And, if we observe the present began with an open call process, where we asked artists who employ photography in their work to propose how the idea of a future can be predicted, prepared for and visualised. Like a deck of Tarot cards, we drew four artists together and placed them side by side: Kitsch Doom, Ben Malcolmson, Kate McElroy, and Dónal Talbot. Each proposing a unique interpretation of the theme, each deviating into the multiple facets of possibility, each manifesting a premonition of artworks yet to be made and yet to align.
As the project gently shifted forward through virtual connectivity, a normalised format that has become symptomatic of the Covid-19 restrictions, the presence of the pandemic’s impact hung heavy over every conversation. The future of art practice, artistic networking, accessibility and inclusion was a hushed commentary now amplified. The practicalities of survival and care, no longer a bitter undercurrent of the subjectivities examined within the studio space but the main agenda. Bodies of work relocated to spare bedrooms and kitchen tables; an anticipation was palpable amongst the artists. The abbreviation of “IN REAL LIFE” appeared in every email correspondence; the probability of our desires could finally be hopeful again with the promise of an open gallery space.
Three writers were selected to examine these narratives for possibility: Harvey Dimond, Lucie McLaughlin and Ojo Taiye, where photography’s materiality acted as a point of departure for their approach. The irony was acknowledged: developing an exhibition around a medium that captures moments and irrevocably archives them as historical prose, being used to present images of what the inaccessible “might” can look like. All visions of the future are fictions and our writers embraced the weight of this idea; of “what if’s” in the shape of “what is”. Using the surroundings of their distant homes they juxtaposed the unseen and the unimaginable with the reality in their bodies of text.
Collectively, the work and the writing expresses the individual’s right to the authorship of their own desires within the concept of a future. There are overlaps and conflicts where the public and private intersections of lived experience impacts this kind of personal foresight; granting the soothsayer a vision but others a mirage. Where traditional family aesthetics are denied by the acceleration of digital dematerialisation, in both the roles we play and clothes we inhabit. The closeness of skin and hot breath in a dark reflection as virtual tenderness substitutes touch (that is all but too close to the bone) bending and rippling within the artificial light. We are offered a return to safe spaces; indulging in queer rural isolation from the dominant narratives of false urban liberty. Framed and layered in the failure of infrastructure as characteristic of destructive architectural permanence: signifies a capitalist notion of what our shared fates will look like.
And, if we observe the present; started as a simple partnership and developed into something more intuitive, willing, informative and became a dialogue of the issues that time will interrogate but more importantly the destinies we crave to generate. In a communal process of responding to the needs of the artists, engaging with the voices of the writers and developing a collective outcome, this show like others before it will find its place in the Catalyst archive.
And, if we observe the present is a place to reimagine what shape a future is or even what a “future” means but more importantly directs our notice towards what is taken from the contemporary world in order to piece together something meaningful that’s worth looking forward to.