The future seems more volatile than ever in our mid-COVID world. Since the pandemic hit the UK, where I live, constant changes in governmental messaging have made it difficult to plan ahead. Should we organise that family gathering during the holidays or not? Can we continue to transition back to in-person teaching? Will I still have a job in six months’ time? Now, after more than two years of uncertainty, of constantly rearranging plans, trying to maintain hope and optimism for the future has, at least for me, been difficult.
Amidst such pessimism, a much-needed positive outlook is precisely what the FUTURES exhibition at Washington DC’s Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building (AIB) promises. Organised to celebrate the Smithsonian Institution’s 175th anniversary, and co-curated by a team of four – Monica Montgomery (former programmes and social justice curator), Ashley Molese (curator), Glenn Adamson (consulting curator), and Brad MacDonald (AIB director of creative media) – FUTURES showcases “more than 150 awe-inspiring objects, ideas, prototypes and installations that fuse art, technology, design and history to help visitors imagine many possible futures on the horizon”.
At the other end of the room, a monument-like structure covered entirely in rhinestones glimmers, commanding attention. Titled The Grove, this sculptural piece was created by Devan Shimoyama in response to the displacement of communities in the US as a result of gentrification. The work itself comprises four “DIY” utility poles, each decorated with silk flowers and connected by criss-crossing wires. Dangling from these wires are several pairs of shimmering shoes. “Thinking about the phrase ‘Futures that Unite’ and thinking about this exhibition as a whole, which is largely technologically rooted, I thought how fitting would it be to integrate something that’s very much the antithesis of tech,” says Shimoyama. “The materials used in the work are those that I associate with DIY craft traditions, of spontaneous memorial, and the ways in which communities of colour, or low-income communities – or any communities really – come together to celebrate life and mourn the loss of something. So I really wanted to pay homage to those communities.”