The Future Starts Here – an interview with design studio Superflux


Digital Media
August 10, 2018

Who are Superflux and what do you do?

Superflux are a London-based foresight, design and film studio building worlds, tools and stories to prepare people for the precarity of our rapidly changing world.

What was your involvement in the Future Starts Here exhibition?

We were invited by the V&A and the Office for Political Innovation (OPI) to conceive and produce films and audiovisual works, which would shape the experience of The Future Starts Here exhibition. Alongside the curatorial team Rory Hyde, Mariana Pestana and Zara Arshad, and the architectural team Andrés Jaques, Laura Mora and others at OPI, we elicited deeper environmental, sociopolitical and cultural contexts and implications of the technologies and objects displayed within the exhibition.

Image courtesy Superflux

What initially drew you to the commission?

As a Studio, we often use film and screen-based media to evoke critical and speculative engagement with different emerging technologies and socio-political phenomenon. We loved the curators’ idea to map technological advancement across four scales: Self, Public, Planet and Afterlife. Beyond that, as the V&A is a major cultural hub, we were excited by the opportunity to reach and provoke such a considerable number of people with our work.

Tell us about your creative process. Using one of your films from the exhibition as an example, how did you go about developing the content?

Let’s take the film which features in the section of the show which explores the question “Is Snowden a hero or a traitor?”. The curators’ initial brief asked us to connect some of the key objects in the show, such as self-driving cars, the Facebook Aquila internet drone and the Big Glass microphone interactive. Beyond this, they wanted us to show how technological networks are changing the way we engage with power. We all use networks for individual purposes, but the networks also use us in ways invisible to us. Mariana and Rory were keen for Superflux to juxtapose a sense of technological acceleration with increasing precarity – a boat in a tidal movement of technology, being swept along, grasping at understanding when it momentarily breaks to the deceptively smooth surface, before re-submerging.

We wanted to probe, examine and reveal the complex ecologies and workings of the global technological and infrastructural networks that we have become so ensnared within. From the undersea cables to the server farm, the Bitcoin mine to the 4G towers, from cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Foxcon assembly lines.

Our next step was to immerse ourselves in an intensive research phase to inform script writing. The magnitude of production involved to realise the vision for this piece slowly emerged alongside the understanding that the film would go far beyond simply shooting a few scenes. The film is projected at nine metres long and one metre high, and split into four frames, with different footage in each. The sheer volume of footage required was tremendous. It was crucial to illuminate the global, distributed nature of these networks so we had to gather footage from as many locations around the world as possible. We got in touch with friends, colleagues and collaborators from Taiwan to Mumbai. Our team of researchers spent hundreds of hours trawling Creative Commons for footage and contacting people all around the world to feature their videos and photographs. Our colleague Sabrina signed up to be a Mechanical Turk so she could film herself carrying out tasks. We gathered everyone we knew to film them using devices and carried cameras on every commute to capture different perspectives when riding transport networks around cities. Finally, we got Xander Marritt on board to help out with special effects.

The film opens with a close up of three faces illuminated by the artificial glow of their devices. A fast-paced montage of people lost in digital interactions with their laptops, smartphones and Amazon Echos hints at the scale of these activities worldwide. No part of life is left untouched: intimate, domestic, social and professional spheres are enmeshed and interwoven by constant connectivity. Everywhere and everyone is a node in the machine of the network. The perspective flips to the machine point of view and the faces of the people interacting with them. Bitcoin miners working amongst tangles of wires and blinking lights are juxtaposed with people playing smartphone games on a busy tube. Abstraction of value is shown by the minutes, hours, days spent repeatedly swiping, scrolling.

Zooming up a level, an aerial view shows traffic flows and the human and non-human activities generating data, flowing through, from, and within the network. Hardware infrastructure is focused on through the data farms and vast terraforming of the Earth’s surface. The evangelisation of tech at conferences is contrasted with religious fervour, and the snaking queues outside Apple stores for the latest iPhone release. Switching from the people at the end of the production line, the film reverses right back to the human beings at the very beginning of the device making process. The materials, mining, plastics, packaging and labour which are the human, mineral and synthetic cost of the network.

In the end, we hope viewers leave with the sense that the tools we created to master the world, are remastering us.

Find out more about The Future Starts Here exhibition

Credits

The ‘Networks’ film was conceived, directed, and produced by Superflux. We also gratefully included edited excerpts from the following footage under Creative Commons License BY 3.0 

‘Pennies for iPhone’ courtesy of Pennies for iPhone

‘Snapchat | Snapchatter’ courtesy of Adam Rozanski

‘CONNECT APP VIDEO english’ courtesy of Matthias Franta

‘The TripAdvisor App = Hello, Travel Superpowers’ courtesy of Tripadvisor

‘Pilsen Callao – Día del Amigo’ courtesy of Giancarlo Quito

‘Aruba Global Cloud Data Center – Home of your data, heart of your business’courtesy of Aruba

‘Self-driving cars. Detecting and tracking vehicles’ courtesy of David del Río Medina

‘2017 Infiniti Q60 semi autonomous Test Drive’ courtesy of Javier Mota

‘Chixoy Dam: A Retrospective Study’ courtesy of Daniele Profeta

‘Cortana’s Angels – A Tale of Three CEOs’ courtesy of Toon Poorter

‘Shenzhen Capacitor Factory’ courtesy of Miles Goodhew

‘We Call Them Intruders: A Documentary about Canadian Mining in Africa’ courtesy of ‘We Call Them Intruders’

