Privatised Futures and the Arts of Speculation
Theo Reeves-Evison

In the 1970s the American futurist Alvin Toffler called for a new approach to the use of forecasting techniques. In his vision ‘social future assemblies’ and ‘imaginetic centres’ would create forums through which speculation could become more participatory and democratic. In 2003 the Pentagon office partly realised this ambition by establishing an online platform to facilitate the prediction of economic, civil and military futures. While Toffler imagined his social future assemblies as wide-ranging, the Pentagon’s scheme would focus mainly on the relationship between the U.S. and the Arab world. Drawing on research showing the effectiveness of market trading as a tool for predicting fluctuations in the sale of commodities such as movie tickets, the resulting ‘Policy Analysis Market’ sought to formalise socially distributed predictions into a trading platform that could simultaneously serve the interests of investors and U.S foreign policy. Quickly nicknamed the ‘terrorism futures market’ because it allowed investors to speculate on future attacks, assassinations and coups, the platform was promptly shut down in the interests of good taste. From Toffler to terrorism futures and beyond, this talk will chart a series of shifts in the nature and character of the futurological methods that are used to think and plan ahead. As the planning tools of the post-war era loose their predictive edge, new forecasting techniques come to exert influence in a world dominated by the uncertainties of looming environmental catastrophe. More than just neutral methods, such techniques constitute social technologies that shape the scenarios they imagine. As the policy analysis market demonstrates, they are also increasingly saturated with financial logic, which filter our images of the future through a particular prism. Against the monetised futures of financial speculation, the social futurity of a handful of contemporary artworks stand out. Projects by the likes of Amy Balkin, Snæbjörnsdóttir / Wilson and Terra0 Research will be discussed as examples of how to broaden the arts of speculation. Artworks such as these generate alternative images of the future, but crucially they also generate new methods by which such images are conceptualised and produced.

Theo Reeves-Evison is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Birmingham School of Art, where he is working on a research project entitled ‘Speculative Natures: Contemporary Art and Interventionist Ecology’. The project investigates how processes of speculation and storytelling in art have the capacity to organise environmental activities around imagined futures, and will manifest in several events, presentations and publications over the next three years. He is the editor, together with Jon K. Shaw of Fiction as Method (Sternberg, 2017), and has published articles in magazines and journals such as Frieze, Paragrana and Parallax. In 2018 he edited a special issue of the journal Third Text with Mark Rainey on the theme of ‘ethico-aesthetic repairs’, and his monograph In The Shadow of Transgression is to be published in 2019 by Bloomsbury Academic Press.
Imagining and Projecting: notes on Dutch aesthetics of nativeness–Charl Landvreugd