"Visions of the Future, a history of the hopes and fears of humanity" is the theme of an exhibition to be put on by the "Réunion des musées nationaux", with financial support from the "Mission 2000 en France", at the Grand Palais in Paris from 5 October 2000 to 1 January 2001.
The exhibition will offer a vast panorama of humanity, and human perceptions of the future from the ancient world's hopes of immortality to the recent challenges to the very notion of "progress". Two hundred works of art have been brought together to stimulate reflection about the beauty and diversity of representations of the future over the centuries, in particular the search for eternal life, the expectation of the end of the world and the dreams of modernity.
Futuribles, which has a regular feature under the title "Futures of yesteryear", is linking up with this exhibition by producing a special issue called "Representations of the Future", with the help of Zeev Gourarier, chief curator and deputy director for international relations at the "Musée national des arts et traditions populaires" in Paris, who is responsible for the exhibition. It offers several visions of the future as expressed in art and hence illustrating how people through the centuries have dreamed of their future.
Five authors share their thoughts with us:
-First, Zeev Gourarier, in his article, shows how the hope of a better world has given rise to a multitude of dreams and also of controversies. He classifies the different visions of the future in three main phases: millenarian, utopian and anti-utopian.
In the first phase, the Middle Ages, the search for imminent happiness was marked by the triumph of the Son of God represented by the Apocalypse. One finds a similar eschatological exaltation in Cromwell's England, whereas in France from the 16th century onwards, the hopes of millenarians became less and less religious, and instead focused on human action, even to the point later on of seeing in Louis XIV the victor over the Antichrist.
Next, in the second phase, the author describes the contrast between the open-ended futures of the millenarians and libertarians, and the closed and homogeneous utopian futures imagined in modern times. In the latter case, it is for human beings to create their own happiness by applying certain rules drawn from pagan Antiquity, going so far as perfect uniformity. The ideal cities or utopian societies dreamed up by Renaissance scholars and humanists were intended to be an embodiment of a better world.
Finally, in the third phase, as people realised that the uniformity of these ideal cities would be hellish, utopianism emerged from its isolation and proposed instead an ideal future world symbolised by the Tower of Babel. The new version favoured free enterprise and personal independence, rejecting uniformity and monotony, yet warning against totalitarian powers and the subordination of the individual to a collective ideal.
-Then, Patrick Prado, in "Island utopias", discusses the island paradises beloved of utopias; whether Arcadia or Eden, humanity has constantly identified traces of these lost paradises and tried to recreate them by inventing innumerable utopian islands where people could live happily ever after. These island paradises crop up frequently throughout history and serve as a setting for a better world, symbolising the perfect models of politics, ethics and aesthetics. Closely linked with visions of things to come and desires for the future, the imaginary islands opened up dreams of eternal life. Nevertheless, although these island utopias, as expressions of hope, represented an escape from the evils of the world that were the subject of philosophical, metaphysical and religious debates, they also offer a glimpse of prevalent anxieties.
-Next, Sophie Makariou, in a paper on "Fatimid rock crystals", invites us to stop and look at rock crystal, which for both Islam and Western Christianity was the substance of eternity, carrying the promi