January 24, 2009 - March 28, 2009 // OTIS Ben Maltz Gallery, Los Angeles
The Future Imaginary
Misremembering The Future Imaginary
Tom Leeser

'I'm glad it's off my mind, at last”

–Mr. Memory,
'The 39 Steps”

To enter the work of Norman Klein the reader must be willing to transgress a portal that leads beyond the familiar terrains of criticism, fiction and media, and into the boundless realms of the imagined and the poetic. Klein's prose functions as a map to our collective state of mind, arising in the form of imaginary constructions, scripted spaces and illusory environments. Like a film noir detective, Klein delves into the shadows of our unconscious and into the dark alleys between fact and fiction. In his books, 'The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory', 'The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects', 'Freud in Coney Island' and 'Bleeding Through--Layers of Los Angeles,' Klein uncovers our over mediated and over medicated state of distraction, exposing our infatuation with the culture of spectacle, visual effects and global entertainment. Through his writing, Klein assumes the role of tour guide, urban critic and cultural historian, as he directs our gaze toward the ruins of forgetting and erasure.

'We never finish dreaming the poem, never finish thinking it.'

–Gaston Bachelard
'On Poetic Imagination and Reverie'

To remember requires perception and action, forgetting happens passively without the need for intervention on our part. This constant state of forgetting may be the reason we never finish dreaming the poem as Bachelard says. We read it over and over to remind ourselves who we are and where we've been. The poem can then function as a literary interface or mnemonic for our cultural narratives, our collective autobiography and our imagined communities. Media, like the poem, can be seen as an another form of interface, a platform and an archive for our narratives, functioning less in the language of direct discourse but more in the fashion of poetic communication. We engage with media aesthetically, recursively and intuitively, as an interactive and hyper linked social space, an 'engine' for dynamic discourse and exchange. This all pervasive imagined social space, in Klein's view, has come to displace 'the twentieth century avant garde's authority for innovation and culture.' (1) Klein critiques mobile technologies, virtual worlds, blogs and networked gaming environments as imagined spaces that are part of a new themed entertainment economy, an 'electronic Baroque' as he calls it. For Klein, these spaces are not only imagined, they're also scripted, and they function as a means for our memories to form a new cosmopolitan culture.

From this new cosmopolitan culture emerges, The Imaginary Twentieth Century, a new DVD interactive novel, authored by Klein, and his collaborators, Margo Bistis and Andreas Kratky. It is a hybrid database novel designed to encourage the user to investigate what Klein calls 'the misremembering of the future.' (2) The Imaginary Twentieth Century is the inspiration for our exhibition The Future Imaginary.

'Cosmopolitanism, by definition, is a history of forgetting and I am busily trying to imagine the future of forgetting across media.'

-Norman Klein

Klein describes The Imaginary Twentieth Century as a 'historical science fiction novel.' The story is based on the fin de siecle and a woman named Carrie, who chooses four men to seduce her, each with their own story of the imminent twentieth century. The narrative is delivered as a voice-over on the DVD (read by Klein) and is accompanied by an extensive image database that contains over two thousand two hundred illustrations, photographs, drawings and films (curated by Margo Bistis.)

The Future Imaginary exhibition links to the novel using a curatorial strategy of call and response. Beginning with Klein's idea of 'misremembering the future,' Meg Linton and I conceived of a strategy to expand the novel's premise to the exhibition space of the Ben Maltz Gallery at the Otis College of Art and Design. We did this by calling out to artists of various media who use technology as a basis for their work. We asked the artists to respond to the novel, its archive of ephemera and Klein's critical positions on culture, memory, nostalgia and the future. The project then became a series of multiple reactions, initiating a discourse between the authors, the artists and the curators. The work in the exhibition is framed as a physical and spatial interface which provides the ability to expand their understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of literature, art, technology and contemporary media culture. The reactions and responses are intended to be indirect, similar to an imperfect reflection, a distorted sound or an incomplete thought; in essence, a poetic extension to Klein's acts of misremembering.

The artists were all given the copy of the DVD with background notes by Klein and Bistis. The archive that Bistis assembled for the DVD plays an integral role, linking the artist's work back to the novel's intentions. Prints from the archive are hung throughout the exhibition space, clustered near each work that best reflects their content.

'I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.'

-Jorge Luis Borges

Klein uses the term antechamber in his book 'Freud in Coney Island' (3) to describe an 'in-between' space that 'doesn't physically exist but in our minds is infinite.' We used Klein's idea of the antechamber to create an infinite form of architecture for the exhibit, an 'in-between' scripted space that connects the novel to the artist's work.

The antechamber contains a central space with three walls, a parabolic speaker that is hung from the center of the ceiling and a salon style sofa situated just beneath the speaker. The sound emanating from the speaker is Klein's voice, reading from the novel. The antechamber's multiple paths lead to a 'reading room' which contains a computer, the DVD, the written text of the novel and an essay on curating the novel's archive, written by Margo Bistis.

