THE WHAT IF? SCENARIOS 1996
Project outline for THE WHAT IF SCENARIO and DISCUSSION ISLAND.
A What If? Scenario, written for Paletten, film issue, 1/96
3.3 Report requirements
Towards the publication of the “What If? Scenario Report”, “Discussion Island”.
CHAPTER 1 OF DISCUSSION ISLAND - BIG CONFERENCE CENTRE, 1997
THE WHAT IF? SCENARIO PART 1, 1995
THE WHAT IF? SCENARIOS 3.1
An attempt to address some of the problems inherent in developing a notional sense of the future. Operating from the starting point of a present that runs alongside the one we think we are negotiating. A reverse process where it is necessary to produce some things and some effects first, before writing, in order to begin the realisation of a new level predictive report. Certain transparent sources have been used and the apparently accurate parts of these texts have been discarded in favour of the elements that appear to have not come true. A negotiation of future social relations has then been produced which operates from a series of starting points next to, rather than within our own time. An attempt to get around the problems posed by our awareness of the collapse of cause and effect. Is it any less reasonable to think about a future based on a present that is not taking place? In exhibition situations a number of physical elements have been realised in order to work towards the development of the report. The works have encouraged a projected sense of future discussion, insulation, potential isolation and written language. DISCUSSION ISLAND is the result of thinking that developed through THE WHAT IF? SCENARIO. The proposal of a final stage of detailed realisations to support the emergence of ideas in relation to future possibilities. Discussion Island articulates the blurred relationship between people and effects in order to consolidate a concept of the future within a post-utopian context. An analysis of possibilities through the proposal of a series of environmental tools. The creation of a number of images and objects that all deal with fundamental processes - discussion, delay, negotiation, routine and ambience rather than technological fantasies. Discussion Island is a second stage project that continues a defining process that will enable a report to be written without the necessity to opt for textual fiction alone. The provisional solutions provided here permit the creation of a multi-faceted text that can embody some concrete detail while constantly developing in collaboration with others. Through the works produced in relation to this project the nature of that precision is existent before, not after, the researching, presenting and concluding process. Therefore the work under consideration is not the conclusion of a set of thinking, it is the presentation of primary source material towards the production of Discussion Island - A What If? Scenario, a predictive report to be published by the Kunstverein in Ludwigsburg.
THE WHAT IF? SCENARIOS 3.2
A What If? Scenario, written for Paletten, film issue, 1/96
It is night time in a city. We are not concerned with the details of the streets or any specific building. Instead we sweep across the roof tops. Moving faster than a car and slower than an airplane. Reaching the limit of this squared off place we continue to move across a desert landscape. The view is dark, yet the sky glows slightly with blue and red. Cut back to the city. A group of women are having a discussion in a bar. There are no men present. We see each face quite clearly. There is a silvered canopy above their heads. Parts of this provisional pergola are filled with bright colours. The conversation is wide ranging. Many subjects are covered. How to communicate. How to meet. How to travel. Back out in the desert. We are no longer moving. There is a visual stillness combined with a human presence suggested by a heart beat or a high pitched yet barely audible noise. We move slowly. Then down into the ground. Everything is dark down there.
Back in the city we are now outside the bar. Three of the women leave the place where they had been talking. The walls of some of the buildings are clad in aluminium up to a certain height although this level does vary. Pausing for a moment, the three bid each other good night and head off in different directions. We keep cutting between them as they move on. It starts to rain and we see each of them in turn pause for a moment and look up at the sky. They are walking through quite different urban environments by now. Above their heads a large corrugated structure is extending from the buildings that line the pavement. Baby blue. Covering and protecting the lone pedestrians from the rain. Time moves faster now. One of the women is a doctor. Every now and then we see her as she goes about her daily business. We learn something of her life and see the way she operates. She is capable of changing the way people look and the way that they feel. The second woman works with computers. Her world is mainly confined to the office space that she occupies half way up a towering building. She changes the way people understand the world around them and the world within them. The third woman seems to have no clear job and no obvious social obligations. Her abilities are best understood as an expression of her multiple activities. Something of a mediator she is clearly talented and precise yet has managed to avoid specific allegiance to any set group of activities or responsibilities. She is capable of changing the way people think and they way they create and maintain their loyalties.
