A new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery explores possible visions of the future, with pieces created by artists and architects working together.
Is This Tomorrow? presents ten new exhibits, including installations, models, graphics and structures.
The new show is based on an exhibition held in 1956 at the same gallery, called This Is Tomorrow, which is considered to have been one of the most influential in the venue’s history.
Lydia Yee, chief curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, says the exhibitors were free to interpret the brief — presenting their vision of the future — however they pleased.
“We are at a moment when there is a lot of political, social, economic and environmental uncertainty, so these are the [broad] themes that people gravitated towards,” she says.
A diverse mix of creatives have taken part, including Adjaye Associates, 6a Architects, Tatiano Bilbao Estudio, Rana Begum, Cécile B. Evans and Hardeep Pandhal.
The exhibits explore a range of different issues in society, Yee says, from lack of living space to farming, with some presenting “a complex combination of different issues together”.
While some pieces have been made completely from scratch, others combine items that can be shop-bought in unusual ways, with several installations inviting people to walk through or interact with them.
One highlight is a collaboration by 6a Architects and London-based, Argentinian artist Amalia Pica, which is a “maze-like structure” formed out of a sheep management system made up of pens, fences and gates that visitors can walk through.
The exhibit, called Enclosure, aims to explore the relationship between humans and animals, as well as the farming industry.
It features other animal-related objects throughout the display, such as buoys used to entertain captive seals and items that pigs can chew on, as well as a weighing scale that visitors can choose to step on.
The piece invites visitors to “empathise with animals and be put in their position,” Yee says. “It is about understanding that humans are animals as well,” she adds.
Another interesting piece, by Rachel Armstrong, experimental architecture professor at Newcastle University, and US-born, London-based artist Cécile B. Evans is called 999 Years, 13sqm (The Future Belongs to Ghosts).
“999 years is the longest leasehold you can get in the UK and 13 square metres is the minimal living space permitted in London,” Yee says. “The piece is discussing ways that conventional means of measurement operate under capitalism and structure the way that people live.”
The installation is referencing the size of some of the smallest one-person studio flats in London, which measure around 13sqm, despite national guidelines from 2015 stating that a one-bedroom, one-person home should be at least 37sqm — though this is not compulsory.
The installation, which takes up 13sqm to help visitors visualise the space, consists of a structure made of multiple elements.
This includes a brick of microbes, which produces an electrical current, which in turn powers a display. It also features a “fog curtain” that emits mist, with an image of an animated bird projected on it.
Another noteworthy exhibit is the Sankofa Pavilion by Adjaye Associates and Canadian-born, Paris-based artist Kapwani Kiwanga, which takes the form of a star-shaped glass structure.
It filters out certain light wavelengths, resulting in different colours shining through it depending what position it is viewed from.
The pavilion, which has room within it for up to six people, has been designed as a place where intimate conversations can take place, with fabric hanging within it, which absorbs sound.
The exhibition has been set out over two gallery spaces, with five exhibits on the ground floor and five on the first floor. Exhibits are arranged so that they interact with one another, so “sound or light from one project may spill into another,” Yee says.
Mostly, natural lighting has been used to illuminate the exhibition space, supplemented with spotlighting.
Signage has been “kept to a minimum”, with stencilled numbers around the exhibition referring people to a catalogue of information about the works. Yee says the gallery was keen not to “bombard people with information before they see the work”.
The new exhibition catalogue, which has been designed by studio Zak Group, has been inspired by the look and style of the catalogue which accompanied the 1956 exhibition, Yee says, including its square shape and spiral ring binding. This time, it also has a wrap-around cover.
Each exhibitor has had some input on how their project’s page looks in the book, Yee adds, with some opting for a collage style and others choosing a storyboard design.
There is also a free exhibition guide which visitors are given that provides information on the works.
The 1956 show, which this exhibition is based on, also featured artists and architects working together. It was staged by The Independent Group (IG), a collective of creatives who would meet regularly at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and debate approaches around high culture and popular culture, according to Yee.
The IG, which counted artist Richard Hamilton, sculptor and artist Eduardo Paolozzi and designer and architect Erno Goldfinger among members, was “probably best-known for introducing an early pop art aesthetic to Britain,” Yee says.
Architect Theo Crosby, who would go on to be a co-founder of global design group Pentagram, was also heavily involved in conceiving the idea for the 1956 exhibition.
Is this tomorrow? runs until 12 May 2019 at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX. Tickets start at £12.95, and £9.50 for concessions. For more information, head here.
All images courtesy of the Whitechapel Callery.