/futures nov 1 '16
Futures are visions without bodies, yet. Tomorrows are the horizons that we walk toward. When each tomorrow comes around, it's suddenly today, and here we are running around, the envisioned future of yesterday etching its beauty and struggle into our bodies. With each today, the future is still present, but elusive. Angled just slightly to the side, still without its own body. Beckoning, shaping, guiding our decisions.

For the past eight months, we have met weekly as Futures collaborators to get to know one another, develop a shared lexicon, and brainstorm ideas for how we might all be involved in this project to our fullest passion and capacity. Within the scope of the Futures atmosphere, we have defined an emergent property, shared as a sort of rhythmic thrum, a feeling that spreads through the room after a group exercise and everyone's catching the same vibe. We sit in a circle, and words bubble out and up, together. In that moment, our shared Futures aren't the words themselves - they're the spirits that drive their speaking.

As the planning team, we've guided the futures we want to incubate using ideas such as:

* Social justice - Challenging the inequalities on which this country was founded - such as colonization, structural racism, white privilege, institutionalized misogyny
* Environmental justice
* Self-organization, self-governance
* Interdependence, togetherness, solidarity without erasure
* Cross-pollination, constellation - existing as more than the sum of its parts
* Decolonizing, re-imagining, liberating

But ultimately, to me it feels like something unnameable, a quality that comes with the concepts and words, that makes this group process special.

As a science fiction writer and grassroots activist, that emergent spirit guides my own work. Without it, there are no Futures but what institutional powers provide through news reports, consumerist advertisements, career advancements, political proclamations and police presence. When we nurture it, we have hope for something new. This spirit is what's kept me coming back to Futures atmosphere meetings, and I don't think I'm alone.

Yet, perhaps the very intangible nature of "futures" has been why it's been tricky to nail down what, specifically, the public phase of the Futures atmosphere will look like. Futures has a vision of a post-apocalyptic bus, van, or large vehicle of some sort, possibly accumulating the imaginative effluent of its travels -- serving both as art piece and as practical mode of transit for a network of resilient organizations -- a Mobile Futures Institute. Its mobility gives it the unique capacity to potentially work in support of the other Philadelphia Assembled atmospheres, perhaps in the pervasive way that "the future" can connect us all.

The network of organizations and its program of events is left purposely vague - a set of instructions and guidelines for collaboration rather than specifically defined stuff to do. It's come to my mind that this approach has precedent in contemporary art -- consider the conceptual pieces of Sol LeWitt, one of which, "On a Blue Ceiling..." is display on a ceiling in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The piece itself is not what the viewer sees, but a loosely defined process, given in the form of a certificate to the museum and its full title, for how the piece may be (re)produced. From the Museum website's description:

"In 1982, the Philadelphia Museum of Art purchased this wall drawing, which means simply that the Museum owns the idea and the right to execute it or to erase it and to allow others to do so, as expressed in a certificate signed by the artist. LeWitt provided the description that is the work's title and specified directions (how many coats and what brand of paint, for example), but the execution of the wall drawing was left to the hands of others."

All around, the subtle, pervasive forces of colonization seek to co-opt or suppress the spontaneous emergence of other Futures. If history is any precedent, they are so, so, SO good at it. In a way, Futures could be anything. It should be anything. Within our guiding vision. But unpredictable. Un-co-opt-able. Managed by visionary activists and artists, and radical enough to break through.

The robber barons of the collective heart have crisscrossed the globe with railways, jamming steel atop the flexible bones of the earth, forcing paths from past to future from which it feels impossible to deviate. "This is culture. This is how it's done." Can we sow the seeds of our own futures instead? Can we unleash new possibilities? To me, this is the foremost question of cultural resilience through time.

Personally, I have a variety of skills I contribute to the project. But my ultimate goal is to amplify that emergent spirit of the future so it can wash through the sites we build, however that might happen and whatever they might be.

-Marlon MacAllister
Philadelphia assembled Mobile version