Magazine article Artforum International

Back to the Future

Magazine article Artforum International

Back to the Future

Article excerpt


THE IRRESISTIBLE CONCEIT of Austin Powers is nostalgia for futurism. That is the endemic condition of the baby boomer. We are disappointed by the present's relationship to our past's future. The future was so wide open. We were poised to make science fiction fact. Born on the New Frontier, we now find ourselves ghettoized by our collective disappointments. We are not the Jetsons and never will be. The year 2001 has little chance of living up to the film. And though we landed on the moon thirty-two years ago--and still lose a robot on Mars occasionally--we are spacemen marooned on earth.

The future still looms large, but it is no longer wondrous and futuristic. Today the future, as constructed by the various gospels of Star Trek, Star Wars, and their descendants, is extremely retro. The starship is a gussied-up, doodad-clad submarine or aircraft carrier. The United Federation of Planets is still fighting World War II. The limitless future as we dreamed it has evaporated into the Gothic gloom of The Matrix, and the triumphal vision of ubertechnology and its brave new culture long ago yielded to the glamorous entropy of Blade Runner.

In other words, the future doesn't swing, baby. The clutter of millennia has not been swept away by science and design. We live in a state of rotating retro samples. The '70s may be succeeded by the '60s--or the '80s--but the sweeping leap into the new has failed. We have lived through the sexual counterrevolution, the design counterrevolution, and waves of Luddite technoparancia. To find a decent future we have to go back to our hydroponic roots.

To find an inspiring prophet we hit the archives: Loewy, Neutra, Nelson, and Fuller. For forward psychosexual fantasy we find ourselves screening Barbarella, Blow Up, The Tenth Victim, Our Man Flint. If extraterrestrials stumbled across the ruins of today, how would they explain fashion's transition from Courreges, Ungaro, Pucci, and Gernreich to Versace, Lauren, and Hilfiger? Sifting through the wreckage, they'd suspect foul play.

The aliens would no doubt find in Rudi Gernreich--who is the subject of a retrospective opening in October at the Kunstlerhaus Graz, Austria (see Withers, p. …

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