed to any kind of nostalgia, and that I am referring to a European tradition to talk about the destruction of European traditions, I like to think of Marinetti, who wanted to tear down museums and libraries, and Malevich, who wanted to burn all museums and even all past epochs and keep the ashes to present them in a pharmacy.

While the international avant-garde boys spaced of beyond all event horizons, the female futurist and modernist fighters were much closer to reality, the social, the political of gender and their bodies. And, as some of the boys agreed on, also much more radical.

The Dada Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven liberated in more than just sexual and gender respects created a notorious reputation as a poetess, performance artist and enfant terrible. She would roam the streets, studios and salons wearing a fruit basket as an extravagant horse-racing hat, tins of tomato paste as a bra, a birdcage (with a living bird) around her neck as a necklace and curtain cords as earrings. She asserted herself and her productions in one sentence: «I am Art.» Inspired by the queer Dada Baroness occasionally dressing up as a man, and for doing so, also being arrested on a crowded Fifth Avenue, Marcel Duchamp, too, as Rrose Selavy, finally became Art.

Duchamp understood that the Baroness «is not a futurist. She is the future.»

The heavily disputed performance artist, writer and activist Valentine de Saint-Point understood already in 1912 in her «Manifesto of Futurist Woman», that humanity is mediocre and a year later she promoted lust as a force that refines the spirit by bringing to white heat the excitement of flesh in her «Futurist Manifesto of Lust». In her «Feminist Manifesto» from 1914 Mina Loy sees men and women as enemies, «with the enmity of the exploited for the parasite, the parasite for the exploited». She demands the «unconditional surgical destruction of virginity throughout the female population at puberty as a protection against the man made bogey of virtue», which she see as the principal instrument of women’s subjection.

What kind of men can be the enemies of women gets clearer in Hannah Höch’s photomontage «Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany». In this photomontage she attacked the beer-belly as male symbol a power-obsessed, patriarchal sluggish society and vulgar politicians. Höch created this photomontage in 1919 on the eve of the vote on women’s suffrage in Germany. The photomontage shows predominantly men’s heads, images of contemporary politicians. These men’s heads from the Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany have women’s bodies that are dancing, twisting and turning. The dynamic women’s bodies set the sluggish beer-belly minds in motion. The dancing bodies are the female cut with Dada.

It seems as if the avant-garde followed Nietzsche's declaration of God's death, and anticipated and accompanied the massive political revolutions that were taking place:

From the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the collapse of the Russian Tsarist Empire, the Chinese Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the collapse of the colonial empires, to the Mexican Revolution.

Some avant-garde artists participated very concretely and directly in the revolutions, like Siqueiros in socialist Mexico and in the Civil War in Spain or the Russian Futurists and later the Constructivists in the new Soviet state. While others, more abstractly with forms or with words, or concretely on gender equality, sexual liberation, body empowerment with performances, interventions or campaigns conjured up the revolution and launched modernism.

It seemed as if the avant-garde had to make sure that history ended on all possible levels. Because the end of history opened up new visions of the future for them, because these unsentimental ideas of destruction were not only nihilistic, but always a new start from a point zero.

«The end of history» is, however, a term that has lately been used, particularly in connection with the essay by the philosopher Francis Fukuyama, published in the summer of 1989.

Fukuyama borrowed the term from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Alexandre Kojève. And, of course postmodern thinkers such as François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard and others have been using it as well. According to Hegel's original conception, the end of history is the victory of a great ideology over all others. Fukuyama's idea is that liberalism triumphed over communism after both had triumphed over fascism. When the iron curtain fell and the internet was born, Fukuyama declared «the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government».

In the past three decades, indeed, we have seen how neoliberalism, without any ideological opponent, could spread everywhere. Each of the past three decades has been marked by a more or less global crisis. After 1989, neoliberalism took the form of turbo-capitalism in former Communist countries, creating a new mindset, and so many, new oligarchs.

After 9/11, the West started a global war on terrorism, and fear as well as panic became the dominant parameters of our mindset.

