Research project at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) and the Media Studies Department, University of Amsterdam, 2007-2011.

Imagined Futures (iFut) is concerned with the conditions, dynamics and consequences of rapid media transfer and transformation. ‘Media’ here encompasses all imaging techniques and sound technologies, with the cinema providing the conceptual starting point and primary historical focus. While changes in basic technology, public perception and artistic practice may often evolve over long historical cycles, the project’s main assumption is that there are also moments when transfer occurs in discontinuous, unevenly distributed fashion, during relatively short periods of time, and with mutually interdependent determinations.

iFut initially identified two such periods of transformation taking place across a broad spectrum of media technologies: the period of the 1870-1900 and the period 1970-2000. The first witnessed the popularization of photography, the emergence of cinema, the global use of the (wireless) telegraph and the domestic use of the telephone, the invention of the radio and of the basic technology of television, while the second saw the consolidation of video as popular storage medium and avant-garde artistic practice, the universal adoption of the personal computer, the change from analogue to digital sound and image, the invention of the mobile phone, and the emergence of the internet and world wide web.

A key characteristic of such periods of rapid media change is the volatility, unpredictability and contradictory nature of the dynamics between the practical implications (industrial applications and economic potential) of these technologies, their perception by the popular imagination (in the form of narratives of anxiety, utopia and fantasy), and the mixed response (eager adoption or stiff resistance) from artists, writers and intellectuals. These shifting configurations among different agents offer a rich field of investigation for cultural analysis, posing methodological challenges and requiring specific case studies.

Three Strands

The mutual basis of all research conducted in the context of the iFut is the triangulation of media technology, the avant-garde and popular media as the main areas of cultural practice within and across which imagined futures (and recovered pasts) take shape. iFut clusters three core projects which fall into a historical, a theoretical and an ‘applied’ strand.

1) The historical strand directly relates to the concept of the (historical) avant-garde and the position of the artist (in the past, the present and the future). The artist, the work (and, by extension, the art world) are explicitly engaged – and intervening – in a dynamic (and not merely antagonistic) relation with the theoretical text and its public/popular/commercial applications. This also includes due consideration of technology and technological change, especially as this manifests itself in the media constellations usually referred to as the different dispositifs.

2) The theoretical strand extends very broadly to the academic discourses (and, by extension, the academy as institution) whose ambition it is to make sense of the (technological, aesthetic, social, economical) implications of changes in today’s media, and to investigate (new) models of ‘crisis historiography’ (such as Foucault’s concept of Archaeology, Systems and Network Theories, New Historicism and Counterfactual History). These discourses include ‘performative theories’, such as manifestos, artists’ statements, but also instruction manuals and online discussion groups advising ‘users’.

3) The “applied” strand is product- and practice-oriented. It includes all manner of applications of (new) technologies, ranging from social issue uses, locative media projects, to commercial schemes, military applications, public space projects. For the sake of mnemotic brevity we can group the various uses in three categories: social applications, military/economic applications, and public sphere applications (among which we include mainstream cinema).