Points for Future Reference

Presented at the tenth anniversary of the Graduate Visual and Critical Studies program at the California College of the Arts, "Points for Future Reference" considers the multiple modalities that visual images travel the globe and how methods of research and critical analysis have to adopt to those transformations.


Symposium Presentation


Essay in the journal Elastic vol. 1, September 2011

 Cover M Magazine.    Photo: Paolo Woods


First a caveat, if “the past is a foreign country” as the title of historian’s David Lowenthal’s remarkable study of the modern cult of nostalgia suggests, then I would argue that the future might as well be another galaxy. Outside of the invention of the elusive time machine—perhaps Hollywood wunderkind David Cameron’s multimedia conglomerate is busily developing one for the eventual Avatar 9—turning our cultural gaze toward the future will always be directed through a prismatic lens that starts at the fleeting present moment, then refracts through our hazy recollections of the past. Thus, any effort to cast a forward glance into the future will resonate with the ethos of our current post-postmodern condition. One has only to revisit the photographs of designer Norma Bel Geddes’ epic vision for GM’s “Futurama” at the Century of Progress 1939 worlds fair, for example, a brilliantly crafted propaganda that planted in the popular imagination the financially lucrative scheme for the U.S.’s eventual suburbanization facilitated by auto-mobility, to comprehend the futility of “future-casting.” Or one has simply to tune into a cable rerun of the 70s sci-fi flick Soylent Green,with its dystopic message cautioning the consequences of unchecked population explosion and resource exhaustion, to confirm that the sightlines that triangulate futurity are always taken from the position of where we are now. With this sound observation in mind, at this particular moment, I want to consider five contemporary points of reference that might forecast future visual studies methods and practices.