Back to the Future

In Back to the Future, Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 Hollywood hit, the past and the future are struck into a volatile alliance – action in one is compensated by change in the other. Doc Emmett Brown converts a DeLorean sports car into a time-traveling machine and when his assistant, high school student Marty McFly, travels back to 1955 from 1985 by accident, he inadvertently interrupts his parents’ first date, jeopardizing his own existence. The reversible causality presented in the movie – where the effect of actions can be felt before they’re performed – suggests a philosophical conundrum in which now is oddly left out of the equation: the present is caught in limbo, bypassed completely and rendered void by this new chain of events in which the past and the future are in direct correspondence.

By exploring a system in which the traditional Hegelian, linear progression of time is replaced by one that is cyclical and self-reflexive – in which the mechanics of chronology are rendered inoperative – we approach a logic of preemptive action and calculated risk that has taken hold of Western politics at large. In 2003, then-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld characterized the distorted, confounding nature of this thinking in a speech justifying the Iraq War as something cautionary: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.” Accessing contemporary culture through this statement exposes a world in which science fiction and reality collide to bewildering effect.

Perhaps, as Slavoj Žižek suggests, Truth is never really disposed. It may only be through Rumsfeldian unknowns, through misrecognition, that it can be approached (1). In explaining Jacques Lacan on Freud’s “return of the repressed,” Žižek retells the plot of William Tenn’s The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway. In it, an art historian from the future travels back in time to research Morniel Mathaway, a painter unrecognized in his time who was later discovered to be a genius. Instead of talent, the art historian finds a deceitful dilettante who steals his time machine, leaving him stranded in the past. With no other option, the art historian paints Mathaway’s paintings from memory, unwittingly becoming the misrecognized genius he was searching for.

Back to the Future, curated by Carson Chan, presents artists who problematize time to reframe our present stance, allowing time, history and causality to be continually renewed.

1 Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), p.60

michael kunze carson chan
View of Michael Kunze's Morgen (1989-1992) installed in COMA gallery's atrium.

michael kunze carson chan
Michael Kunze, Morgen (1989-1992)

lars laumann carson chan
Lars Laumann's Swedish Bookshop installed in the bookshelf.

Still from Swedish Bookshop.

carson chan back to the future
Installation view: Oliver Laric (left), Christian Naujoks/Mario Pfeifer (center), Cyprien Gaillard (right).

oliver laric carson chan
Detail of Oliver Laric's Still Available 26.06.09.

paolo chiasera carson chan
Paolo Chiasera, Archivio Zarathustra (2009)

cyprien gaillard carson chan
Cyprien Gaillard, Belief in the Age of Disbelief (2005), detail

oliver laric carson chan
Still from Oliver Laric's Versions (2009).

carson chan back to the future
Installation view: Cyprien Gaillard (left), Warren Neidich (wall), Paolo Chiasera (floor).

warren neidich carson chan
Warren Neidich, The Battle of Chicamauga (1990-1)

mario pfeiffer carson chan
Christian Naujoks/Mario Pfeifer, Excerpt (Sum Over Histories) (2008)

carson chan
Installation view: Ignacio Uriarte (foreground), Benjamin Saurer (middleground wall), Warren Neidich (back wall).

benjamin saurer carson chan
Benjamin Saurer, Ass to the Future (2009)

ryan mclaughliin carson chan
Ryan McLaughlin, Frankenstein (2009)

jeremy shaw carson chan
Still from Jeremy Shaw.