The question of whether or not these three will meet again is not important. There is some synchronisation of their actions and a certain degree of shared understanding between them. At least it seems that way from our distance. Each of them goes through a complete adult life, from the age of 25 onwards. We follow their successes and their disasters. The idea of achievement here is relative to their intentions. It is not clear whether the three are “good” or “bad” in our terms. Their behaviour is rooted in negotiation, communication and understanding. At all points they seem to experience many things at the same time. We spend an equal amount of time attending to each of them. The neighbourhood effect. Yet this is not exactly obvious because of the way that our understanding of their developing stories is ordered. Although we follow a conventional chronological narrative, it seems to work in three distinct ways. One of the characters is clearly getting older and proceeding towards eventual slowness and potential death. One is getting younger and more enthusiastic while the third seems to remain in a form of the present. We are not dealing with “the near future” or the “recent past” but something quite different. Three people, meeting once and never seeing each other again. We are the link between them. And we provide the logic that might be applied in order to understand their relative status. Out in the desert at the dark hole in the ground, a large green mass of vegetation is growing. At some point it will escape the confines of this desiccated place and make its way towards the city. Maybe the three women are working towards this moment, maybe they are trying to avoid it ever taking place.
THE WHAT IF? SCENARIOS 3.3
Towards the publication of the report Discussion Island - A WHAT IF? SCENARIO.
Theoretical Propositions in Relation to a Future based
on a Present that is not Taking Place.
1.1 Origins of the What If? Scenario.
1.2 The Timeslip
1.3 The Parallel Present
1.4 Future Projections
1.5 Horizontal Projections
1.6 Cloud shaped field of possibilities
Structural Requirements in order to realise DISCUSSION ISLAND - A What If? Scenario Report.
2.1 Think Tank model of investigation
2.2 Discussion Islands
2.3 Section by Section Breakdowns
2.4 Heavy duty indexing
2.5 Transport systems for ideas and people
2.9 The “Looking Backward” Syndrome
Analysis of The What If? Scenario Physical Propositions
3.1 Platforms (Discussion, Negotiation, Delay)
3.2 Insulation Plates
3.3 Illustrated Scenarios
3.4 Written language
3.5 Communication banners
3.6 Think Tanks
3.7 Assessment tanks
3.8 Conciliation Platforms
3.10 Arrival and departure areas
4.1 Education solutions
4.2 Think Tank Systems
4.4 Parallel operations
5.1 Solo voyages of exploration
5.2 Business fantasies and control systems
5.3 A decline in the production of predictive reports
6.1 Group structured decision making
6.2 Individual lectures
6.4 Conclusion and revision
Settings and locations
8.1 Loss of definition
8.2 Loss of location
8.3 Produced environment that can be altered and contructed but won’t be
Future research and documentation
9.1 Revisions and recognition of collapse
Conclusions and findings
What If? Scenario Report Recommendations
CHAPTER 1 OF DISCUSSION ISLAND - BIG CONFERENCE CENTRE, 1997
However hard you try it’s always tomorrow. And now it’s here again. Across the other side of town trauma had overwhelmed personal exchange. Something self-willed and determined had cut through the dusk. Pain in a building. We all called it The Big Conference Centre. It probably had another name in honour of somebody seriously compromised, but to us it was just The Big Conference Centre. And up on top there was a room. Twenty-second floor. Big, airy and false ceilinged. Windows down to the floor. Clad in silencing carpet. Up there, the day before yesterday, someone had finally done it. Lost in the place, caught and alone, they had repeatedly run full pelt against the reinforced glass of that best top room. Minor personal damage like bruising and broken teeth must have gone unnoticed in the repetitive drive for fresh air and dramatic absence. As far as anyone can make out he needed at least ten attempts. Moving faster and faster with each flailing run-up. Breathing hard and determined. And then on the eleventh impact, the glass gave way. Crashing open and falling away to allow brutal passage and moments of weightlessness on the way to physical chaos below. Numbed initially from the repeated window impact, our crasher came to a new form of consciousness half way down. The pavement concrete stayed where it was and didn’t move up to meet him and his smile. Well, they said it was like a grin although fuck knows how anyone could be sure with a flattened face buried in the top of a Toyota
Now everything is different. There is access to tomorrow. But before our corporate entry can be validated we need some background. A reminder of quieter times.
