This project takes its impetus to imagine from Amitav Ghosh’s call to arms in his book The Great Derangement: ‘we need to find a way out of this individualising imaginary in which we are trapped’ (The Great Derangement, 2017).
But imagining otherwise is a risky business. We are now living in a time in which the capacity to imagine is becoming ever more circumscribed. For so many people, in the wake of the pandemic, it has become virtually impossible to survive, never mind thrive. When there is so much to be done, what is the value of imagining alternative structures for liveablity? Can it sometimes be harmful? The answer is yes.
In the project we have been using a kind of infinite loop that takes us between the challenges of the present and imagining a better future. Sooner or later each of us gets caught at one end, unable to perceive the reality of the other: and one way of looking at what happened last week, in this project, was just this. That imagining otherwise started to feel exclusive, rather than the inclusive space it is meant to be. When those of us with marginalised identities – whether in relation to race, neurodivergence, disability or gender – have to fight so hard in the present to have our voices heard, never mind our needs met, and these perspectives are often at odds with one another, what place is there for a collective imagining? It is something that we’ve had to take a hard look at in these weeks at the Wellcome, when a leap into an imagined future went too far too fast, and seemed – like an Elon Musk rocket ship – only to offer space for some privileged identities.
The project, it is true, is not about identity as such: but it does intend it to be clear that the only kind of future worth imagining is one in which every kind of person, in every part of the world, would benefit. This is a future in which each of us, no matter where we stand now, would be afforded the financial basis and social infrastructure for autonomy and self-direction. Nor is this a single vision – given that my utopia might be your dystopia, this isn’t a stable imagined world that is fixed and the same for everyone – rather the project intends to pattern out a variety of intersecting potentialities. When it became clear that this was not felt by every member of the group in our residency at the Wellcome, we halted our plans for performances, to focus on working through difference. Instead, we created a living, evolving, interactive archive of imagining, which is a testimony to the intention to keep on imagining, better, more fully, more inclusively.
Imagining otherwise is a political act. The tougher the social pressure, the more it is an act of resistance – because to take away the human capacity to dream, is to rob me of my future. To accept ‘there is no alternative’, or to ‘know your place’ is to allow the opposition to infiltrate my very thoughts. It happens. A lot – because over the past few years, state violence has become ever more visible, and ever more unavoidable. But like other political acts, it presumes a certain privilege, just as turning up to a protest is only possible if you have access to time and mobility. Indeed the purpose is not to spring off into a paradise-like fantasy that is in fact painfully unreachable, but to flesh out in the imagination that which has already been proven eminently do-able.
On the 4th April, the first day of our residency, the UN secretary General, Antonio Guterres, talked of “a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and corporations; “cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world.” But in resistance to the narrative that says that this future is inevitable and the only possible outcome, this project is titled ‘Love Letters to a Liveable Future’. But the only way forward is to redouble the commitment to inclusive imagining: not only in imagining a world that includes everyone – but also to an inclusive process with regard to that imagining.
Please click below for the METIS manifesto for inclusive imagining.