Anyone who watched Ridley Scott’s brilliant film, “Blade Runner”, when it was released (1982) or later, cannot have forgotten the wonderful metaphor about the human condition. In the film, a police officer from Los Angeles tracks down humanoids that are virtually indistinguishable from human beings. The so-called “replicants,” with a limited lifespan, were created to replace men for hard labor, but they rebelled and killed the humans when they are spotted. There were, among these humanoids, some that were so close to the real human beings, that some humans fell in love with them—or refused to believe that the humanoids were not real human beings.
Lest we remember that the scenario in the film is supposed to take place exactly today, at the end of 2019. And that many of the things we saw in the film were premonitory: animal species that had completely disappeared, an extremely polluted environment, cities where slums for the people and very large buildings for the rich mingle; invasive billboards (for companies, among which some have since gone bankrupt).
Some of the predictions have not yet come true: there are neither bioengineered humanoids nor flying cars. Moreover, nothing has been done to encourage human beings to migrate to planets that are more liveable.
Even if this film is now considered one of the great classics in the history of cinema, the message it conveys and the cry of alarm it raised have not been heard. Yet everything is being put in place to make the world to come look like what it describes.
The film is just one example, among others, of how artists have always tried to imagine the future, and to tell us what to fear and hope. They do so in a variety of ways, some more effective than others. Literature and cinema are particularly interested in delivering these messages. The visual arts, on the other hand, have explored the universe less. It has generally been more active in describing or reinventing the past or present. In particular, a part of contemporary art is above all concerned with denouncing the emptiness of our society and the futility of the world, sometimes through its own futility. The great Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, is doing so today, after so many others have done it, with the banana taped to the wall of the gallery on exhibition at Perrotin stand in Art Basel in Miami.
Who will have more effect in waking us up: the denunciation of long-term risks, or the denunciation of the blindness associated with the present? The two are inseparable. One feeds on the other. This is in line with many other issues, much more openly political, where the tyranny of the short term prevents us from seeing the requirements of the long term. Both are not heard… Explosive cocktail.
Can art help us become aware of the importance of taking into consideration the interests of future generations in our decisions? Even if art is not supposed to have a political function, even if the artist is not supposed to talk about anything other than his sensitive and personal perceptions, and even if the artist is not supposed to be anything other than selfishly creative, the reality is such that it has become too urgent—we must act, and we cannot ignore the path toward vital awareness.
My editorial for the Journal des Arts