Now Here is Nowhere
An interdisciplinary group of international artists, designers, and collaborators presents new possibilities by bringing the end of the world to Chicago
by Anjulie Rao (MA 2014)
There is a thin thread between fiction and reality—a cord that is pulled taut. In contemporary art, the tension between the fictional world and real objects (or fictional objects in a real world) blurs lines of what is known to be true about art—its function and form become flexible. This forces viewers and artists to wonder how the human imagination can produce new ideas for contemporary art.
News from Nowhere, a project originally conceived by Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho for Documenta 13, approaches contemporary art at the peak of this tension. On display in SAIC's Sullivan Galleries from September 21 through December 21, News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory is an exciting collaboration between Moon and Jeon, SAIC student designers and faculty, various art and design professionals, scientists, writers, thinkers, and other innovators. The result of the collaborations and conversations will be a process-based exploration into issues of art, design—and humanity as a whole—in the present time, as examined through a fictional world: a post-apocalyptic Earth.
In the (not-so) distant future, human impact on the planet will have taken its toll in the form of severe global climate change: drastic temperature fluctuations, water scarcity, and depleted infrastructure will leave the Earth mostly uninhabitable. This is the setting for News from Nowhere—a grim, challenging, frightening scenario. And it becomes the precipice of the project—a perfect blank slate with which all participants (including the audience) can begin exploring the true meanings of art and design. As described by Jeon, "It is a new start; we start from outside of the current situation and the current values—a new start where the true meaning of art and its role will be approached."
The original iteration of News from Nowhere was shown at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, containing an extensive installation, a publication titled News from Nowhere: A Platform for the Future & Introspection of the Present, and the feature film, El Fin del Mundo, produced by Moon and Jeon—a startling and eerie look into the future. In a split-screen format, El Fin del Mundo chronicles two individuals' experiences of the apocalypse: A young man, who is facing the end of civilization; and, a woman, who survives the near-extinction and finds traces of the man's existence.
Mary Jane Jacob, Professor and Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies at SAIC, attended Documenta 13 that summer. She says, "I was completely blown away by the artists producing News from Nowhere. It was intriguing; I had to spend time to understand what was going on. And it stayed with me."
The project also presented conversations between myriad collaborators who contributed new works based on their reflections and engagement with the artists' post-apocalyptic proposition. Korean fashion designer Kuho Jung created futuristic "uniforms" of hexagon-patterned silicone that could facilitate survival in this new world. Tokyo-based takram design engineering designed artificial human organs to be implanted into humans to enable them to conserve and recycle water during extreme conditions. The Dutch design collaborative MVRDV envisioned biodegradable "bubbles" for future living, while Pritzker Prize–winning architect Toyo Ito created post-disaster responses to the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
News from Nowhere was, essentially, a work of pure collaboration. Moon states, "All products of the journey were created by listening to others' voices and opinions on the meanings and implications of contemporary art." She continues, "It was our hope to approach discourse in a most sincere and practical way."
After many conversations and a visit to SAIC to give a short lecture, Moon and Jeon arranged a new movement of News from Nowhere, to be conducted in the expansive "laboratory" that is Chicago.
News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory will use the trajectory of the original exhibition—set in the same post-apocalyptic landscape, and displaying El Fin del Mundo as well as the film's new sequel, Avyakta, alongside the objects designed by the commissioned artists. It will also continue the collaborative nature that has been at the heart of the project from the outset. However, as implied by the expanded title, the exhibition will be expanded in ways unseen before; what Jeon calls, "an open platform…in which discourses will unfold around the city."
The "open platform" will utilize the talents of students, faculty, industry professionals, and the greater public to produce this desired "unfolding" of discourses. Jacob explains: "The exhibition embodies so much of what we talk about at SAIC. Moon and Jeon are working in an intersection, bringing together collaborators—people who work in many different walks of life—to think about the role of art now and in the future. It is exciting how those ideas could come together in union with and respect for other makers and thinkers. That seems exemplary of the way we work [at SAIC]."
Projects and presentations during the exhibition include free public lectures by Moon and Jeon, Japanese architect Toyo Ito, and Korean fashion designer Kuho Jung (presented in conjunction with SAIC's Visiting Artists Program); a film series exploring the role of art in utopian visions; and a public forum discussing beauty as a tool for designing the new world.
The Chicago Laboratory will also include two workshops and a yearlong course where creative propositions for the future will be ventured by visiting artists working with SAIC students and faculty. Fashion designer Kuho Jung and SAIC Fashion faculty Katrin Schnabl will work with students to envision modes for survival wear; and SAIC faculty Drea Howenstein and Peter Exley will bring together students with international scholars and makers to look at how Chicagoans are imagining change, generating ideas and projects that will shape this city in the future.
One select group of graduate students in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Interior Design (AIADO) will be contributing their visions on the future of object design. Led by Designed Objects faculty Tim Parsons and members of takram design engineering, Extreme Ordinary: Redesigning and Redefining Vital Commodities is a two-day workshop that prompts students to think about object production in extreme circumstances.
Takram designers Kotaro Watanabe and Kaz Yoneda will assign students everyday objects (ID cards, musical instruments, etc.) to be reconfigured for the new environment. According to Parsons, students will be able to contemplate commonplace objects and their function in the context of today's world and the speculative future environment. He notes, "This will push the students to come up with imaginative ideas, but also ground them in a make-able reality."
Considering that News from Nowhere takes place in a world in which human-caused climate change has depleted the Earth's natural resources, Parsons believes that this workshop will help student designers consider their role within the realm of social practice. Parsons explains, "As a designer, you're implicated in creating thousands of objects that are going out, being used, and getting thrown into a landfill. And those objects may live in the ground for hundreds of years. The social responsibility of artists is very present in the work today. It asks, ‘How would we like the future to be?'"
Producing potential objects for extreme conditions, revisiting lost movements, and channeling possible futures: This, according to Moon and Jeon, is the notion of "borrowing" time. From their perspective, the push and pull between the fictional world of News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory and the realities of today's object design extends beyond the production of functional objects. "By borrowing from the future," says Jeon, "individuals can have a look into our current situations, not only in art but also in science, religion, humanities, and education, and carry out discussions on them."
"Borrowing" time is a crucial element to the exhibition—it emphasizes Moon and Jeon's belief that it is not the end of the world that is important; rather, it is about seeking possibilities for how art and design play parts in our everyday lives.
Toyo Ito, the contributing architect to News from Nowhere, has been a real-life participant in a post-apocalyptic situation. After the massive tsunami in Japan in March of 2011, he traveled to the town of Sendai, which was devastated by flooding. After his visit, he wrote, "The village for the future cannot help but be launched here. By inheriting old memories that exist around this place…a new history should be created upon its frame." From there, he built a "brighter future" for residents, who were, at that time, living in makeshift metal housing set aside from the ruins of the town. Ito worked alongside architecture students and residents of the town to build a communal structure that met both physical and practical needs, such as food preparation and warmth, but also social needs, like community spaces for meals. He also built the structure inspired by residents' fondest memories of the town and their individual homes—a new history built on the "foundations formed in the past"—literally and figuratively bringing the residents home. Ito's experience exemplifies how he "borrowed" time—playing on the fictions of nostalgia that comes from memory and moments now lost—and with it, produced an object of necessity.
This type of imaginative possibility drives News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory. As participants in the present day, we are affecting the future; residents of the future will build their foundations on the ruins of our present. This is the cautionary tale: to discover the potential for art and design to bring greater discourses on society today, the future lends its possibility generously. News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory will give Chicago an opportunity to understand the present and contribute to crafting our next move forward.