The Dirty Future

The other night on Twitter, a friend of mine shared a really cool article from The Verge about an artist in Sweden who is doing these digital paintings that explore an alternative past where experimental technology dreamed of in the 70s was actually developed. Painted in this great 80s sci-fi book cover style.

The world these paintings depict look like Walter Bishop and his friends had an unlimited budget in the 70s “Over There.” Only instead of New England, it was in the rural areas around Stockholm, and by the late 80s budgets were slashed and everything was already in decay.

So in the paintings we see derelict machinery surrounded by boxy Volvos and 80s sweaters.

The Used Future and Star Wars

What’s interesting to me is that there is a “used future” aesthetic at work here, though the artist is looking back at an imaginary past.

You can tell the design of the technology was influenced by movies such as Star Wars. In fact, one painting shows three little boys playing in a field, two of whom are wearing Storm Trooper helmets.

In another painting, derelict machines look like they belong on Tattooine. Another machine reminds me of an ATAT.

I’d imagine this artist is more influenced by George Lucas than Stanley Kubrick, whose view of the future in the 60s was more slick, orderly, and symmetrical.

I’m intrigued by the idea of a “used future.” That trend continued even more strongly into the 80s with Ridley Scott movies like Blade RunnerAlien, and Terminator. Maybe that disillusionment with shiny technology was an outgrowth of the Vietnam Era.

It’s a stark contrast from the “shiny” future we see in the Star Trek of the 60s.

This used future trend continued even into the 90s with The Matrix and Firefly, where the heroes are grimy and dirty. Even now, Revolution has an “American” take on a used future.

I think there’s something rather compelling about this whole used-up future. A world where technology is just another thing people use, even if it isn’t the shiniest thing. It somehow seems more real, more honest. Which I think is why William Gibson’s novels (primarily Neuromancer) have always resonated with me — the notion of broken people doing messed-up things just to get by is timeless.

Because we’re all broken and we need redemption.