Forecast Project

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In 2017, Art in Context embarks on a 2-year investigation into ‘forecasting’: how do predictions of the future inform and guide present convictions and strategies, how do organizations rely on them for their policy making and to what extent do they shape everyday social, cultural and economic conditions? The project will not try to foresee what the future will be like but look into mechanisms and models by which societies aims to imagine the future and, in doing so, influence and construct a present.

Forecasting functions as a necessary condition for any kind of organizational planning, which makes it omnipresent at all levels of today’s society. It is hard to imagine any social field whose protagonists do not project it into the future. Forecasting became a guiding principle in anticipating societies’ future tasks and risks — its predictions develop and promote an interface of politics, economy and culture.

One could argue that both collectively and individually we do not live in the present, but in the future (actually in many competing futures) where the answers to our plans, hopes and fears reside. The age-old answer to this problem (the answer of the ‘here and now’) is addressed in our project from a politico-cultural point of view. So how do societies in the here-and-now apply scientific and cultural knowledge for their forecasting methods and models, in creating new policies and in designing their interfaces? Are the forecasting data predicting the future or do they, once embedded in the present, create it? Assuming the latter, the forecasting goes beyond its mission and becomes a tool of adjustment, forcing desired developments. Consequently, since this profoundly impacts the present, next to the question ‘what is the future?’, the question ‘what is the future of forecasting?’ is most relevant.



A totalistic cellular automaton that yields patterns with seemingly random features.

Forecasting today

The French poet and philosopher Paul Válery famously wrote in 1937 that ‘the trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.’ This quote, besides showing the everlasting fascination with the future connects with the current trend of imagining the future as a bleak and worrisome landscape of looming dangers and imminent conflicts. ‘Economic crisis’, ‘terrorism’, ‘ecological disaster’, ‘refugee crisis’, ‘social inequality’ are just some of the troubles that are projected at the dark horizon of our present condition. Its manifestations are there to be seen by everyone yet its causes and properties lack any consistent analysis, let alone a widely shared understanding. Largely thanks to forecasting, also the present is ‘not what it used to be’.

The modernist ideal of steady progression towards the future, at which humans would arrive by reaching for higher goals, seems to be replaced by a defensive attitude and desire for a status quo that guarantees the prevention of future disasters. As utopia turns into dystopia, a shared ability to imagine and thereby create new ways of perceiving ourselves as a progressive society became obsolete.

Meanwhile, in the realm of statistical sciences, predictions of the future are based upon gathered, organized and algorithmically evaluated data. From weather and health to finances and sociopolitical convictions, data are combined and visualized in seemingly logical and oversee-able compartments, while our trust in science and technology seems not to be affected by an overall pessimism.

The tension between two opposite visions of the future — the murky religious doomsday announcements vis-ŕ-vis a non-reflexive and unconditional trust in technology and science — creates a specific type of social schizophrenia in which one can become simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic, progressive and regressive, planning the future while returning to the past.

Forecasting tomorrow

The first important questions in the Forecasting Project is how data collected by companies and planning agencies are forecasting an imminent future or to what extent they are actually constructing it. The second important question is how distrust in the future combined with the trust in technology interferes with our abilities to navigate the present.

In order to unpack these questions, Art in Context will bring together professional artists, scientists and social practitioners, who perform their analysis of social and cultural conditions by means of art, statistics and planning — in short who deal with the future in particularly informed ways.

The artists will be brought in contact with forecasting or planning agencies where they will have a chance to observe ways in which data is collected and turned into predictions. In turn, the forecasting and planning agencies will have a chance to have an alternative look into their own methodology through the analyzes of the artists. Together they will investigate new ways of using or challenging the forecasting methods. The goal of this working process is to reach the point in which two different methodologies — artistic and scientific — meet, merge and, in joint effort and exchange, create new possibilities in unpacking and understanding the nature of forecasting. The knowledge that is gained in this project should have a relevance and application in both of the fields. The results of this process will depend on the interaction between artists and scientists or social practitioners and could take a form of an art presentation, a conference, an event or a book/publication or other media disseminations.