Keith Armstrong – Artist Statement
Future-Future? is inspired by my sustained engagement within South African communities (2016-17), supported by the Program for Innovation in Artform Development and local community NGO Qala Phelang Tala (Start Living Green!). These two organisations, who have built significant trust within local communities, invited me to work with them in three local South African informal townships as an ‘embedded creative’.
To achieve this I worked with the NGO Qala Phelang Tala (Start Living Green!), led by Dr. Anita Venter, and several local residents (Change Agents), to help imagine and build improved, low cost ‘shack replacement’ houses. We called these ‘post natural’ to reflect the use of natural and waste materials in their construction. I then worked with the same ‘Change Agents’ to instigate three celebratory community-run festivals of stalls exchange, dialogue and culture (‘Merakas’) under the title ‘Seven Stage Futures’. These events were designed to encourage and empower other township residents to initiate their own similarly life-changing projects.
This fieldwork initially inspired me to produce a reflective media artwork O’Tswellang which was included in two solo shows: Over Many Horizons, at UTS Gallery, Sydney, 2016; and The Mesh, Stegman Gallery, Vrystaat Arts Festival, South Africa, 2017.
I am now building upon those outcomes in two planned phases – Future-Future? Phase 1 is presented for the Riddoch Art Gallery, Mount Gambier, and PIAD Phase 2 is planned for the ISEA 2018 Electronic Arts Festival, Durban Art Gallery, South Africa.
The exhibition begins with a powerful provocation: “There is no time to complain, the only remaining time is to start implementing change. If not we will perish.” “Ha ho na nako ea ho chacheha ka mohono, nako e setseng ke ea hore re fetohe eseng moo re tla timela.” These words were contributed both in English and South African (Sesotho) languages by Thabang Mofokeng, a South African ‘Change Agent’ and leader of the HOT Rural Workers Foundation. His call is profound. His people and environment are suffering under the weight of the consumption of his country’s wealth and resources in all its forms, both historical and contemporary. So, what kind of future-for-a-future is possible?
Whilst the affluent may typically think about a future in terms of maintaining or increasing an already unjust share of resources, Thabang’s people may wonder, is there is any kind of future at all – in a world where their basic needs of education, housing, health and welfare are far from being met?
However, many in his community still have something that has been widely lost in the rush to create unsustainable futures – solidarity, purpose, and meaning, rooted within their melting pot of ancient cultures. Can we assume it is these strengths that have kept them proud, strong and alive in conditions of hardship, all these 26 years after apartheid officially finished – still in conditions that many of us would find unimaginable and untenable?
Future-Future? focuses upon uncovering and promoting these future-sustaining paradigms of change and transformation. Such transformations may lie beyond our own lexicon, because words do not imagine that kind of hunger; and beyond our routine desires, because they have nothing at all to do with the refinement of an existing luxury. Future-Future? instead encourages paradoxical desires – stimulated by (‘under-cover’) Change Agents, who are quietly transforming their ‘future for a future’. Their desires are focussed – positive dwelling, powerful culture, and transformative purpose – working to ‘give time back to the future’.
Future-Future? is the third major outcome arising from the Re-Future Project – which aims to initiate a series of transdisciplinary, intercultural collaborative works designed with, or inspired by, the journeys of re-futuring, pioneered by the township residents of Bloemfontein/Manguang, South Africa. The project operates at the intersection of media art, sustainability, community development and creative action, reflecting how the legacies of apartheid, population pressure, economic and environmental decay, compounded by limited access to education, services, secure housing and policing services, have routinely rendered so many in the majority world a ‘lost cause’. Here lay very different leaders – pioneering ‘change makers’ creating their own images, of their own making.