Outside, the slow but constant leakage of water from the units provides enough moisture to create unplanned habitats for tiny patches of green. These scattered small oases seem like figments of the imagination, miniature mirages projected onto the barren landscape.
Dubai. A fantasy of the ultimate, hypermodern, global metropolis materializes in the desert. Gigantic, grandiose construction projects tailored to attract affluent foreigners are underway everywhere. Huge billboards, spanning entire blocks, not only hide the building work from view, but also project an imaginary skyline and a corporate vision of a fabulous future onto the city. ‘History Rising’ and ‘Live the Infinity’, the advertising slogans prophesy, using a promotional language that appears to borrow directly from the world of blockbuster science fiction films.
While a future Dubai in the image of this genre is constructed, the strict censorship in Sharjah does not allow such films to be screened.
April 2007. The project Wandering through the Future reinserted such science fiction films into the public sphere from which they are normally banned. Clips from seventy movies were compiled into a sixty minute video, and screened in a shed modeled on the fortunetellers’ tents found in Sharjah souks. The compilation took viewers on a journey through popular cinema’s reservoir of scenarios for the future, ordered chronologically according to the date in which they are set, from 2008 until 802.701 AD.
An accompanying graphic timeline charted how far into the future the various films take us. The timeline made apparent that only very few science fiction films, produced in the optimism of the late 1960s and 70s, project their visions into a very distant future, and imagine a future reality that is desirable. But recent films all present apocalyptic scenarios, set in times that are increasingly near. They envision ecological and biological catastrophes, alien invasions, but most of all technological meltdown.
While the billboards that visualize the ambitious horizon of a future Dubai aim to convey faith in boundless economic growth and technological might, they thus actually take their inspiration from a cinematic imagination that already harbours the nightmare of collapse. Using visual references such as the code of the Matrix – which in the 1999 film signified an illusory dream world conjured up by an inhumane system – to promote a property project, seems paradoxical at least. With the same conviction as the real estate public relations machine, the blockbuster taglines announce reverse scenarios: ‘The future could be history’, ‘The biggest disaster in history is about to arrive’, ‘Plan Your Escape’.