For Document’s Fall/Winter 2020 issue, we invited a selection of the culture’s most compelling creative minds to envision a new way of living—from agrihoods to anti-surveillance design
In the fight for our future, imagination spurs endless possibilities, charting a course toward new systems and turning revolutionary concepts into concrete goals. The establishment has always tried to quash subversive ideas by forcing us to choose between serving the current order or inducing cosmic turmoil. But as a global pandemic exposes the failure of the existing model, pandemonium has arrived of its own accord—and from it have emerged explicit calls-to-action, while ideas only recently considered impossible have been propelled into the mainstream discourse.
These ideas aren’t necessarily new. Chants of “no justice, no peace” have reverberated at anti-racism protests for decades, but now they end with an emphatic demand to “defund the police.” Mutual aid networks, a cornerstone of anarchist theory since the 19th century, are sustaining underserved communities where social infrastructure and supply chains have always been broken. Remarkably, this insurgent energy comes as late capitalism stages an accelerationist drama for the end days—the federal reserve’s money printer brrrs into overdrive for corporate welfare, Elon Musk plans to replace mass transit with hypersonic death pods for rich people, geoengineers seek to fix global warming with giant space mirrors appropriated from a 1995 episode of The Simpsons, and austerity still prescribes cultural malaise for the many. Our current system is having a mask-off moment, its odious inner-workings laid bare—and once reality is canceled, anything feels possible.
For Document’s Fall/Winter 2020 issue, we invited a selection of the culture’s most compelling creative minds to imagine a better way of living. Where will we live? What will we wear? Could nightclubs be treated as cultural institutions? How can art and poetry help render a radical alternative? The resulting portfolio isn’t a guide to founding back-to-the-land communes or fully automated fantasy worlds; rather it’s a call to reject authority, thrive in chaos, think freely, and go forward in a new direction. We present this portfolio in three parts: imaging the future of community and the preservation of liberty, proposals and manifestos, and reflections and messages of hope. Our first installment, which includes submissions from design firms, artists, and the organizers of quarantine’s hottest virtual dance party, reminds us that new ways of protecting and building our communities reside in the power of the collective.
Ashley Hunt, artist and activist
“Hunt’s Point Tree, The Bronx (Rikers Island),” from the series, Ashes Ashes, an abolitionist imagining of the closure of Rikers Island as a mass jail complex and life beyond incarceration. An abolitionist future need not look so different from today. “In my dream world,” says Shana Agid’s voice, over an image of tree branches blocking the camera’s gaze toward Rikers, “what grows up out of the end of this system is not another version of that system. Not another thing that disciplines, not another thing that confines… creating a society in which we are good to each other and good to ourselves.”
Molly Crabapple, artist
“This is a portrait of my friend’s boyfriend, Rev, who is an anarchist and works on a farm. I drew him instead of the flying cars and Dubai-esque cityscapes we associated with the future because people like him are building it now, with their own hands, in the places where the apocalypse has already come.”
Club Quarantine, virtual queer nightclub
For lots of queer kids, going to the club has been a way of meeting like-minded people and finding a community. Though some people think clubbing is a silly and mindless activity, it has become increasingly clear that the club can be a space for expression and creativity. But how do we keep coming together on the dancefloor when there are so many barriers in place?
Exclusivity is tied into club culture—from VIP areas and guest lists to exorbitant cover charges. These things have become routine and function to bar those who don’t have enough social clout or money. Club spaces continue to be physically inaccessible, and owners and managers show little interest in changing that, so the idea of who gets to be a club kid or who gets to enjoy nightlife becomes more limited.
Not only does this commitment to exclusivity and inaccessibility bar people from entering, it also limits innovative and creative thinking within the club space. Without that innovation and creativity, club culture becomes homogenized— a silly, boring experience.
What does the future of nightlife look like?
No cover. The club will be taken as a serious cultural institution that gets proper public funding.
There’ll be no miserable bouncers deriving pleasure from keeping people out.
Bodies from all backgrounds will move synchronously on the dance floor. No one needing to perform or pretend. Just pure, unadulterated joy multiplied a hundred times over.
Clubs will be spaces where people can come together to connect, discover, and create in whatever way they wish. No gatekeeping. No rules.
Now more than ever we realize how important dancing, connecting, and just having fun is. In many ways, it is crucial to our existence. It’s a special experience, and it deserves to be shared and preserved.