Way outside the city, close to a National Park. A house without fencing to define the edges of its base. A building growing fresh from a grassy lump surrounded by conifers. Inside now we walked into a room with Coca-Cola coloured walls. The floor had been laid down some time ago. Planks of wood nailed discretely to a concealed series of solid chunked supports. The widest were certainly no less than that measure of a palm, the narrowest were at most only three fingers broad. The original putting down of this floor planking had been precise and complete. And now combined with walls the colour of Coca-Cola. Not the whole wall, but certainly the top three quarters of each, not including the area around the windows or the last small strip before the ceiling is reached. Back to the wooden boards that formed the flooring. Over a period of some years, could be at least one hundred, the wood had become blackened beyond dirty. Despite renovation of the room, this beyond dirt had been allowed to build up. No real effort had been made to clean it or to balance out the surface shade. Not that it wasn’t smooth, unevenness was purely down to look rather than feel. The smoothness of the worn wood was as consistent as the multi-toned colour was varied. While any remains of non-domestic debris had always been removed, no attempt was ever made to begin a form of unification through cleaning. In any case, the only option would be to sand down the entire surface and start again with glass-paper and varnish. Someone had decided that wasn’t an option quite some time ago. Not a loss of choice through difficulty, but a decision based on retaining an antiqued look. The floor was a useful indicator of the authenticity of this house. Showing off elderly qualities exposed through revelation of construction. A little sign of age to be understood and appreciated. It was never intended as something to marvel at, yet it had been placed, trimmed and finished in such a way as to indicate that it might always be on view, then and now. Not that the floor should ever have been worthy of comment, praise or rejection, rather that its visibility was always going to be a marker. An indication that someone had cared deeply about this isolated building. A crafted island of hardwood in a complex zone of super nature.
All the following things happen at the same time. Lincoln is walking down the edge of an urban highway when a man hits the roof of a Toyota. And here we have the start of a time coded section. A parallelism as three people start to work in sync with each other. It will be important to deal with each separately and in turn. Lincoln, a person who works in the middle. Moving towards an attempt to address some of the problems inherent in gathering together a picture of the projected near future through the use of tools that will come from the centre. Relational tools. A concentration upon issues that operate between the straightforward equivalence of intentions and results. There is some specificity here but only in the background. In order to negotiate the commencement of this thinking Lincoln has decided to set up a think-tank. Initially the process could be straightforward. A building might be acquired, and inside there should be a special room. Somewhere nearly private. And crashing out through that window far above the rush of traffic comes somebody, soon to be somebodies body.
There’s a mountain in the middle of a small country. The state autonomy here was a natural fringe benefit of geography. The mountain range that features our peak has been used as a natural border since 1123. There were always people convinced that geology was a way to solve the problem of how to divide one territory from another. The mountain is pretty steep because the rest of the land is flat. Right down to sea level in places. In fact, just out to the south west of the mountain there are parts of this country that fall below zero. So although the mountain is only three thousand metres high it feels bigger. And it’s rarely cold at the top. No skiing here, instead, halfway up, people build modest little houses with underground car parking. It’s not a bad place to live, yet most use it as a location for second or even third homes. Our mountain was never a site of primary production, not even of sheep. If you take a train out there, the closest city to the western base is at the end of a rail line. Then you can rent a car, especially if it’s a Tuesday in June, after all, it had happened before. Ramsgate has been missing for some years. A semi-comatose half-dreamer who has never met Lincoln. At some point Lincoln had visited this part of the world. And recently returned once more, but this is Ramsgate’s moment and he’s not really ready for contact.
A bird flies bang into an apartment window while someone inside is distracted by a smoke alarm. Another fine day in the city. Work is going on to prop up a burnt out video store. The way this place developed ensured that conference centres were never very important. Anyway, they’re usually deployed as a boost. The middle of this town was never reduced to abandonment. So the conference centre couldn’t be used as a way to revitalise a place that had otherwise found itself in a dormant state. They built it anyway. But who would want organised speaking? Diverse groups travelling great distances to confirm their findings and improve their motivation. No way would an urban mess like this appeal to them. Too intuitive, too functional. So the people who conceived the conference centre knew before they had even begun that it had to be a precise structure. Covert and corporate. Let’s speak to Ron for a while. He works in the urban conference centre. He can talk within a mannered code of speaking. A comforting person to act as a describer, locked into his belief in buildings. While in the background we know three protagonists are getting on with something differently important. At least their work has some significance for the state of development and development of the state, even if Ron is not yet aware of it. Ramsgate, Lincoln and Denmark are up and away. Each has some groundwork to do before we may return to their thing. And the best place for that is in the air. Each checks in, baggage logged and weighed. A walk down that thumping ramp and inside the carefully panelled aluminium. Plastic flexibility soon to be creaking against ribbed superstructure.
