Adapt to Survive: Notes from the Future is a title that would be as at home on a book by Ayn Rand as the group exhibition currently at the Hayward Gallery. Brought together by Senior Curator Dr. Cliff Lauson, the show contains seven works which each explore potential trajectories from the present. If there is a guiding thread, it is less in the fullness of its visions, than the way it challenges an inability to create alternative futures.
The work on display is more evocative of the visions concocted in banks or Silicon Valley than the utopian legacies of art history. In his film-piece Tyrrau Mawr, Bedwyr Williams presents a fictional city on a mountainside in South Wales. As a static image of glass skyscrapers rolls from day into night, a monologue tells of burn victims in hospital and porters resenting the wealth of the upper floors. The imagery mimics the construction site hoardings used to sell property developments, filled with digital rendering and over-saturated sunsets, to create a mournful elegy to the city.
In the opposite corner, Julian Charriere’s Metamorphism XLIX presents us with a rock returned from a possible future. At first glance a beautiful grey fragment, on closer inspection air-holes like those on cooled lava or something burned by acid rain become visible. Strands of yellow wire protrude outwards and crumpled electronics are fused into its surface. Taking on that vast theme of the Anthropocene, the work anticipates a future catastrophe where the man-made and the natural have molten into one.
The relentless pursuit of technological innovation is also explored in contributions by Andreas Angelidakis, Ann Lislegaard and Marguerite Humeau. Humeu’s Harry II is arguably the strangest work within the exhibition. A totemic, mythic sculpture evoking the work of Mona Hatoum and Sterling Ruby, it oscillates between the organic and inorganic, the monumental and the post-minimal. A pink frame holds six rectangular tanks of fake blood, surrounded by viral-like forms that imitate security fencing in artificial skin. Topping the structure are three plastic bird skulls that resemble a spine, a visceral integration of the body with the language of surveillance.
Rainer Ganahl’s I Hate Karl Marx shifts to imagine a world in which Chinese Communism has overthrown Western Capitalism. In the film a German woman shouts at a statue of Karl Marx in Berlin, claiming he has betrayed her by allowing Chinese culture to suppress that of Europe. It’s a slapstick reversal that reminds us that market forces are intimately tied to cultural hegemony and, often, xenophobia, taking a critical look at the West’s current attitude to Chinese economic expansion.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the late theorist Mark Fisher explored the idea of ‘hauntology’. In his work, he argued that Neoliberal society suffered from an inability to imagine a future beyond capitalism. For Fisher, capitalism’s fixation on market growth and technological innovation resulted in a world of the same in which stock visions were recycled to protect the current order. Seeing this exhibition over fifteen years later, Fisher’s diagnosis feels as pertinent today as ever.