The Future Starts Here is a thought-provoking show at the V&A exploring how design is shaping the world of tomorrow. The exhibition boasts an almost bewildering diverse array of objects gleaned from research labs, design studios, aerospace centres and development laboratories around the world. There’s everything from Foster + Partners’ gigantic architectural model of Masdar, the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city to an emotion reading mirror, a furry robot seal designed to comfort dementia patients and masks of the whistleblower Chelsea Manning which have been created from Manning's DNA
The show begins with a quote by the French philosopher Paul Virilio, reminding us that the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck and this neatly sets the tone for the show. For this is an exhibition with an intended ambivalence about the future and one that includes projects with potentially menacing implications as well as exciting developments. This is also a show that doesn't seek to provide any overarching narratives and steers clear from making predictions instead choosing to pose questions and leave visitors to draw their own conclusions. Visiting The Future Starts Here is like travelling through a landscape of possibilities and is a stimulating, challenging and sometimes bewildering experience. I LOVED IT.
Overshadowing the whole show is Facebook’s Aquila solar-powered plane. Able to stay aloft for three months, Aquila is designed to give internet access in remote areas to what Mark Zuckerberg chillingly calls the “next billion”. As you move through the show, it is a constant reminder of the global reach of the tech giants.
Throughout the show, the curators do a great job of highlighting smaller counter projects demonstrating collective power alongside developments by the Tech giants. So beneath Aquila lies information about Jalaila Essaïdi’s tree antenna, a coil which, when placed around a trunk, enables the entire tree to broadcast and receive radio signals. A model of Apple’s HQ, designed by Foster + Partners, sits beside a model of a crowdsourced pedestrian bridge in Rotterdam. In the section exploring the future of democracy, new forms of civic engagement are given a spotlight with exhibits including a knitted pink pussy hat from the Women's March on Washington, an architectural model of the People's Parliament in Rojava and a caped lycra Marvel-style superhero costume worn by Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogotá, to publicise graffiti removal and other public-spirited works.
The show ends on a low tech note with the Long Now Foundation's Library to Rebuild Civilisation and a display of exploring cryogenics consisting of a plastic jug, rubber gloves and other paraphernalia from the Cryonics Institute of Michigan's home kit. Visitors get to spell out their idea of the future with an interactive of physical letters - another clever if a little childish way of reinforcing the importance of our role in helping to define the future.
For a museum used to mounting exhibitions exploring one particular artist or art movement, The Future Starts Here feels experimental and ambitious. Yes, the show has shortcomings: some of the caption questions are a bit trite, the inclusion of the letters interactive is a touch childish and I would have preferred that its concern about the influence of tech giants was made more explicit. But, make no mistake, this is a thought-provoking and challenging exhibition and a sign of an exciting new direction for the V&A.
The Future Starts Here, V&A runs until 4 November. Tickets are available for £16
For those unable to make the exhibition or wishing to dig deeper, do take a look at the catalogue which is an excellent read.