Editorial 98:  Future Past

NASA Public Domain
In the 1970s, Gerard O’Neill, NASA Ames Research Center, and Stanford University created artistic renderings of human space colonies on giant orbiting spaceships. Public domain image courtesy of NASA.

By Sunni Johnso


NASA Public Domain
In the 1970s, Gerard O’Neill, NASA Ames Research Center, and Stanford University created artistic renderings of human space colonies on giant orbiting spaceships. Public domain image courtesy of NASA.


In David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, the demonic inhabitant known as Bob monologued a riddle regarding the “future past” as one totality. Instead of the mutually exclusive idea that we know the past and the future to be, and amongst all the crypticism of the famed series, the combined concept of impossibility stuck to my psyche significantly, striking the heaviest chord.


What is the “future past”? The future’s past and the past’s future would be now. Perhaps it was just a poetic way of referring to the present. Or does this term refer to the future humanity held in their minds some time ago, an ideological future now behind us? How have our assumptions gone awry, misdirected? Predestinations are always questionable, but societies from the beginning of time naturally cling to prophecies.


Indications of “future past” have often penetrated the sphere of creative expression, now more than ever. When combining “future” and “past”, processing “time” both behind and beyond, we come upon confrontations littered with contradiction. Fates and believed destinies gain traction simply through beliefs of outcomes that have accumulated from other past patterns. Data attempts to determine what is “inevitable”. In a present wracked with climate crisis, philosophical expansion, progressive movements, gun control debates, class struggle, and so much more, what is to be of our future?


In its immeasurable meanings, “Future Past” in art does not lean on specific aesthetic, though caricatures like retro-futurism have flirted with said energy. Classic works of science fiction and magical realism have explored society’s propellation towards future environments of crumbling human rights and technofear. The religious intensity echoed in the The Handmaid’s Tale and works like 1984 not only enraptured readers because of the lush imaginations of the author, but because of the hints of truth and possibility that undercurrent these tales. Power structures like big industry and governments have the ability to terrify populations of people and restrict their basic freedoms.


As time-loops affect those attempting to break cycles, artists resurrect ancestries with reinvention, positive approaches for disrupting the oppressors that may be. The strength social media has garnered helps broadcast visions we wish to come to fruition. Honor and onward hope can both be seen in the blank walls turned into murals, performances that amp new expressions of gender, makeshift spaces that host community without middlemen, sculptures that reflect the process and beauty of chrysalis. Whether it be visual, musical, organizational, the South is richly calling for audiences to experience and absorb personal works that still are always larger than just the artist. The hearkening and yearn for change is alive in the political art of today.


We are always looking ahead, planning, and yet as we transform, we often process our blood, lineage, loves, and lives. In our post-post-modern junk culture, where the art world is cruxed with the varied formats and genres that have existed before, “future past” can emit uncanny déjà vu. Regardless of recycled ideas, introspective scholars and youthful sprouts have been hatching a revival. Countercultures plant seeds as a means of nurturing new truths, yet they still carry useful traditions through this uncertain time.


We are no strangers to worrying about humanity’s future:  resources, war, global warming, borders, boundaries, binaries. On the flipside, we reinvent what is sacred, what needs to be held on to in terms of transcendence, not the contracts and coercion of capitalism. “Future Past” can describe the positive deconstruction and reconstructions of our collective consciousness surrounding gender, race and other identity-orientations. Even the creativity of how artists combine styles, unlikely materials and energy, has an important space in reinventing culture in our current climate. Amongst the many samples on Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, another snippet rang sharp in resonation: “If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.”


Though we can be often overlooked compared to West Coast and Northeast metropolises, the South holds a raw and inspiring heartbeat in art as communities go through the motions of some of the heaviest issues of the country. We house many amazing creatives who challenge the future while seeing value in past communities amongst all the turmoil. This issue of Number is rich with individuals embracing an artistic approach of past and future. The manner in which Carl Pope “confronts history”, how Taylor Alxndr of Southern Fried Queer Pride has given space for fresh gender expression while reclaiming spaces in ATL, currently wrought with gentrification, are refreshing examples. Whatever the Past may be, those that try to shape the Future for a joyful, fair, loving life are the underdogs of our reality, welding art as a catalyst for a better tomorrow, and creating community and empathy on their way.


Sunni Johnson is the Arts Editor for WUSSY Mag and a journalist, curator, photographer and musician born and raised in Atlanta, GA.