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Future Machine Spring 2022 Update

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

by Rachel Jacobs

Future Machine is an artist-led project planned to continue for 30 years, a witness to when the future comes, however and whatever the future brings.

The Future Machine is a device created via a series of conversations with artists and citizens across England. As the name suggests, the creation looks ahead, aiming to help address an uncertain future on a planet in crisis. Its interactive technology allows stories to be recorded from the words of participant viewers. These narratives are intended to help individuals imagine creative ways to address global climate change.

This is the latest update on Rachel’s journey with Future Machine. For more of Rachel’s writings, see Emerging Voices, Winter, 2020, and her writings in Emerging Voices’ Conversations in Crises.

The first annual journey of Future Machine has come to an end.

Winter 2022

Celandine Day. Monday 21st February. Finally, after over 2 years of shielding, lockdowns and remote collaboration, artist-collaborator Juliet Robson and I met in the Parish of Peppard, Oxfordshire, on the weekend of the worst storm in 30 years – one of three storms in one weekend. Given this, we decided to delay the Future Machine event until the Spring Equinox. Instead, before sundown, we posted 100 Celandine Day cards through the letterboxes of as many houses as we could reach within Peppard’s parish boundaries.

The week before the Spring Equinox, 20th March, I began to feel unwell. I was trying to ignore the sore throat and sneezing. But my lateral flow test was positive. I had Covid. Happily, Juliet and a group of village participants agreed to go ahead without me.

In her driveway, Juliet introduced Future Machine and the wayfaring stick to those who would accompany her. The wayfaring stick, created by Juliet, is a holder of stories and sounds from the village and beyond. On the way to the common, Future Machine got stuck in the gate, too wide to get through to the daffodil and blossom strewn field where the gathering was to be held. The only way forward was to remove the larger gate. Villagers searched for the padlock buried for decades in the earth underneath, dug it out, removed the gate and pushed Future Machine through. Others from the village then joined in to speak to the future, hear the sounds of the beautiful warm spring weather as they were played by Future Machine, and listen to the wayfaring stick. Messages were left for the future, including a haunting Irish melody played on a harmonica by a visitor from Ireland.

When the Trees Blossomed 2022

The cycle quickly began again with the cherry trees in Christ Church Gardens, Nottingham, blossoming just a few days after the Spring Equinox. They bloomed six days earlier than last year, during a global heatwave. I was still in bed with Covid.

This heatwave was an ominous result of the shocking polar temperature rises at both the North and South poles – up by 60 degrees centigrade in some parts. With my collaborator, Prof. John King, Senior Climate Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, I write 'News from the Planet'. Future Machine prints this news as prompts for people to speak to the future. Preparing the recent edition, John and I discussed the impact of this frightening rise in temperature. We were continuing discussions we’ve been having over the past few years on the changing climate, its impact on the polar regions and how this portends future sea rises. We consider how these stories can be shared in ways that have meaning to the people in England where Future Machine visits, without leading to despair and disconnection – an ongoing and very difficult job.

Then came the snow. Always a possibility in April. This year, the near horizontal snow was dramatic. Frank filmed the blossoms as they survived the onslaught, but our original blossom tree suffered. By the time we met up with Future Machine, all the trees were in varying degrees of blossoming. The new baby blossom tree was fully in bloom; a young, bright pinky-purple in contrast to the much older trees we had been following for the past five years.

The day of the Future Machine event began with the mysterious discovery of a blossom flower painting left under one of the trees. The identity of the painter remains a mystery. We met 62 children and 4 adults from the local primary school. We introduced them to Future Machine and showed them the weather word and bird light boxes they had made, hung in high up branches amongst the blossoms. We explained how Future Machine turns the weather into song. Alexandre Yemaoua Dayo and David Kemp, the musicians who create the sounds of Future Machine, played the weather; the children joined in with their own sounds. As the wind picked up and blew the blossoms from the trees, swirling white petals about like snow, we waved with the wind and Alex danced with his Djembe drum amongst the shower of petals. Then the children split into groups and planned their own messages. Taking it in turns to meet Future Machine, turn the handle, press the button and speak to the future.

Others gathered under the blossoms as we waited for the light to fade. Future Machine played the weather as the bright spring sunlight refused to fade. People turned small hand generators to light up the trees with the light boxes made by the school children. Messages for the future were recorded until, eventually, the light faded. We gathered under the blossoms to witness the moments between light and dark, past, present and future, and to consider the coming of Spring this year.

Time for Reflection

A week after meeting under the blossoms, Frank discovered the new cherry tree uprooted and destroyed. The same week I received an email from the Friends of Finsbury Park, north London. The local council ripped out 200 trees planted by volunteers – on Earth Day. These two destructive acts in places where Future Machine visits, where we pledge to be guardians of the earth, are a reflection of the wider world. It’s a world closer than ever to another unthinkable global war, alongside the greatest loss of species and natural environments since the last Ice Age. Climate desecration is happening at a speed not seen on earth since the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

It’s always difficult for young trees to grow into old age, particularly outside of a forest. Predators--including us humans--are a continual hazard. Equally, it’s hard for young humans to grow strong and caring of their places. We are all jostling, struggling to survive closer together with few green spaces to share, know and love, particularly in England, where 92% of the land is privately owned and inaccessible to most.

An image keeps returning from the blossom meeting this year, 2022. A young girl I had earlier seen playing in the gardens looked over the wall with her father, as we were waiting for the light to fade. They disappeared and then reappeared, looking in at the gate but not entering. I was caught up in the music and the people already there. I didn't go to speak to them and invite them in. They left without joining us.

How do we make space for people to come together? As artists, how do we enter a place without imposing our own agendas onto others’ lives? How do we tread carefully, take time to speak and listen, find ways for witnessing and wayfaring? Let us not be another thing in the world that tears lives down, but a force that brings humans together.

Rachel Jacobs is a practising artist, academic researcher, interactive games designer, writer, arts facilitator and a consulting editor to Emerging Voices. In 1996, she co-founded the award-winning artist collective Active Ingredient.

When the Future Comes & Future Machine is a collaboration between artists Rachel Jacobs, Juliet Robson, Frank Abbott, Caroline Locke, Wallace Heim, Esi Eshun and musicians Alexandre Yemaoua Dayo and David Kemp. Future Machine has been developed by Rachel Jacobs, Robin Shackford, Dominic Price, Matt Little, Matthew Gates, researchers from the University of Nottingham, Prof John King from the British Antarctic Survey and people who took part in public workshops across England. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England, Furtherfield Gallery and Horizon Digital Economy and the Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham.



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