The artists chosen for The Future Imaginary antechamber are Deborah Aschheim, Jeff Cain, Tom Jennings, Jon Kessler, Ed Osborn, Lea Rekow, Douglas Repetto, Phil Ross, Kari Rae Seekins and Aaron Drake, and Susan Simpson.

Deborah Ascheim's 'Nostalgia' is a work about an 'old future.' (4) It is a view of a future from her past using light as the main metaphor. The work is made from industrial materials: plastic, copper, LED’s, incandescent, halogen, xenon, compact fluorescent and reproduction Edison light bulbs, propellers, motors and motion sensors. It is a free hanging piece in the form of a spiral with video of her old home movies nested in trumpet like horns at the end of the spiral. The piece is encrusted in plastic and is adorned with light that relays the history of the light bulb itself, beginning with the Edison incandescent bulbs at one end of the spiral and ending with the ecology friendly fluorescents at the other.

Ascheim's work is also about memory and loss both from a scientific inquiry and from a poetic expression. The work evokes the temporal quality of thought signified by the transience of light and the invisible but impending darkness or forgetting that descends upon us all.

Jeff's Cain's work is about intervening into systems, both natural and technical. (5) In his project 'The Southwest Passage' created for The Future Imaginary, he intervenes into the LA River, a municipal flood control system. invoking a displacement of both memory and time.

The viewer is situated in the center of four video monitors, each monitor displaying moving images of the Los Angeles River taken with a small remote video camera mounted on radio controlled toy boats. At no time can the viewer see all four monitors at once, forcing the viewer to imagine the images beyond her view. The video in the monitors play back as traces between past and present, a misremembering that enables a continuity of perception to pose as a dissonant recollection.

Tom Jennings' 'Model 47 Trinity Diorama,' 'Model 17' and 'Encapsulated Landscapes' all speak to an 'anti-nostalgia.' The work is collectively positioned as mid twentieth century faux artifacts that take us back in time, while positioned in an ironic present. The 'anti-nostalgia' is manufactured not with a sense of longing but with a sense of questioning and paradox. They pose as found objects of a misremembered history and an erased ruin. The work also points to hidden layers of history, geography and political tragedies. (6)

'Model 47 Trinity Diorama' is a reconstructed instrument for displaying the landscape of the Trinity, New Mexico atomic test site. The instrument's casing which takes the form of a small cabinet was originally made by the Marion Electrical Instrument Co., Manchester New Hampshire, in 1956. It contains an aerial contour map of Trinity and a probe, that allows for sounds to be played back at specific areas on the map.

'Model 17' is a tuner designed to pick up sounds from a commercial and military short wave band. The tuner is housed in a small copper box, with a large black dial on its front panel. It has a cast stainless steel speaker on top that is lined with dog hair. Sounds from the short wave band are heard at night when the sun goes down. 'Encapsulated Landscapes' are three Bakelite boxes that contain low frequency sounds and act as portraits of Trinity, Southern Nevada and Bikini Island in the South Pacific. Jennings refers to these boxes as 'an indeterminate series, each describing peculiar, little-seen and hidden-away uses of the earth.' (7)

Jennings' assemblages bring to mind similarities and comparisons to the Center for Land Use in Los Angeles and Joseph Cornell's collage boxes. Jennings view is an outsider's view of technology, land use, government propaganda and military design packaged into containers and cabinets of slightly distorted wonder. His use of short wave radio functions like atomic phantoms while his use of the container and box reflects back to Cornell's idea of art as 'philosophical toys.'

Jon Kessler creates highly sophisticated, kinetic and immersive mechanical objects using lo-tech strategies. 'Dragonball' and 'Noriko,' can also be thought of as animated paintings that incorporate found images, optical devices, lights, motors and moving Fresnel lenses. (8)

'Dragonball' features an image of an anime character from the Dragonball game with architectural drawings of Los Angeles. 'Noriko' features an image of a 1990's Japanese pop star which is used to suggest the film Blade Runner. Klein notes that 'three out of five leading city planners agreed that they hoped LA would some day look like the city in Blade Runner.' Kessler has created a lo-tech aesthetic that resonates with Blade Runner's 'future noir' style and Klein's love of urban decay. (9)

Ed Osborn's work 'Night-Sea Music' also suggests mapping systems and possible future destinations. Osborn has constructed a visual and audio topography mounted on the wall and made up of motors and rubber cables that connect to multiple little music boxes, each playing an old folk tune called 'The Merry Widow.' At each music box junction, the little motors spin, causing the cables to jerk in a humorous spasmodic fashion. The tune is played back relative to the speed of the spinning motors creating a concert of conflicting causes and conditions. The work, according to Osborn stands as an ironic metaphor for the unknown journeys of spermatozoa that struggle to carry information (10) to a host with latent and unknown futures.

Klein writes that media extends 'like cilia from the body; spread very thin, like the weather or microorganisms.' (11) 'Night-Sea Music' is a temporal and spatial memory apparatus that spreads itself across the wall and into that indeterminate gap that Osborne says lies 'between the possible and the actual.'

