“An inspirational evening. Great format as a way of engaging with a new and diverse audience” 

Participant. Museum of Environmental Justice. August 2020

From the seers of ancient cultures to the science fiction writers of today, humans have envisioned the future. Our world, our technology, the story of who we are is shaped by visionary future thinking. As artists, we feel that social imagination can be harnessed to help understand personal and collective agency, reconsider dominant narratives, and affirm that all of us can make the future.

The Museums of the FutureNow (MotFN) is an evolving artwork and participatory process containing both research and innovative public enquiry that exists at the intersection of futures research and storytelling. The project is a collaboration between public artists Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges and Professor Mike Bonaventura.

Developed originally during a Creative Futures project that was concerned with the complexities of food production[1], The Museums are evolving a process to engage people in social imaginings, enabling an exploration of the web of factors that create complex challenges for society and environment. By providing an object from a museum situated in the future, a place, a time and a driver and asking participants to generate their provenance and social significance, The Museums develop ideas about possible futures and enable the sharing of those futures through story telling. Instead of dismissing possible futures because of their improbability, the creation of scenarios allows alternative perspectives to emerge.

This work appropriates the classic forms, iconographies and language of the museum, however this is not to present a fixed version of history but to show that the past (and the future) is fluid. There are an infinite number of possible futures that coexist in the conditions of today and we need to speculate to release them. The museum is a shared cultural language with which we are capturing and framing the echoes of the future. We use the museum as a way of investing a cultural authority and authenticity in the work. In a way, the project is a participatory performance of ‘museum’.

All the scenarios/ stories generated via participatory Museums will eventually be encapsulated into a stand alone installation; The Museum of the FutureNow, an exhibition of the social imagination.

Although the project creates fictions, it has many moving parts and is designed to work with real world issues. As it develops, we hope to harvest the creative efforts of a wide range of participants, from scientists to young people. The speculative data set created, represents the other side of this circular project, a research program examining the hidden psychologies of our social world, if The Museum process itself explores and represents the social imagination, then the research mines the social subconscious.

The Museum of the FutureNow stems from our interest as artists in using speculative futures and design fiction as creative tools. We use these forms of research to reveal new metaphors, processes and strategies to explore the world. The MotFN acts as a laboratory for ideas and concepts We see this work as contributing to a developing practice area where the emphasis is on the processes of engagement with people rather than on art as a product and where environmental, social and cultural change are explored through art.

Our ambition for the project is to act as a unique social device for taking three-dimensional snapshots across society, a machine for new thinking and an innovative new optical device that can compose a compound view of the future and map out the desires, anxieties and dreams of society.

“Fascinating, thought provoking and fun” 

Participant. Museum of Environmental Justice. August 2020

List of Past Participatory Museums:

  • Museum of Future Food : Scottish Government, Holyrood, 2014
  • Museum of Climate Futures, ArtCOP21 : The Stove Network, Dumfries, 2015
  • Museum of Climate Futures, Creative Carbon Scotland : City Arts Centre, Edinburgh, 2016
  • Realising Potentials : Conversations and experiments at the frontier of art-based sustainability’ :Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Barcelona, 2016
  • Museum of Public Art, Then/Now Symposium : Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Glasgow, 2016
  • Facing the Future : University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, 2016
  • Re-imagine Your Street : Granton, Edinburgh, 2017
  • Museum of Future Middlefield, Aberdeen Adapts : Adaptation Scotland, Middlefield, Aberdeen, 2017
  • CultureSHIFT T-Lab : Transformations, University of Dundee, 2017
  • Greenhouse Gas Exchange : ASCUS, Edinburgh, 2017
  • Annual Flood Risk Management Conference : Adaptation Scotland, Glasgow, 2018
  • Museum of Public Art, The Stove Network Strategic Planning Day : Cample Line, Thornhill, 2019
  • Museum of Future Keelung’, Keelung Ciao : Keelung, Taiwan, 2019
  • Engaging with Human Communities : Edinburgh School of Architecture, Edinburgh, 2020
  • Museum of Environmental Justice : Just Festival (virtual), Edinburgh, 2020
  • Museum of Radical Museum Practice. Museums Galleries Scotland. (virtual) September 2021
  • Museum of Cultural Adaptation :  V&A, Dundee, 2022
  • The Solway Hoard : Mill of the Fleet, Gatehouse of Fleet, 2022
  • The Solway Hoard : Logan Botanic Gardens (RBGE), Port Logan, 2022
  • The Solway Hoard : Dumfries Museum, Dumfries, 2022

Emergent patterns from the museum sessions include:

  • Shifts in power structures: distributed social (resistance/activist) movements
  • Shortage / loss and mourning
  • Fragmentation / isolation / separation / conflict
  • Over-crowding / migration
  • Magic / the sacred / spiritual response
  • Materials design / technology will save us / something will save us
  • Materials reuse (possibly as part of the ‘materials design’ pattern)
  • Organised crime 
  • Off planet colonisation
  • Biological evolution
  • Connectedness and collaboration

“You have crafted a really simple, totally ingenious and very effective vehicle for trying to think about the future. Of all the ’tools’ I have been involved in using to imagine 20, 30,50 years ahead, this has been the most enjoyable and I actually think meaningful. ”

Workshop participant. Green Tease May 2016