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.