The ‘Future-Future?’ exhibition is inspired by my sustained engagement within South African communities (2016-17), supported by the Program for Innovation in Artform Development and local community NGO Qala Phelang Tala (Start Living Green!) These two organisations, who have built significant trust within local communities, invited me to work with them as an ‘embedded creative’ within three local South African townships. (Download catalogue)(8.4MB).
Whilst there I worked with the NGO Qala Phelang Tala (Start Living Green!)led by Dr. Anita Venter, and several local residents (change agents) to help imagine and build improved, low cost ‘shack replacement’ structures. I then worked with the same change agents to instigate three celebratory community-run visual/performance festivals (‘merakas’) under the title ‘Seven Stage Futures’, designed to encourage and empower other township residents to initiate their own similarly life-changing projects.
This fieldwork inspired me to initially produce a reflective media artwork OTswellang for the solo shows Over Many Horizons, at UTS Gallery, Sydney, 2016 and The Mesh, Vrystaat Arts Festival, South Africa, 2017. (That work is also included in this show). I am now building upon those outcomes in this major exhibition of works in two phases, Future-Future?. Phase1 is presented for Riddoch Gallery, Mt Gambier, South Australia, (opening Nov 17th, 2017) and Phase2 for the ISEA 2018 Electronic Arts Festival, at Durban Art Gallery, South Africa (tbc).
That festival theme, ‘Intersections’, positions creative technological innovation as an activist engagement into public space and public practice in African contexts. My exhibition of electronic sculptures, videos and interactive works will examine the innovative cultural practices witnessed in the townships, showcasing the transformative power of cooperative, creative action for the festival’s local and international audiences.
1: Future-Future? Solo exhibition, Mt Gambier Gallery, South Australia, Nov 17th-Jan 20th, 2017, Curated by Melentie Pandilovski.
2: ISEA 2018. Electronic Arts Festival, Durban Art Gallery, South Africa, (tbc).
Keith Armstrong (Artistic director)
PARTNERSHIPS: Mt Gambier City Art Gallery (Melentie Pandilovski (Dir.), Serena Wong, Linda Walker, Talie Teakle), Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD) - Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, Dr. Ricardo Peach, University Free State, Centre Development Support, Qala Phelang Tala, Anita Venter, Angela De Jesus, Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, University of the Free State, South Africa, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Flanders Foundation, Change Agents Mokoena and Ellen Maphalane, Mary Mofana and Velili Phantsi, Thabang Mofokeng, HOT Rural Workers Collective, Botshabelo Township, South Africa, Adriann Du Pleiss(Stage builder), Percy, Michael Sebeso. The parent project, Re-Future is presented at part of the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD), an initiative of the Vrystaat Art Festival and the University of the Free State. Kindly supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Flanders Foundation.This project has been kindly assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Keith Armstrong is supported by a part time Associate directorship of QUT's Creative Lab Research Centre. Special thanks to doctoral students Christine Scoggin and Pieter Odenaal who are working on Re-Future. Special thanks to Prof Greg Hearn Prof Terry Flew, Prof Mandy Thomas, Nigel Oram, Blair Walkinshaw and QUT Precincts.
MORE: The exhibition Future-Future? begins with the powerful provocation: "There is no time to complain, the only remaining time is to start implementing change. If not we will perish". Ha ho na nako ea ho chacheha ka mohono, nako e setseng ke ea hore re fetohe eseng moo re tla timela. These words were contributed both in English and South African (Sesotho) languages by Thabang Mofokeng, a South African 'change agent' and leader of the HOT Rural Workers Foundation. His call is profound. His people, and environment are suffering significantly under the weight of the consumption of his country’s wealth and resources in all its forms, both historical and contemporary. So what kind of future-for-a-future is possible?
Whilst the affluent may typically think about a future in terms of maintaining or increasing an already unjust share, Thabang’s people may wonder, is there is any kind of future at all - in a world where their basic needs of education, housing, health and welfare are far from being met. However many in his community still have something that has been widely lost in the rush to create a profoundly brand of unsustainable future - solidarity, purpose and meaning, rooted within their melting pot of ancient cultures. Can we assume it is these strengths which have kept them proud, strong and alive in conditions of hardship, all these years after apartheid officially finished - still in conditions that many of us would find entirely unimaginable and untenable.
Future-Future? focusses upon uncovering and promoting these paradigms of change and transformation. Such transformations maybe lie beyond our own lexicon, because words do not imagine that kind of hunger and beyond our routine desires, because they have nothing at all to do with the refinement of an existing luxury. Future-Future? instead encourages paradoxical desires - stimulated by (‘under-cover’) change agents, who are quietly transforming their 'future for a future’. Their desire is focussed - positive dwelling, powerful culture and transformative purpose - working to 'give time back to the future'.
Future-Future? is the third major outcome arising from the Re-Future project - which aims to initiate a series of transdisciplinary, intercultural collaborative works designed with, or inspired by the journeys of re-futuring, pioneered by the township residents of Bloemfontein/Manguang, South Africa. The project operates at the intersection of media art, sustainability, community development and creative action, reflecting how the legacies of apartheid, population pressure, economic and environmental decay, compounded by limited access to education, services, secure housing and policing services have routinely rendered so many in the majority world a 'lost cause'. Here lie very different leaders - pioneering 'change makers' creating their own images; of their own making.