Experiencing past and future

With the current situation in Europe weighing heavily on our hearts and minds, we are once again reminded that the future is emergent, uncertain and the world is complex. By becoming more futures literate we can make more sense of the world around us, but sometimes even that fails and we can only see the cracks for what they are: earthshattering phenomena where change might be hidden.

In our futures literacy labs we challenge participants to rethink their own assumptions about the future. But sometimes these assumptions are deeply rooted in century old cultural practices, anxieties, strong held convictions, pain from our ancestors, or deeply spiritual beliefs, and more is asked from us than mere reflection and dialogue. We need experiences that touch us deeper than the mind can reach. Experiential futures that challenge our assumptions or teach us something beyond words.
We can design these experiences, albeit carefully, as an invitation to deepen the dialogue about futures and ourselves. Sometimes these experiences happen to us, without warning, and then we are challenged to see the lesson in that as well.
Last week FUTURES partner Hanze was invited for a meeting of Futures Oriented Museums Synergies, a network of museums that use the future to challenge our behaviour and thinking today. The meeting took place in Futurium in Berlin: an open, inviting place to question all things related futures, to play and design, think and look. Through thought provoking questions visitors were asked to think about futures, to reflect and dream.

And although effective, I couldn’t help thinking about my earlier visit to the Jewish Museum, an exhibition free of charge, where the architecture itself makes one think, question but above all experience. The museum is all about all Jewish heritage and culture and as enlightening as it is beautiful. The parts on the Holocaust were bare, minimal to say the least. Without showing too many pictures or revealing names of the criminal regime, it made the strongest impact simply by the experiencing of being there: walking through the ascending and descending halls, stepping into a dark, cold tower. Walking on metal faces.
It reminds us of what is important, and yet so fragile.

Can these experiences teach us something? Or do they simply touch us in deeper places and are meant to settle down in our subconscious? Do they need to be talked about?

As experiences referring to the past can be transformative, so can experiences of the future.
They are often exhibited in museums and public spaces, but they also deserve a place in our Futures Literacy training programs, even if we don’t know how to make sense of them yet. In the coming weeks the FUTURES project will experiment with experiential futures online and offline in our module Anticipation for Emergence. We will invite students to experience futures, to sense and to (re)discover what matters to them most.

While the world is raging with war, climate change and a pandemic, we must be brave to not succumb to our deepest fear and anxiety, but instead even go deeper into the cracks, to experience what is lying underneath. It might be hope and a chance for change.

by Loes Damhof