Sang Mun, graphic designer
ZXX is a disruptive typeface that was developed to make our democracy legible, asking viewers, “How can we conceal our fundamental thoughts from artificial intelligences and those who deploy them?” It calls for practical and symbolic action to raise questions about the status quo.
Since 2012, the typeface has been gradually expanding its family to generate endless permutations—each designed to thwart computer visions in a different way. ZXX is my dedication to researching ways to articulate our unfreedom. We must never lapse into lethargic silence and stop taking actions. We must never stop remembering the radical alternative future that has yet to exist.
The quote comes from Melvin Kranzberg’s Six Laws of Technology, which serves as the foundation for the technologists who build our digital world. The impact of technology in our everyday life is extremely high. Technology helps to democratize information but it also enables the authorities to gather and analyze that same information, making technology good and bad at the same time. With the rise of global pandemic, digital surveillance has exploded, and these issues raise sensitive questions that we need to confront.
University of Arkansas Community Design Center Stephen Luoni, Kacper Lastowiecki, Trey Terral, and Tarun Potluri
Zombie economies in advanced nations are reigniting old forms of cooperation. Informal sectors in the shadows of the official economy, though theoretically illegal, show the greatest promise in serving all income classes. Among a large disappearing middle class with their backs against the wall, new forms of syndicalism are integrating fundamental needs like housing, food, caregiving, and work. While syndicalism is associated with trade unionism in the early 20th century, grassroots cooperatives with syndical-like aims are assuming ownership of the means of production and real estate. Studies show informal economic sectors enjoy higher levels of entrepreneurialism and productivity than their formal counterparts. And though we no longer organize our future collectively around labor in advanced economies, emergent sharing economies responsive to universal needs are underwriting the pursuit of a place-based prosperity. Agrihoods exemplify one sharing economy involving a new habitology that mixes life, work, and exchange in an open system. Agrihoods blend city and countryside, compelling households to share frontage space, kitchens, and care services through co-living and co-housing arrangements beyond the nuclear family. Dwelling units plug into a shared porch—a new infrastructural unit that reimagines the mainstream home obsessed with privacy. The yard is replaced by a food production landscape and market. A constellation of unthought social and ecological relationships become possible once again in land use configurations entirely reasonable but illegal in affluent cities. Most Western cities have lost their urbanity, no longer accommodating the lifeworlds of creatives, retirees, or the resilient dweller improvising a livelihood in pop-up ecosystems. Will the middle class and those on the margins ever recover their capacity to organize toward securing a shared prosperity in neoliberal economies awash in capital but nonetheless stagnant?
KPF Urban Interface Luc Wilson, Snoweria Zhang, and Kate Ringo
Jean-Marc Côté’s 1899 postcards colorfully depict flying firefighters and underwater commuters in the year 2000. Twenty years after the prophesied third millennia, neither have become the way of city living. Instead, urban environments have gone through cycles of life and death, focus and disregard, and now, simultaneously eerie calm and insurgent uprising. It becomes increasingly clear that the future city does not center around drones or mile-high skyscrapers. Instead, for an urban design and development process to be just, it must function both as an explorative educational device and one of negotiation. As such, it is technology’s priority to facilitate equitable participation in the design and planning of the city.
Planning and architecture have thus far been the domain of the expert. The concept of the “digital twin” has become a dominant part of the smart city narrative, with many of these tools faithfully replicating information about the physical world, such as energy usage or water demand. Instead, we sought to create a future of the digital twin that uses computation and artificial intelligence to make expert knowledge accessible. It leverages the mystic public, here manifested as machinery, to put the power of computation in the hands of stakeholders, allowing them to navigate the complex data landscape of a new design process.
Trevor Paglen, artist and author
With the advent of artificial intelligence, we’ve seen an abundance of research and products that claim to be able to determine a person’s gender identity, emotional state, attentiveness, employability, moral character, and even propensity for criminality–all by simply analyzing pictures of their faces. The assumptions that animate much of this technology are those originally found in racist and pseudoscientific fields such as phrenology, eugenics, and criminal anthropology from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, like now, racism was often disguised as “measurement” and white supremacy encoded in the language of “objectivity.” To me, a better future is one in which we preserve the right to anonymity in public spaces and abolish the use of technologies that can be easily weaponized along racial and gendered lines.