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 townships.
Whilst there I helped inspire local residents to imagine and build improved, low cost ‘shack replacement’ structures, and then worked to instigate three celebratory community-run visual/performance festivals, designed to encourage and empower other township residents to initiate their own similarly life-changing projects.
This fieldwork led me to first produce reflective artworks for two solo shows (UTS Gallery, Sydney, 2015 and Vrystaat Arts Festival, South Africa, 2017). I am now building upon those outcomes in this major exhibition of works in two phases, Future-Future?; Phase1 for Mt Gambier Art Gallery (Nov 2017) and Phase1+2 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 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, Dr. Ricardo Peach, Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD) - Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, 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, Thabang Mofokeng, HOT Rural Workers Collective, Botshabelo Township, South Africa. 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.
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 Collective. His call is profound. His people, and their supporting environments are quite literally dying under the weight of our consumption in all its forms, both historical and contemporary. So what kind of future for a future is possible?
The affluent 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, or even imagined. However his community have something that we arguably have lost in our rush to create a profoundly unsustainable brand of a future. They enjoy solidarity, purpose and meaning, rooted within their ancient culture. Can we assume it is that which has kept them proud, strong and alive in conditions of hardship that we would find entirely unimaginable and untenable.
Future-Future? focusses upon other paradigms of change and transformation that the affluent may find ‘uninteresting’ or ‘undesirable’. Such transformations lie beyond our popular imagination. Such transformations lie beyond our lexicon, because our words do not express that kind of hunger. Such transformations lie beyond our routine desires, because they have nothing to do with the refinement of existing luxury. Future-Future? confronts paradoxical desires - stimulated by (‘under-cover’) change agents, who are quietly transforming their 'future for a future’. Desirea for 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' crreating their own images; of their own making.