The financial crisis of 2008 changed neoliberalism further: the archetype of the big business CEOs, in tailor-made suits and dresses, shifted towards the one of the tech-nerds, wearing t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, while becoming a billionaire. The idea of success was finally «democratized». Everybody can make it big time, by launching their own start-up.

We are all unicorns. Tech innovations, like smartphones, the cloud, big data, apps like Uber and AirBnB, or social media and their influencers, not only disrupted big companies, but also made structures and values of our communication completely obsolete. In the last decade, technology has developed so fast, that we can hardly imagine what the world could look like in only five years. Nor can we imagine a world without smartphones, social media, or the internet. We have lost the concept of future, and our memory as well, as Tzara was demanding a century ago. The rapid development of technology, namely the instant access to tons of information and the constant flow of breaking news, have made us lose the memory of the past, as well as any vision of the future. Sense and content detached from communication, and anything became as important as everything else.
Suddenly, the climate protest by a young girl sitting alone in front of the Swedish parliament became a global movement. World leaders invited that school kid to join their club. They started to understand, finally. They even claimed they had changed their mindsets, and now needed to create a sustainable world. The questions of how to save the planet and how to create fairer economies should finally lead us to better business-making and to a healthier future.

And then, Australia started burning, and Covid-19 exploded in Asia.

A few weeks before I boarded the KLM flight to Mexico, I heard from the philosopher and media theorist Bernard Stiegler, that the world's scientists, i.e. 15,364 scientists from 184 countries, had sent a "Second Message" about the "Warning to Mankind" that their predecessors, over 1700 scientists, including 104 Nobel Prize winners from 71 countries, had issued 25 years ago. In 1992 they warned that «a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and of life on it is required, if the vast human misery is to be avoided». In 2017, ten times as many scientists stated that «with the exception of stabilising the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse. [...] Moreover we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century».
From the French-tinged English words of Bernard Stiegler, I understood that the world could end in the next 50 to 70 years. In Spring 2019, an Australian climate risk task-force corrected the doomsday date to 2050. And, in Summer 2019, the US Army in collaboration with NASA anticipated doomsday to 2040. Soon, or even now during the isolation of the pandemic lockdown, we start to say: Now! The end of the our world is happening now! The house is on fire, as Greta Thunberg says.

First, I was fascinated by the question: What will we do when we know the end of humankind? My distorted mind from working with ideas that were more than a century old, could not get rid of the thought that art would no longer make sense. Because, my noble thought was, we create art for future generations to discover and refer to. But if there were no future generations, what would we do? What would art look like? Would this transcendent belief in creating art for the future still prevail? What would a completely imminent art look like and how would it influence people?

I found some answers later in studio visits that freed me from the pathetically naive bubble in which I floated and lured me away from Siqueiros' pool, where I narcissistically marvelled at the reflection of myself glorified by the avant-gardists. The studio visits took me to the capital's metropolis of millions and catapulted me into the here and now. Populism, memes, digital age, protests and resistance, social injustice, identity issues, colonial heritages, oppression, corruption, violence, narcotraficantes, a new president, murdered politicians, feminicides, climate catastrophe.

Some of the artists I visited were obsessed with micro-histories, others researched and imagined identities and questioned the contemporary world they live in. I learned from them the courage to boldly go where no one has gone before and to be a nerd. Unlike my artist-demiurges of a century ago, they seemed to work out of an urge or instinct, with a certain idea and interest, they investigated and experimented aesthetically until something might appear that could stand on the roof of the world by itself and inspire and delight others.

Following the idea of microhistories, as I have learned, local thinking and local action gives a new and different perspective on the big picture. I realized that the idea of creating universal visions of the future, that terms like "vision" or "future" are not really part of today's art practice. "Vision" and "future" have become terms that are instrumentalised in keynote speeches in management, technology and marketing contexts.

We were no longer able to create great utopias, and in the face of this omnipotent hyper-liberal colossus we continued to practice postmodern deconstructivism. We explored our local communities and even ourselves with the principle of microhistories, in the hope that we could draw conclusions from the small to the big. It no longer made sense to refer to the past, to practice culture in order to learn for the future and to create art. The principle to which we as humans had been referring since we learned to inhabit caves was no longer valid. We could no longer learn from the experience of the past. We could no longer learn, because we understood the past only as a means of decorating and shaping the present, at best as a boastful instrument to perform knowledge and to stand in the way of different thinking with a pretentious surprised look and wisely raised eyebrow. We neither knew what to do with the past nor could we create utopias for the future. We simply did what we would do if we knew the world was coming to an end: we focussed fully on the present.

