Is This Tomorrow? at Whitechapel Gallery

24th March 2019

The rising impact of climate change, the efficacy of the farming industry, the relationship between people and bioengineering; our world is undergoing unprecedented change due to new technologies and dangerous demonstrations of power. We cannot help but wonder: what does the future hold? 

Responding to the ever-changing landscapes and conditions we face today, Is This Tomorrow?at Whitechapel Gallery features experimental propositions that invite visitors to consider the possibilities, uncertainties, and outcomes of our times. Borders, migration, privacy, living spaces and queer desire are only a few of the universal topics that are dissected in the exhibition. 

Rachel Armstrong and Cecile B Evans, 2019, 999 years, 13sqm (the future belongs to ghosts)Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery has commissioned ten new works by interdisciplinary pairs or groups of artists and architects who worked together to reveal the wide-ranging potential of collaboration. 

Is This Tomorrow? seeks to explore visions of tomorrow through interactive installations, mixed-media works, models, and pavilions conceived by over thirty world-leading artists and architects. The exhibition presents works by 6a architects, Adjaye Associates, APPARATA, Rachel Armstrong, Rana Begum, Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, Cao Fei, Mariana Castillo Deball, Cécile B. Evans, Simon Fujiwara, Andrés Jaque / Office of Political Innovation, Kapwani Kiwanga, David Kohn Architects, mono office, Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Hardeep Pandhal, Amalia Pica, Jacolby Satterwhite, Zineb Sedira and Marina Tabassum Architects.

Farshid Moussavi and Zineb Sedira, 2019, Borders / Inclusivity, Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

Speculative visions of the future, such as the potential effect of outmoded or collapsing political systems on architecture or the ways in which consumers adapt themselves and their environments in relation to technological advancements are played out in experiential installations, Thugz Mansion by APPARATA (established 2015, UK) and Hardeep Pandhal (b. 1985, UK), and I want to be the future by mono (established 2017, China) and Cao Fei (b. 1978, China). 

As you enter the exhibition, you are immediately bombarded by the maze-like configuration of gallery 1 and confronted by a life-size rendering of an animal feeding pen. Created by 6a architects (established 2001, UK) who collaborated with artist Amalia Pica (b. 1978, Argentina),  the feeding pen summons us to consider architecture’s relationship with animals as well as the boundaries between human and animal as we are encouraged to weave through the herd-feeding obstacle. Upon exiting the pens, a colourful pavilion constructed from reflective and semi-transparent glass is strikingly beautiful and lures you into its confines. Created by Adjaye Associates (established 2000, London) and Kapwani Kiwanga (b. 1978, Canada) as a space for solitude, the pavilion highlights the public versus the private, and serves as a meeting point for visitors to engage in conversation as the glass structure contains fabric which absorbs sound waves. 

Simon Fujiwara and David Kohn, 2019, The Salvator Mundi Experience,Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

Upstairs in galleries 8 and 9, visitors are invited to look at David Kohn Architect’s (established 2007, UK) and Simon Fujiwara’s (b. 1982, UK) model for a museum to host Leonardo da Vinci’s famed Salvatore Mundi. Their Salvatore Mundi Experienceis a stand-out piece that explores how iconic works of art are being commercialised through popular appeal, marketability and the world’s addiction to international capital. As you step out of the museum model and into a security gate pavilion, the physical architecture of border controls are taken into consideration. Farshid Moussavi OBE (b. 1965, Iran) and Zineb Sedira (b. 1963, France) complete this boggling experience of constraint with a soundscape triggered by motion sensors as you walk around or through the pavilion. 

Ambitious, provocative and at times, ominous, Is This Tomorrow? gives us glimpses of possible futures. While it may be telling, it is entirely speculative. Calling on its visitors to question rather than accept as matter-of-fact, it becomes important for the viewer to engage with and experience the works individually.

Nonetheless, this is a fun, engaging and interesting exhibition. Not only does it feature celebrated international artists and architects and takes its model from one of Whitechapel Gallery’s most influential exhibitions, This is Tomorrow (1956)but it addresses some of the global issues we are currently facing through innovative artistic interventions. It may not be as daring and seminal as it’s predecessor,but Is This Tomorrow? still requires an open mind and a playful spirit. 

Words by Dominic Lauren

Is This Tomorrow runs until 12 May, 2019 at Whitechapel Gallery

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