“Determinism would gain credibility if it gave us useful forecasts” wrote Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nesic, referring to those who saw the outcome of political events as written in their formation. Perhaps the same could be said of trend forecasts. What are they for, and why do people keep writing them? They’re certainly not very effective at predicting trends, yet their recurrence and popularity within the art world over the past 5 years suggests they’re an increasingly important phenomenon in the development of post-internet culture. Unlike forecasts commissioned within marketing organisations, trend forecasts produced within the contemporary art world are nominally produced for public consumption; they act somewhere between an art object and a form of cultural criticism.
Among the pioneers of this form of trend forecast are K-Hole, a New York based crew who recently released their third forecast, a 49-page free-to-download PDF entitled THE K-HOLE BRAND ANXIETY MATRIX. It continues the aesthetic that has marked out K-Hole’s previous forecasts – sharp focus, minimalist stock photography, blocky capitalised typefaces and crisp infographics punctuate their trademark prose, a commercially-aware rhetoric that seems punchy, without ever really landing a punch.
Each forecast revolves around a central theme, an attempt to build a new conceptual model for brand awareness or technological innovation. Synthesis is the name of the game for K-Hole: every issue introduces a string of portmanteaus that successfully walk the fine line between blunt parody and genuine identification. ProLASTination, FragMOREtation, FLATmentation: this is the lexicon of dickheads, yet the carefully produced portfolio of case studies that make up the bulk of each document build each tongue-in-cheek neologism into a more thoughtful model for understanding cultural phenomena and fluid consumer subjectivities as they exist today. The level of cultural literacy and critical engagement with their audience separates the trend forecast produced within the context of contemporary art from the trend forecast produced for the boardroom suits: these are texts which speak to the demographic they analyse, rather than simplify these demographics for paying clients. It’s this difference, this understanding of spectatorship, that activates K-Hole’s PDFs as a hybrid form of art-object and cultural criticism. Paradoxically, however, it’s also this cultural fluency with the target demographic that makes it catnip to smart marketing teams, and it’s this duality which creates an ethical tension within the format that is perhaps an echo of the wider crisis of form that both haunts and drives the world of post-internet cultural production. Whilst the content is interesting, it’s the evolution and reproduction of the form, straddled between the critical and the commercial, that really highlights what is vital and problematic in this phenomena.
K-Hole’s third edition seems to elucidate far more clearly this tension, making the development of cognitive models the main focus of the document and moving away from predictive scenarios. Whereas earlier forecasts offered potential new configurations of existing technologies or products, Issue 3 instead offers a more explicit model for understanding the relationship between potential future everyday technologies and our everyday lives, in the form of a matrix which examines risk assessment.
This is perhaps the key to understanding the reasons why trend forecasting has taken off within the post-internet demographic. The trend forecast represents a displaced subject: rather than being predictive or even speculative visions of what is to come, they actually function as models to conceptualise and contextualise the effects a technological explosion is having upon our everyday lives. The latest K-Hole report hits the nail on the head: the relationship between the demographic and the trend forecast is one of managing anxiety precipitated by the pervasive technology of the internet revolution. Rather than thinking of trend forecasts as commercial documents (or simulations thereof), we should examine them as creative texts which are trying to contextualise and understand that revolution, in a similar vein to science fiction. Rather than science fiction, trend forecasts effectively function as consumer fiction.
Science fiction emerged as a creative field primarily as an entertainment form, but as the field evolved it quickly came to be seen as something more — a way to understand the deep and significant technological change which revolutionised everyday life in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Automation, the shrinking of space through faster transport and communications, and the development of the massified workers subjectivity under a state model — all these technological changes were profoundly political, and science fiction emerged as a popular and accessible cultural form in which to discuss and understand often terrifyingly fast social change. The worlds of science and technology held the obvious language to utilise — it seemed to be machines that were changing our world: vast industrial machines enabled by state power, by huge actors, to drive deep into the earth, to reach new planets, to reconfigure a society in its entirety.
Today we’re in the opening stage of a similarly enormous technological revolution. The social fabric is being torn and reconfigured by massive infrastructural developments. Changes in capitalist development are likewise revolutionising the everyday lives of working people. In the developed world the age of the mass worker, and its coterminous subjectivity, is being eroded into a new subjectivity — the post-fordist worker. This worker is not defined by the production line but by precarious working conditions, outsourcing, self-employment and self-branding. The division between work and leisure time – produced by proletarianisation and formalised by the labour movement – is increasingly a meaningless abstraction. New digital technologies as well as wider economic and political currents created by the crisis of capital in the late 1970’s – the destruction of labour unions, containerisation and cheap credit through financialisation – have combined to produce a new idea of the productive, creative individual (and the subjectivity of the post-fordist worker is by its very nature individual). Whilst contemporary art attempted to come to terms with the collapse of socialist project in the 1990’s, most notably through relational aesthetics, the post-internet tendency seems to be tackling a much wider change in technology, work and production in a way unseen since Warhol took on consumer capitalism in the early 1960s.
And so what characterises a young, mid-crisis, post-internet productive subjectivity? In a word, anxiety. Uncertainty about our financial and professional futures as a result of the deferred crisis in capital, but more importantly, uncertainty about the future due to the rate of technological change we see happening around us. In dealing with this perfect storm of technological and economic factors, this unique point on the Kondratieff cycle, trend forecasts function as a creative response to anxiety and change. Rather than science fiction, trend forecasts are consumer fiction, imaginative responses to technological change which help us understand the present through speculative future scenarios, told within the dominant language of possibility – the brand.
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