Lea Rekow's project also focuses on systems and control. In Rekow's work, the broader question involves the ethics of intervention into natural systems and the possible consequences that the intervention incurs. (12) These two untitled projects function as video kaleidoscopes that display fragments of natural systems- a bee colony and human cels. Rekow's fragmented mirrors, videos and viewing apparatus creates what Klein refers to as an 'ani-morph.' (13) The ani-morph according to Klein is an 'in-between' space in animation that is located between space and time. In Rekow's project the ani-morph is created by the physical viewing device's state of rest. Each time the viewer turns the device, the reflections become animated and create multiple frames within frames, a fragmented visual effect that Klein refers to as 'colliding atmospheres.' (14)

Doug Repetto's work questions how we perceive and understand our world. In his work 'Flying Away (Not Going Very Far),' Repetto seems to be questioning our perception of the past and the present.

A prayer plant (Maranta Leuconeurasits) sits in a rusted and distressed cage, with a web cam off to the side, aimed in its direction. The web cam is connected to a computer that captures images of the plant at specifically timed intervals, similar to a time-lapse intervalometer. The images are stored in a database on the computer's hard drive for playback. The images are then displayed as a continuous movie file on a small video monitor that is attached to the face of the cage.

The loop that Repetto sets up between our present perception of the plant in the cage and the mechanical display of the archived images in the small monitor, causes us to slip between past and present, simultaneously allowing us to experience a connection to and an alienation from nature.

In 'Distributed Squirrel Cage for Parallel Processing,' Repetto employs wood, glue, rubber bands and paper as his lo-fi obsession to the mechanical. The machine has a large crank that is constructed to spin a group of round squirrel cages. The work also invites the users to write their obsessive thoughts on small scraps of paper and deposit them in the cages as an ironic votive offering.

As Repetto poetically states, 'this cutting-edge apparatus applies the latest techniques in distributed parallel processing to the age-old problem of broken human minds.' (15) Klein refers to our age-old problem and obsessive condition as 'global madness' leading to 'sublime nowheres.' (16) However Repetto and Klein offer us a critique that is not at all morally superior, rather their ironic critiques of 'broken human minds' and 'sublime nowheres' eschews an outsider's pure perspective in favor of being an active participant in the problem of understanding our world.

Phil Ross (17) also engages with nature and plant life in his piece 'Junior Return.' Designed as an intensive care unit, Ross' project is intended to provide life to a plant in a hydroponic pod module. A battery supplies all the power to maintain the pod's vital functions, which then sustains the conditions for life for the plant. In a sense the plant in Ross' pod inhabits a 'space-between' utopia and dystopia; everything is provided to the plant although the trade off is complete alienation and constant surveillance. The pod has all the necessary technology to sustain life in a suspended state, an infinite and yet alienated present.

'Postcard' is the sound work by Kari Rae Seekins and Aaron Drake. (18) Seekins and Drake work with hyper-directional speakers that project very narrow sound beams throughout the gallery space. The effect is sonic, sculptural and poetic. The sounds themselves are a collage of fragments that combine natural, electronic and musical elements that refer back to the novels narrative while creating a unique spatial experience. 'Postcard' is an audio paradox that forces the listener to question the work's meaning and spatial origin.

Susan Simpson's 'Imagine My Delight' (19) is a piece intended as she says, 'to invoke both thrill and terror.' Based on an image from the archive, the work is a model replica of a ferris wheel that is intended to be submerged in a body of water for part of its rotation cycle. The work is a study in displacement, similar to the work, 'The Southwest Passage' by Jeff Cain.

Simpson's ferris wheel contains a small compartment that houses a miniature wireless camera that transmits its image to a monitor at the opposite end of the gallery. The work produces a disorienting interior view of the submerged camera while at the same time an exterior playful view of the machine and its mechanical device.

These spatially displaced ironic views act as metaphors for the novel's dual premise of being a narrative that is based both in fiction and in fact. The uncanny displacement in Simpson's work also refers to what Margo Bistis calls the 'collective anxieties about the coming of the twentieth century.'

For Klein, 'the scripted space, becomes the key to distribution - profoundly altering literature, theater, the performing arts and museum culture.' (20) His strategy of extending the novel into an interactive domain and across media without the usual utopian rhetoric, allows for the vexing questions of the day to be asked and the necessary critiques to be voiced. The Future Imaginary has taken Klein's idea of the scripted space and has expanded it in multiple dimensions, allowing for the spawning of new narratives to co-exist within the context of the original. The scripted space then becomes not only a system for distribution but also a system for multiple authorship. As we further analyze and explore the idea of the scripted space, and the Imaginary Twentieth Century, we come to realize and appreciate Klein's principal of misremembering and the potential for an expanded definition of media.


(3) Norman Klein, Freud in Coney Island (Otis Books) pg. 104