Ramsgate is dreaming, half asleep and half awake. Thinking about a number of objects and images from the recent past. A panel is over his head. Slipping thoughts. 1971 - 1985 - 1997. Walking now in the street there are elements of the situation and the environment that are recognisable. All are described, but some are clearly parallel rather than definable as familiar. That’s his work for now. Complex description of the present and its close relations.
Lincoln is in the bar up in the First Class section. Talking with people but thinking ahead, coming up with a number of future scenarios while at the same time maintaining a series of fairly ordinary conversations. Three specific examples of taking an idea through development to a number of micro-conclusions are outlined. He just alters the order of engagement. Testing and tempting, trying out some scenarios.
Denmark is in an airplane travelling across a developed, well marked landscape. Making a series of mental side-steps all of which look towards alternative options in relation to the landscape below. Investigating the possibility of expansion rather than mere development. All of his ideas are noted on a number of sick bags with a borrowed pen. Turbulence. Each of them grabs the nearest reassurance. A table, a leg and a glass.
We cut between all three increasingly quickly. Each one in turn appears to reach a point where compromise is the option that offers the most mobile position, keeps a dream going, allows a conversation to continue and avoids error. The necessity to communicate is what leads to this temporary sense of negotiated give and take.
Ramsgate turns on the video screen in the seat-back in front of him. Off-white plastic housed in a padded tartan cushion. Turned on, there is a chance to return to the semi-dream state. Take note of interior dialogue.
There’s a doubled irony here. But then I’m asleep on an airplane. It is often assumed, probably quite correctly, that if a political strategist claims to believe in anything their statement should be interpreted as part of a sceptical web of ideas wrapped up in layers of dark humour. A scenario is playing itself out. It has been argued that each of us exposes most eloquently the guilty acknowledgement that all our moral and ethical structures have imploded. The way we communicate is therefore open to endless interpretation and scrutiny. Strategists can do this because the best of us operate in between other disciplines. Yet that process began at a point when the findings being proposed by the most interesting, and therefore radical, political strategists, had to be seen in the context of a general tendency towards “not believing” that resulted from an increasing loss of trust in control systems. This process probably came to a head in the Sixties, especially in America. Some examples are required. Lee Harvey Oswald may well have killed President Kennedy alone, but the city of Dallas provided the context within which it was possible to hate a rich Catholic Liberal chief executive and not feel abnormal. As a result, at the moment of Kennedy’s assassination, his closest aides, O’Donnell and O’Brien for example, and even Clint Hill, referred to the killer in the plural, although they were pretty sure that there had only been one marksman. Remember that the city was crawling with hate. A perverse ultra-conservatism had taken hold which represented “belief” as a thing in itself. Order had become a fetish beyond the content of any known legal system. Law and justice had become personalised belief systems. Each individual wandering around and acting as a solo representative of justice. This attitude in the wrong place leads to murder. Many cultural phenomena from the Sixties represented a fight against that kind of thinking. Rejecting the structuring and personalisation of order for its own sake. The result was a rise in the potential of sub-cultural and pan-cultural scepticism. Flames fanned by the development of global communications and an image of the mainstream on television that could be a source for reaction as much as entertainment. Over the years since, there has been no equivalent paradigm shift in authority yet the quality of control has changed, and we are left with only the old tools of scepticism and irony which are no longer good enough. Freedom of expression has replaced freedom to apply justice. An exchange has been effected, and now we have a domination of scepticism attempting to shadow box an enemy which has long since feinted out of range. The challenge for us, and challenge is always a good hammered to death word to use in relation to political allusions, is to find a way through the resulting equation. The interviewee smiles at the camera.