To end the idea of the end of future, I was able to curate an exhibition in the La Tallera, where I had spent my haunted residency. Right next to the villa of David Alfaro Siqueiros was his giant studio, which today serves as a museum. Using the thoughts and ideas mentioned here as a backdrop of the exhibition, I transferred the villa into the museum in a highly symbolic, but also very literal manner. All the rooms I was roaming the year before in dialog with the century old ghosts, were now built into the big hall of the museum, giving it a labyrinthic spatial structure.

The exhibition played with the idea that «End of Future»' as a notion could open up perspectives and imaginations into a new now. «End of Future» showed different approaches by artists, that deal with art-historical references, transhistorical works in abstraction, contemporary post apocalyptic situations of war and lost hopes, escapist dreams, surveillance, human and environmental catastrophes, spiritual and religious narrations and icons, playful compositions and interpretations of reality, alternative myths, personal universes of obsession, psychographies and soundscapes opening vast fields of imagination, the creation of new creatures and megalomaniac totalitarian utopias that change our understanding of politics and society. 

With «End of Future» I hoped to expand the now eternally and end time, to actively and consciously use the now. Unfortunately, the universe took this idea a bit too literally and locked down a big part of our planet. So that the artworks from the exhibition that ended in March this year, are still there, a year after the opening of the exhibition.
The current pandemic makes us experience what our mind has already been passively tuned to. Differently from all dystopian Hollywood movies about the end of the world, we will be as passive as our End of Future. Stay at home, and please save the world by sitting on your couch! In this self-quarantine time, our mindset is changing. Now, the End of Future clearly unfolds: nobody can imagine what is truly coming – the term ‘for the time being’ or ‘until further notice’ dominates the current thinking; physical movement has been reduced, making time horizons disappear and the concept of duration totally different.
Our minds are struggling to imagine even the closest future, like the next few weeks. 2020 seems to have passed in no time. But, we also start to feel how important human contact is. Simple things, like taking a walk, having a beer or experiencing the noise of a lively street, have a different taste and sound to us. All of our rituals of social gatherings become much more precious. Real-life experiences, as opposed to virtual ones, gain new quality. We finally start to understand how important art can be for our mental wellbeing and evolution, and that our memory and imagination is also an exciting places to visit.

We can start ‘travelling without moving’, as the protagonist Paul Atreides says in the 1984 David Lynch science-fiction movie ‘Dune’.

In this here and now, we do not only live a highly ambivalent hedonism of panic and decadence, but we also sit down in front of the trees we planted to compensate for our share of CO2 and we begin to breathe before, with and through them.

The trees and plants help our animistic being to connect to the universe. The breathing might become our daily calibration with reality. We investigate our own mind, all biological, emotional, sensual and psychic processes that happen in our bodies. We look at these processes with one special ability of humans, consciousness.
Adrian Notz, NEW NOW, diagram, 2020
Our consciousness will expand infinitely, creating a NEW NOW, full of imagination, sensitivity and intuition, driven by greatness, openness and broadness. The global lockdown forces us to breathe, and not be out of breath while chasing success. Solidarity, a word that sounds like Anarchy and has been used a lot in the first few weeks of the pandemic, seems to be needed, more than ever. The NEW NOW, which we can discover in this pandemic-induced pause from the daily craziness and unconsciousness, will be guided by sense, sensibility and sensitivity. We can, paradoxically, hope that exactly now we have the time to reset, and become a new, active community of sense. Covid-19 has frozen the present. It makes our lungs sick, but it may give us a new pneuma, a breath of fresh air and spirit, a new force of life.

Or, as Spock tells us at the end of the second season of the new Star Trek Discovery:

«Now does matter. Where everything before, no longer exists. What will happen next, has not yet been written. We have only now. That is our greatest advantage. What we do now, here in this moment, has the power to determine the future.»