Future Shock by Alvin Toffler was a bestseller in the 1970s when it was published. It has since been reprinted several times and translated into many different languages. At Green Lantern Gallery, the comical film based on the book is narrated by none other than Orson Wells and screens in an under-a-stairwell cubbyhole in the exhibition. In the first five or so minutes of the film, “future shock” is summarized several times as “too much change in too short a period of time.”
It’s a little hokey sounding, but the film echoes an eerily familiar anxiety—the rapidly accelerating glut of information coupled with technological advancements that make it available for consumption everywhere. This anxiety led Toffler to coin the term “information overload,” and at first, one wonders if the aggregated bits of histories that comprise works in this show risk doing just that. Covering an ambitious amount of real and imagined ground, curator Abigail Satinsky has rounded up work that is never fatiguing, almost always in earnest, and at its best, actually inspires.
“Future Shock,” the exhibition, represents several iterations of the recent past’s ideas, hopes and plans for the future, a future which happens to be set sometime right about now, the present. Through the collection and display of these various projects and texts made by the contemporary artists in the show, it also represents our fond backwards glance towards an idealistic, at times radical, and ultimately self-empowered counter-culture.
Red76 and The Library of Radiant Optimism are both contemporary artist collectives that evoke some of these ideals, the former based out of Portland and the latter Chicago. Red76 invites viewers to contribute “prophetic political texts” online. Participation in the project is measured and quantified by the brightness of light emitted from the freestanding lamp on view in the show. The Library of Radiant Optimism, the collaborative team consisting of Bonnie Fortune and Brett Bloom, has created a symmetrical, crisply colored and graphically appealing poster that pays homage to several inspirational books from the ‘70s that they have in their personal collection. Representing a whole range of subjects, from housi ng, food, energy and community, they give how-to instructions on topics such as growing organic vegetables to home birthing.
Similarly, the collective artist group People Powered also contributed a piece, perhaps comissioned for the exhibition, that represents an accumulation of historic texts entitled, “Selected Manifestos, 1962-1975.” Occupying the entire eastern wall of Green Lantern, the work is comprised of a collection of artistic, social and political manifestos ranging from Claes Oldenberg’s text “Store Days” and Fluxus artist Dick Higgins’s “Something Else Newsletter,” to “the BITCH Manifesto” and the Weather Underground’s Prairie Fire text.
The quiet but moving series City of Night by Edie Fake is one artist’s attempt to archive the unrecorded history of Chicago’s LGBT scene by representing its bygone clubs and bars. The four works on paper feature black, white and colored ink, pencil and paint representations of building facades ornamented with intricately rendered with interwoven and mosaic-like patterns.
The darker side of utopian dreams, and their sometimes dysfunctional outcomes, is imaged by Randall Szott in his stack of thrifted copies of Future Stock, organized by jacket color (seen above). Piled at varying heights evoking a bar graph in decline, Szott pays homage, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, to “one of North America’s most discarded books.”
In a clever semi-collaboration with Szott, Brandon Alvendia’s installation occupies the other side of the gallery’s half-wall from Szott. Mimicking the arrangement of that piece, but drained of color and displayed on top of a mirror, the black and white photocopied covers of Future Shock are wrapped around casings of blank books, each of which contains a bookmark with a link to a free download of Corey Doctorow’s text Little Brother.
Sadly, bearing in mind that this is Green Lantern’s second to last show in its current location, the question hangs in the air of how to proceed in the future at all, with or without shock. But a rhetorical answer might be supplied by the participatory, process-based work by Conrad Bakker, Untitled Project: Self Help. Bakker crudely replicates self-help books from the ‘70s through sculpted and painted means, an example can be seen at right. Viewers are encouraged to borrow these “books” for a time and eventually pass them on to the next interested party. Photographs of each patron are being collected online, and at the time of viewing this exhibition, all pieces were circulating and the works were represented by photographs on the ledge where the objects themselves had once leaned.
Bakker’s project illustrates how the dated, but endearingly sincere, intentions of a few decades ago can spark not just examination, but spur action. Untitled Project: Self Help represents how a passively expanding network of people helping themselves can in turn help others to help themselves too.
-Thea Liberty Nichols, ArtSlant Staff Writer
(All images courtesy of the Green Lantern Gallery and used by permission.)