Books From the Future talk us through its workshop on disaster in contemporary culture

17 August 2018

Based in London, Books From the Future is the collaborative practice of Joshua Trees and Yvan Martinez. The duo work at the intersection of research, education and publishing, using BFTF as a means to explore the models used to structure contemporary art and design education that are “no longer relevant yet have become so institutionalised and internalised that alternatives can seem wildly idealistic and unrealistic by comparison.”

As part of this, the duo run workshops and summer schools, the last of which titled Staging Disaster took place towards the end of last month (July 2018). An inquiry into the phenomenon of disaster in contemporary culture, the programme was led by Josh and Yvan with a host of visiting practitioners leading workshops for participants.

“The 21st Century is dominated by narratives of anxiety, insecurity, speed and uncertainty. Arguably, this perpetual crisis has become an accepted, managed and collectively staged reality. While numerous critics and theorists have deconstructed the language, logic and patterns of such man-made disasters, comparatively fewer designers and artists have attempted to construct alternative narratives,” reads the summer school’s website.

Spread over ten days, artists and designers interested in exploring relationships between visual communication, perception and reality did so through publishing. Below, Josh and Yvan talk us through the workshops, day-by-day.

Day 1: Channelling Koller

Whilst living under the Soviet rule of Czechoslovakia, anti-artist Július Koller designed his own counter-narratives involving the appropriation of everyday objects such as the ping pong ball and typographic symbols including the question mark and the acronym UFO to promote a more inquisitive way of life.

We want to believe that Koller was there beside us when we began generating new permutations of the acronym UFO and formulated our lines of enquiry – What counter-narratives might challenge the disaster mindset perpetuated by contemporary culture, politics and media? How can we stimulate critical thinking without using conventional modes of criticism?

Day 2: Godzilla has left the building…

From our growing list of UFOs, participants were asked to pursue one and support it with a counter-narrative suggested by the acronym. The most promising combinations were taken forward with the option of changing one’s mind if better alternatives presented themselves along the way.

Afterwards, writer and cultural theorist Ken Hollings delivered an intriguing cross-cultural comparison of Godzilla films loaded with material ranging from optical illusions and devastation to Susan Sontag’s Imagination of Disaster to architecture as a cinematic effect. In Ken’s words, “Disaster is clickbait and Godzilla is the ultimately unstable referent representing that alien part of ourselves…”

Day 3: Counter-design

Designer Jack Clarke primed us with a lesson in the art of forgery while offering an alternative design history linking “libidinal engineering” (Edward Bernays), the “reality-effect” of “weird fiction” (H.P. Lovecraft) and “hyperstition” (Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit).

Jack asked participants to forge their own postcards sent from conceptual spaces or metaphorical places. This “invitation to believe” constituted the group’s first attempt at visualising the counter-narratives.

Day 4: Rabbit holes


Excerpt from day four presentation

Using a method we call “advanced randomness” conceived as a way of exploiting internet rabbit holes, participants exchanged and tested personal ways of sourcing and sorting information, navigating unexpected search results and outsmarting reality-distorting obstacles such as filter bubbles.

Day 5: What does Joan say?

Writer/artist duo Lia Forslund and Franek Wardyński showed us how they staged a conversation between the light and dark sides of a mountain range using the international code of signals.

They then introduced us to a method of artistic research inspired by Joan Quigley, alleged astrological adviser of the White House during the Reagan Era. Each participant was provided with a horoscope accompanied by the deceptively simple instruction: “follow your sign”.

Day 6: Diagrammatics

Researcher Sadhna Jain popped in to share her muscular method of shaping content by synthesising diagrammatic techniques from practitioners spanning different disciplines and timelines including theorist Guy Debord, architect Bernhard Tschumi and graphic artist K.P. Brehmer.

In Sadhna’s model, both the designer and diagram become actors/ agents of storytelling through the physical interplay of scripting and staging the story’s key events, gestures and actions.

Day 7: Mistribution

Researcher Ayşe Köklü took us on a linguistic adventure through mondegreens, soramimis and Freudian slips, demonstrating how misinterpretation triggers new ideas and meanings, as well as the mutability of language in its capacity to influence and change perception.

Days 8, 9 and 10: Public Files

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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