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When the Autumn Leaves Fell: Future Machine Procession in Finsbury Park by Rachel Jacobs

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Finsbury Park in North London had a difficult 2021, as did much of the world. As the pandemic continued, the park struggled with government cuts. The impact of a reduced team of rangers was immense. Crime and damage in the park increased. Climate change is manifesting as diseases in trees, flooding in low levels, intense rain swamping the football pitches in Autumn and late Summer. In contrast, Spring and early Summer brought long hot spells, drying out fields and turning sparse grass yellow in the cracked, dusty earth. On the positive side, Weeds and Seeds, the Drumming School and Edible Gardens continued to grow, making things thrive in these miraculous places situated at either end of the park.

Amongst all the park activity, I spent the year preparing for the appearance of the Future Machine. I got to know the committed head ranger, Ricard Zanoli, and built a collaboration with local artist Esi Eshun. I also further developed my alliance with musicians Alexandre Yemaoua Dayo and Dave Kemp, who created the sounds of the Future Machine.

Future Machine is a mysterious artwork that travels across England to the same five different places as the seasons change every year. The plan is to make this same journey every year for 30 years (until 2050). Future Machine appears in each place as a witness to changes that will be visible ‘when the future comes’. The Machine collects and plays back messages to be heard in years to come. It also captures present-day weather, using live weather sensors attached to the back of the artwork. Future Machine sings the sounds of the weather and prints out an invitation to think about the future.

In 2021, Future Machine started its first journey across England. Appearing in Christ Church Gardens in Nottingham, when the trees blossomed, to the River Leven in Cumbria when a small group met up the river as Summer turned to Autumn,

and in Finsbury Park in November as the autumn leaves fell. This journey will be expanded in 2022 to include appearances in Cannington, Somerset and Rotherfield Peppard, Oxfordshire.

Over the course of these journeys, Future Machine has evolved. It’s changed physically as parts of it were rebuilt, improved and refined. But its character and presence have also grown. Future Machine is becoming a being of its own, beyond an artwork. People project their ideas onto it. Myths develop about what it is, where it has come from, and where it’s going. Its presence encourages and embodies people's visions, concerns and dreams of the future. Future Machine’s sounds have also evolved. They’ve become more complex, layered in ways that are different each time. The sounds respond to live data reflecting weather and place, making these elements even more present. Future Machine is creating experiences as it goes. Each appearance, in each place, informs the next.

The human artist/musicians – Rachel Jacobs, Esi Eshun, Alexandre Yemaoua Dayo and Dave Kemp – planned the route through Finsbury Park. Esi devised a route linking seven trees – a willow tree by the lake, a row of silver birches, a eucalyptus tree, an elder tree, a great hornbeam and a mulberry tree. The procession ended where it began, at the London plane tree next to Furtherfield Gallery. Future Machine led the procession, pulled by its companion Rachel Jacobs and others who helped navigate difficult terrain. The seven trees reference the story of the seven sisters star cluster and the seven sisters for whom the road along the park is named – seven elm trees planted in a circle around a walnut tree.

As the procession stopped at each tree, Esi talked about the tree and its history, adding her own reflections. Jo Roach, local poet and founder of Finsbury Park's Pedal Power, a cycling club for people with learning disabilities, read some of her tree-related poems. Ricard, head ranger, spoke of his work in the park. Future Machine also called at Weeds and Seeds to meet May DeGrace, who presented the gardening and drumming projects in her corner of the park.

Many people joined the procession, some coming and going throughout the day, others following all day, some joining in to help push the machine uphill. We stopped along the way for children and adults to turn the handle powering the machine, everyone invited to speak to the future by talking into the small copper trumpet on the side. As Future Machine led the procession, it sang the songs of the weather, changing throughout the day reflecting dry, windy and mild to cold.

The parade ended with a gathering around the London plane tree for a live performance with musicians Alexandre Yemaoua Dayo, David Kemp, Miles NCube, and Terese, along with Rachel and Future Machine. Parakeets sang, their voices echoing from the canopy of the plane tree as they joined the chorus.



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