‘When mines fuel conflict’ courtesy of IOM – UN Migration

‘Hong Kong – Kowloon Tong Festival Walk – Apple Store Grand Opening 2012-09-29’ courtesy of gigapeterz

‘Telefonica Mitwelt Imagespot’ courtesy of QXXQ Studios

‘Opening Apple Store Haarlem’ courtesy of One More Thing

‘The opening of the Apple Store in Amsterdam (Netherlands)’ courtesy of eatingaltoids

‘Apple Store Passeig de Gràcia Opening Day Entrance and Walkthrough’ courtesy of mattconfidential

‘3h29m40s10f China iPhone Manufacturing Montage – Wipe to USA – TR2016a’courtesy of Gordon McDowell

‘Travis Scott w/ Quavo – Pick up the Phone – LIVE @ COMPLEXCON2016 – 11.5.2016’ courtesy of glenjamn3

‘Reel 2018’ courtesy of Pierre Roquet

‘15 Sorting Algorithms in 6 minutes’ courtesy of Timo Bingmann

‘#YaMeCanse bajo ataque de bots’ courtesy of LoQueSigueTV

‘Visualisation of SoundCloud activity’ courtesy of CeRch KCL

‘DATI.GOV.IT Open Data Visualization’ courtesy of SciamLab

‘Leap points Cloud’ courtesy of Mohamed Ikbel Boulabiar

‘Mining farm and cooling system for cryptocurrencies’ courtesy of Crypto Man

‘How Smartphones Are Assembled & Manufactured In China’ courtesy of Trakin Tech

‘Aerial Shot of Busy Highway’ courtesy of Storyfootage

‘THL Smartphone Factory China’ courtesy of THL Smartphone Factory China

‘Wodify Mobile App’ courtesy of Wodify

‘Social Network Stock footage’ courtesy of the Lab Bench

This film includes edited excerpts from the following footage under the Videvo License:

‘Commuters Using Smartphones’ courtesy of Videvo Attribution License

A big thank you to all those who shared the following copyrighted material, which was also included in the ‘Networks’ film:

‘Taiwan from the Air’ footage courtesy of Ching-Yen Chiu

‘Xtera’s Branching Unit Sea Trial (Above the Arctic Circle)’ Footage courtesy of Copyright & Proprietary Xtera

‘Facebook Data Center Drone Flyover’ courtesy of Mike Murray / The Geek Pub, LLC

‘Apple Data Center Solar Farm – Aerial view’ courtesy of Gerald Waller

‘Coltan: Conflict minerals in Congo’ courtesy of Roland Brockmann and MISEREOR

‘Bitcoin valley’ images courtesy of Patrick Cavan Brown

“The Internet Architecture. Data Center” Documentary courtesy of Mastertel

‘Makai Submarine Cable Lay Animation’ courtesy of Makai Ocean Engineering, Inc. Hawaii, USA +1-808-259-8871, makai@makai.com

‘Conflict Minerals’ images courtesy of Mark Craemer

‘Large, open-pit iron ore mine showing the various layers of soil and iron rich ore, industrial exterior, ore mining quarry, sunny day, summer, mining of iron’ courtesy of Igor Bay

‘Large Touch Screen Panel of Mobile Phone. Close up of the production line of large touch screen LCD module transporting one by one.’ used under license from Daumiu – stock.adobe.com

‘Touch Screen Production. Production line of touch screen of mobile phone. Applying glue to stick the touch screen film to the glass module.’ video used under license from Daumiu – stock.adobe.com

‘Highway and Self Driving Autopilot Autonomous Cars 4K’ video by bonjansen – stock.adobe.com

‘Self-driving, autonomous car simulation’ video used under license from hi_def_animation – stock.adobe.com

“I’m getting paid to heat my house while Bitcoin mining and altcoin mining” courtesy of Rahdi Fakhoury (The Bitcoin Miner)

‘Electronics Manufacturing – Factory workers assembling circuit boards’ from skywardkick

‘Electronic PCB boards manufactured for export, China’ from Spotmatik

‘Abandoned old copper extraction Sao Domingos Mine, Portugal, aerial view’ from Discovod

‘New And Old Copper mines’ from Skyworks

‘Religious crowd praising’ by Patrick Guénette

‘Kiev, UKRAINE – June 19, 2014’ from SMP

‘The Ghost hydroelectric dam and reservoir on the Bow River, Alberta, Canada’ from skylightpictures

‘4K aerial hydro electric dam oabove view’ by Red Dog Digital ‘4K aerial close up water dam beauty and power’ by Red Dog Digital

‘Bitcoin mining seamless loop’ from imaginima

‘Miner life review’ courtesy of Jared, Digital Gold LLC
https://www.youtube.com/c/digitalgold

‘Product test with facial recognition of emotions’ courtesy of Emotion Research Lab

‘Udacity SDC Project 5: project video final’ courtesy of John Chen

 

About the author

Digital Media
August 10, 2018

I produce and commission digital stuff to help tell stories about our collections and programme of exhibitions and displays.

More from Keith Hale
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