Thuistezien 192 — 01.03.2021

Frank Theys
Thinking Exponentially About The Future And How To Stop It

How does our current society compare to the collapse of the Roman empire? Frank Theys, as a visual artist and theorist, looks at developments and changes in the arts in a global way, including from scientific or technological angles. In his previous work he has taken an interest in extreme developed societies and the phenomenon of people thinking beyond human civilisation. More and more seem to be discussing the possibilities of a transhuman age, that overcomes human limits and emphasises that society needs science (and vice versa) to sustain. Theys presents a future where society is either heading directly towards the ‘abyss’ and self-destructs, or which is able to transcend the limits of current capabilities through innovation. The question is where art fits into this, and whether art and science are moving in different directions.

Through graphs and observations mainly on scientific and geographical changes is demonstrated that the notion of exponential growth is at work in all fields, and an indicator on how to guess the future of art. The framework to Theys’ montage of data consists of the pairing of the expectations by scientists in 1972 that human civilisation would collapse by 2045, and the expectations by transhumanists on the acceleration of technology that would evolve such that it could produce itself and take over civilisation by the same date. Exponential growth poses limits to growth simultaneously; resources like oil dry up while populations, for example, keeps increasing. The solution seems to be to switch to renewable energy sources. Through technology the transhumanist expectation rather shows the possibility of unlimited growth, yet it is unclear to what, and if it will generate conditions desirable or survivable for human beings.

Theys carefully proposes an analogy between the external world and the ‘white cube’ that relates to the art world. Their relationship and future prospect depends on the factors of city marketing, participatory art, and art science. The first factor implies that art needs to become more extravert and public. Theys does, however, recognise the commercialised aspect of this, calling it a ‘commercialised Easter eggs in the city-mentality’. Secondly, a notion of social art that involves working together with communities could be beneficial. Lastly, art science, as a technological tool as well as a mode of expression and exploration, could enable the collaboration between art and science that liberates itself from the class structure of art and its dependence upon a financial system. This proposal is inspired by the concept of ‘peer-to-peer art’ and the maker movement where scarcity engineering, a sharing economy and new social building is key, and a reinventing of the commons through a holistic and open source approach. This is how the white cube in cooperation with the external world could push towards a new direction for the future.

Frank Theys is Belgian filmmaker and visual artist. Theys' video and interactive installations to experimental film, documentary, and theatre performance have been placed into collections at the MOMA in New York, the Centre National de la Cinématographie in Paris, SMAK Ghent, and the Museum for the Moving Image in New York. In 2006 Theys collaborated with cyber-philosopher Michel Bauwens to create a three-part documentary film named TechnoCalyps (image).

Text: Yael Keijzer