Future trends around sustainability, food and space travel were in the spotlight at this experimental new London conference. WGSN’s Sarah Housley reports
Last week a new conference slid onto our radar. Enter The Future Of... conference, which brought together artists, futurists and designers to London’s high-tech hub, Flux, to discuss topics as varied as conditioning the human body to space and making food sexy. With a title like that, the conference had a lot to live up to – and it did, looking not just a few years ahead but up to 4000 generations into the future.
Here are three of the key ideas to come out of the sessions.
The future of health could be found by pushing humans to their extremes
Body architect and sci-fi artist Lucy McRae is exploring how to condition the human body and mind; specifically, she’s looking for “alternative ways to evolve human resilience”. Her latest project, a short film called The Institute of Isolation, sees her training for life outside this planet – and outside what the human body was designed for.
“My agenda as a science-fiction artist,” McRae says, “is not to provide answers or solutions, but to focus on: what are the conditions of possibility?” The questions that fascinate her include: “How can we begin to understand the body, mind and consciousness 4000 generations ahead? Could we design isolation like an architect does a building, to evolve human capacity? If we are going to go to space, how do we prepare the body now? How does the brain respond in manipulated conditions, below the threshold of hearing?”
Food is the new route to innovation
Ido Garini, the founder of food designers Studio Appetit, spoke about how our collective obsession with food has elevated eating and drinking rituals into one of our most important forms of self-expression. “The Sunday painter has become the weekend chef,” he said. “Food is the ultimate experience enhancer.”
The studio’s projects include a meal that follows the process of sexual encounter – from appetisers themed around flirting (involving oysters and lemons), through seduction (feeding each other from a bowl) and ending with a dessert centring around a chocolate orb filled with liquid chocolate. The studio’s work also includes mirrored meals – so you can face up to what you look like eating, including strawberries, which Garini describes as the most sensual food of all – and an entire product collection of food platforms, which literally elevate food to the status of jewellery.
In the future, Garini concluded, “We will eat ideas, cook concepts” – food will become a medium for innovation, not just in food itself, but in every area of culture and design.
Sustainability is a meaningless word
Sustainability provocateur and sociologist Leyla Acaroglu has a radical approach to the well-worn topic of sustainability and all of its synonyms: telling it like it is. “I really care about the ways in which we exist on this planet,” she said. “Systematically, since the industrial revolution we’ve dissociated ourselves from everything that makes us human.” We also don’t understand the full complexity of the systems that exist behind every choice we make. A consumer choosing between two options of a disposable cup, for example – one made of plastic, one corn-based and biodegradable – might be surprised to learn that the latter choice is not the sustainable option. “We make decisions based on emotional choices without understanding the systems that exist in the world.”
However, there is hope. “I wouldn’t work in this space if I didn’t have perpetual optimism about how to challenge the status quo,” she says. One key step forward that she suggests is to read up on systems thinking, which posits that every problem holds its own solution. “We actively avoid the hard discussions [about sustainability] because of the reductivist mindset,” she said. With people like Acaroglu around, that mindset might be just about to change.
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