Teaching at DAS Theater Art School Amsterdam | 4, 5, 12 November 2020

In the framework of ‘WHAT IF… We already started?,’ a 3-weeks lab at DAS Theater organised by the student themselves, I taught three sessions introducing to future thinking, building upon contributions from modern futures studies, sustainability research and performing arts discourses and practices.

What we call the future is generally envisioned as a target to be reached by appropriate plans and decisions (strategic planning, roadmaps, etc.) drawing on an analysis of probable or plausible future possibilities (i.e. forecasting or foresight exercise). Thus in a first step, I introduced western concepts and uses of the future in order to make explicit this naturalized, often implicit way of thinking of the future – a prerequisite for opening our imaginaries to a wider horizon of futures. Here I drew in particular on modern futures studies and its leading methods, i.e. forecasting or predicting probable futures by extrapolating the past into the future, and foresight or anticipating different plausible future scenarios. In a second step, the lab participants were introduced to an understanding of ‘futures as processes in the making,’ a process-based view of futures which is relevant both to sustainability research envisioned from a human and ecosystem perspective, and to specific artistic and professional practices within the performing arts (such as practice-based research and collective authorship or commoning).

‘Futures as processes in the making’ – an original approach and framework to futures – is the attempt to put forward a more sustainable conception of the future, away from the future as a target. It is important and urgent to move away from western, neoliberal thinking and its hegemonical conception of the future as so many goals or targets to reach, from economic interests’ rates to numbered CO2 emission reduction targets. These futures as target indeed tend to impose (economic, social, political, ecological) imperatives onto the present and hereby constrain human imaginary and spaces of agency toward alternative visions.

Against this conception of the future as a target, sustainable futures are conceived as those able to generate and sustain possibilities and potentialities for many different futures over time. Instead of enclosing the future as a target, their aim is of keeping futures open. This can be done by establishing and nurturing processes and practices that contain their own transformative undoing, remaining hereby open to yet unforeseeable needs, possibilities and desires. Here the focus shifts to the transformative, regenerative potentialities of the living and human worlds across biological, psychosocial and political-symbolical orders, and to embedded, process-based futures, i.e. futures as processes in the making. Democracy as a concept is a prime example thereof, which aims at no specific target but at establishing the processes by which future needs, opportunities and interests can be taken into account. Thus, futures as processes in the making do not only imply thinking of alternative futures but also changing how we think of the future. This is a matter of empowerment as much as a it is a matter of sustainability.

WHAT IF… We already started? by Pankaj Tiwari and Tom Oliver Jacobson with Agat Sharma, Ainhoa Hernández Escudero and Luis Guenel | November 2020 | DAS Theater Amsterdam
Part of an ongoing speculative institute, this lab explores the relationship between imagination and uncertainty for fostering artistic responses; The futures that we often imagine in our impassioned discourses but never find the energy to act out will be rehearsed.
What options do we have as artists to relate to this reality in creative ways – and what tools can we develop to imagine beyond it. If we choose to wait, and deepen into our own imagination, what are our responsibilities to those that cannot afford to do so?

The lab also led to a public talk ‘Stealing the future’ with prof. Bojana Kunst organised under the banner of the DUST Institute emanating from the lab.