The television programme is good, but not enough to keep Ramsgate’s full internal dialogue functioning. Attention lapses. A channel change is necessary, but on the other side there is only more of the same.
If you are not entirely happy with the way things are then the options are no longer clear. Ironic non-belief is an accepted stance now, so where do you look to for action? One option is to try and address the vast central area that includes bureaucracy, compromise, conciliation and so on. Not to illustrate those things, but to address them. To look carefully at the mechanics of our political and economic context without resorting to irony or distance. Not to make that vast compromised central area into a subject but to move inside the thinking and add to the confusion. The issue of “believe” versus “don’t believe” is part of the binary thinking even reinforced by television programmes like MASH. It is part of the age of the enlisted person, where not believing was central to surviving within a contradictory system, that is chaos (war) produced by order (armies). It is not surprising that a lot of people have a problem with the way that they are encouraged to analyse their relative position when they are continually forced away from a clear view of the dominant centre.
The plane bumps and jogs, slipping then regaining stability.
Whatever differences existed between the your actual activities at the Pentagon and the rhetoric surrounding them seems to have melted. Of course such understanding comes as a fringe benefit of hindsight. I cannot help feeling, however, that our words fail to explain much while perfectly illustrating a sensibility that allows a precision randomness. Is this a sense of adventure or an inescapable love of obscurantics?
A double vodka. Two small plastic bottles and a glass full of ice. Up front, the pilot smiles.
Our work does not rest on empirical research or overt reliance on quasi-psychological prediction, and that’s a good thing. In the last five years we have worked on three main projects. Firstly a report; secondly the establishment of two co-ordinated think-tanks and thirdly the current project which is an attempt to address the notion of projection from the a central zone of murky control, rather than the extreme fringe of possibilities. Always clear, silhouetted against the glare of the unimaginable. Unravelling the desire to maintain an illusion of improvement. “Tomorrowism” is a central tenet of the late twentieth century western capitalist dynamic. All our post-1967 research demonstrates very little interest in battling for the realm of “explanation”. It involves instead the presentation of altered social structures. What we are doing is common in the world of management strategy, scientific research and political think-tanks. We are involved in the establishment of a series of parallel structures all of which work alongside each other, setting up ways in which it might be possible to understand the complex context within which strategy and the effect of its application is made manifest rather than constantly refining a series of apparently regenerative and predictive statements. When you come across one of our reports it is not necessarily the consolidation of a series of ideas matched up to a network of rational structures, rather the relation between the research and the written work is part of a parallel series of constructions. The reports do not describe various scenarios and scenarios do not illustrate the research. Both work alongside each other. No single element is a complete statement. We are not interested in setting up situations where cause and effect are roughly predictable. Caution is seen as a virtue among political strategists due to developments in psychological research that replaced one stereotype of overly complex compliance with another.
Ramsgate had already stopped listening to himself. Sleeping soundly now, after ten minutes of adjustment and foot rubbing. The video screen forgotten, yet playing late into the afternoon. It would be switched off as the final approach commenced, but there will never be any memory of hitting the red button.
THE WHAT IF? SCENARIO PART 1, 1995
(Halogen lights (at least 500w each) enough to fill a chosen space with enough super bright light to be really noticable. A list of various documents, some examples if possible but not essential.)
A consideration of The what if scenario. Starting to think about new parallel histories that may be constructed from a set of specific documents. This is an exercise, the establishment of a specific super-bright environment in which to consider the possibility of learning from another’s errors. Once the particular space has been decided upon, a number of halogen lights should be installed, up to the point where any reasonable person would comment upon the fact that the space was extremely brightly lit. Then a list of the appropriate documents, and even some examples of the documents should be left in this place. A sight for consideration, a place to start again. A moment to ponder upon the what might have.
1) The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, U.S. Government Printing Office.
2) Department of State Bulletins (Various)
3) The Journal of American History
4) House Committee on Armed Services
(United States/Vietnam Relations 1945-1967)
5) The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam, Senator Gravel (ed.) (Boston, Beacon Press, 1971)
6) Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders
(U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975)
7) Old copies of Newsweek magazine
8) George C. Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam,
1950-1975 (New York, Knopf, 1986)
9) Foreign Affairs Journal, Washington, USA
10) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-68, vol. 1, US Government Printing Office.