Present Tense, Future Perfect?
Kelly O’Brien & Thomas Wynne

Kelly and Tom were selected for the ‘Present Tense, Future Perfect?’ residency at Artcore and started researching and making work at the beginning of October. They have developed their work for exhibition – launched online in January 2021 and with a physical exhibition to be planned at Artcore Gallery once we are able to reopen the space. Through the residency, we wanted to give these two artists the opportunity to make new work dealing with the tensions caused by the current uncertainty and looking forward to a brighter future.

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’

The famous opening line of L. P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, published in 1953, speaks of the problematic nature of memory – personal and collective – and the subjective nature of history. Both memory and history entail the telling of stories which are at best half-remembered and at worst cynically misrepresented, especially when the voice is Western and its position one of assumed superiority, and the re-telling perpetuates systemic racism and prejudice. Statues have suddenly and unexpectedly become the focus of conflicting accounts of history, sharply illustrating the dangers of symbolically commemorating actors and actions that shaped a past that should be a cause for shame rather than celebration.

But what of the future – is that, too, a foreign land, and will we do things differently there? In a very real sense we became a foreign country in January 2021, as we finally severed ties with the European Union, so how should we break free from the mistakes of the past and what monuments to the future should we build?

Nothing changes, and at the same time everything changes: since March 2020 we have lived in various states of limbo, somewhere between the past we thought we knew and the present we were expecting, and now the future we dreamed of seems to have changed beyond recognition. In The Go-Between Hartley’s main protagonist and narrator, Leo, looks back fifty years at events in his past, a history which he has suppressed for half a century. He recalls the events of the year 1900 – the momentous turn from the Victorian past to the unimaginable upheavals of the 20th Century. Leo was unwittingly used as a messenger, exchanging illicit love notes between the aristocratic Marian and the farmer Ted, their two worlds as distant as the past and the future. The story of Leo’s lost innocence highlights the modern experience of broken time, a condition in which humanity is on one hand alienated from the past, yet on the other cannot be free from it.

Noam Chomsky says, “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” We believe that artists can and should take responsibility for creating a strategy for a better future, and this is what we asked our resident artists to do. Both Kelly and Tom are interested in alternative realities and fictional possibilities and have explored both in responding to our residency theme.

Thomas Wynne

Tom has a background in photography, but is expanding his practice to include installation, sculpture, light, video and mirrors. Tom says “For this residency I want to think about the way that we may, in a not-too-distant future, inhabit another planet. Mars in particular. I have drawn some similarities recently; the COVID pandemic has been affecting the world for 9 months thus far [at the time of writing], and it would take a manned mission 9 months to journey to Mars with our current propulsion systems. For both of these, stepping out into a new world is pertinent.”

He has been exploring a huge variety of avenues: the Claude Glass; Greek mythology and the use of Greek heroes’ names in the titles of space missions; bees – particularly their vital role in pollination and so sustaining human life, and the danger that moving a bee colony may cause it to die; the Rolls-Royce rocket development archive from the 1950s to the 1970s; and how to make fire, both referencing Prometheus stealing fire to give to man, and the realisation that this is probably an essential for the continuation of human life on another planet.

Kelly O’Brien

Kelly has a background in documentary photography. Starting from her previous project – – she has been developing a new body of work which builds on the themes she previously explored. She describes her approach as “a collaboration between photography and clairvoyance to uncover information about my estranged and deceased father. Using the insights of clairvoyants and then translating it with photography to construct a narrative around my father, a story that would otherwise cease to exist. The drive behind making this work stems from a feeling of a lack of control within my historical narrative and landscape, which has a connection to the global pandemic and how we might experience it psychologically: where the majority of us are struggling with unpredictable change; a flux of confusing information which leads to insecurity on what our future (short and long-term) might look like.”

Influenced by Susan Hiller, post-truth, Spiritualist churches and online clairvoyants, Kelly is working with the origami fortune teller as a pixel-like building block for a large-scale installation piece.

Once you click through to the online exhibition below, scroll down to see the content and click through from any image to explore the artists’ work.

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