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Future and the Arts

Almost forty years ago, in 1982, the sci-fi film "Blade Runner" imagined how the future could be in 2019: a world inhabited by humans and replicants, where flying cars and off-world colonies would have been the norm. Finally, this time has arrived, and A.I., Robotics, Cities and Life are the keywords of our today.

The last few decades have been characterized by an extraordinary acceleration of scientific research and technological innovation. Only a few years ago, we couldn't even imagine that our phones could embed all the incredible features that they offer today. Artificial Intelligence is improving so fast that today we can speak with virtual assistants similarly to how we do with the people around us. Therefore, today we often ask ourselves: how we will live tomorrow? How technology and innovations will change our lives?


All images courtesy of Lamberto Rubino

The current exhibition, "Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow",  at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo digs deep in these questions and anything that pushes the boundaries of science nowadays. Furthermore, it offers a glimpse of life in the next future and investigates how humanity will live tomorrow.

 “The exhibition will aim to encourage us to contemplate cities, environmental issues, human lifestyles and the likely state of human beings as well as human society - all in the imminent future, via cutting-edge developments in science and technology including A.I., biotechnology, robotics, and A.R. (augmented reality), plus art, design, and architecture influenced by all these. An exhibition prompting us to think about our lifestyles from now on, and how human beings will look in the not-too-distant future”.


According to one of the curators – Nanjo Fumio, Director of the Mori Art Museum – the inspiration for this exhibition dates to 2011, when “Metabolism: The City of the Future” was organized. The Japanese Metabolism movement in the ‘60s imagined a city that metabolizes and continues to grow. What could happen if we would adopt the same concept today by using advanced information processing technology? The exhibition showcases several paradigms of city planning that embrace information technology to generate adaptable urban environments.

Artists and studios from all over the world present here their visions of the future and its challenges: 100 projects and works that promise to ‘go beyond the confines of fine art’. The exhibition is divided into five sections, covering several aspects of our world and its future expectations.

Section 1 - New Possibilities of Cities

Impressive models of futuristic urban planning are showcased in this section. As mentioned before, these plans share many concepts with the Japanese Metabolism movement. At that time, those proposals were considered merely utopia due to the limited technology available. Conversely, nowadays, I.T. and biotechnology offer new possibilities for the cities and the chance to create organic, sustainable and resilient environments for humanity.



“Oceanix City”, for example – a floating community designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) – is conceived as a modular marine metropolis that can grow, transform, and adapt organically as times change. This proposal shares with many others the prediction of future cities under the water level, caused by climate change. Among the others, "Edo's Eden" - by Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group – which recreate in Tokyo the network of canals that existed during the Edo Period. Another exciting topic is explored by the Delft University of Technology with "The Why Factory". This proposal focuses on the concept of "urban porosity", proposing several models to open up the cities to trigger sociality, multiply circulation and embed nature.  

Section 2 - Toward Neo-Metabolism Architecture

This section narrows the scale from the city to the architecture. Again, Japanese Metabolism is the inspiration to design sustainable and dynamic buildings that coexisting with nature and flexibly metabolize. “H.O.R.T.U.S. XL” – by the Italian founded and London based office ecoLogicStudio – can be considered the central paradigm. The 3D-printed bio sculpture – also selected as the cover image of the entire exhibition – embed cyanobacteria in its blocks, thus creating a "living" architecture that can produce oxygen.



The Living”, by David Benjamin, is another living construction realized by compostable mycelium bricks, lightweight and environmentally friendly. Besides the availability of new materials, our era offers unimaginable construction techniques. “Flight Assembled Architecture” – proposed by Gramazio Kohler Architects – is an installation of 1,500 polystyrene bricks positioned by drones using mathematical algorithms.


Probably, sometime soon, we will live in organic homes and build it with drones or robot. “Muqarna Mutation” for example – an impressive installation conceived by Michael Hansmeyer - is designed by a computer and constructed by robot arms.

Section 3 - Lifestyle and Design Innovations

Narrowing the scale again from architecture to products design, the third section presents technical innovations that are altering the way we eat, dress and live: from the pet robot to the 3D printed sushi, from the furniture made with mushrooms to the artificially cultured food.



While at the big scale, the innovation seems promising in terms of benefit for humanity, the small scale of everyday objects raises some concerns. “Sushi Singularity” - by OPEN MEALS project – imagine how our food will change through the evolving technologies. Sushi will be reinterpreted by using brand new textures formed by 3D printers and robot arms. In the next future, when the overexploitation of the oceans will have made real fishes a rare catch, this artificial sushi will be probably the only alternative.


Aibo” is a pet entertainment robot created by Sony. It is lovely and realistic, and it can also develop its own personality. Perhaps - someday not too far away - we will adopt a robot, and we will become attached to it similarly to a pet. Affection and empathy are the keywords for the future relationship between humans and machines. "L.O.V.O.T." is another pet robot showcased at Mori Museum. Developed by GROOVE X, it is based on the concept that "it may not be useful, but it has affection”. Unlike Aibo, it is not conceived as a replacement for a pet. It is just a “living object”, following the Japanese thought that spirits dwell within inanimate objects. Therefore, robots have a soul, and mutual empathy with them is possible.

Section 4 - Human Augmentation and Its Ethical Issues

Switching the focus from the objects to its users, the fourth section analyzes the recent advances in robotics and biotechnology that help expand human capacity. The concept of Human Augmentation has become crucial in the last decades' thanks to the astonishing advances in biology. “We're beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodies will make us stronger and more efficient” states Hugh Herr. Coined the “Leader of the Bionic Age”, he is a double amputee engineer and biophysicist, designing prosthetics that connect body and brain. The exhibition showcases a prosthetics leg and an assistive device created at M.I.T. Media Lab led by him. In the future, thanks to those devices, people may have abilities that can surpass that of the average population turning disabilities into opportunities.



What will happen when humans interact with robots to create art? Patrick Tresset answer this question with an intriguing installation that uses robotic arms to create portraits of the visitors, each with its own artistic “style”.


What if we can recreate artists of the past by using bio-engineering? Diemut Strebe proposes "Sugababe”, a reproduction of the left ear of Vincent van Gogh in “living state”. These experiments, together with several other exhibited here, offer an exciting preview of the next future and its ethical issues. Ethic will be the keyword to evaluate and metabolize these astonishing revolutions waiting around the corner.

Section 5 - Society and Humans in Transformation

The last section of the exhibition is dedicated to the recent changes in the previously-accepted notions of society caused by technological developments. What means to be human? Do we need to rethink the concepts of humanity, life and happiness?



Zoom Pavillion” is an interactive video installation - proposed by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - that use face recognition to detect positions, movements and relationships of the participants. This experiment pushes the visitors to ask themselves how to rethink their lives, in a society where the mass surveillance portrayed by George Orwell is the reality.

Religion and spirituality can be enriched by technology and A.I. This is the belief of Memo Atken, Turkish artist and creator of the video installation “Deep Meditations”. This experiment leads the viewers into deep meditation by using deep learning and images from Flickr. Art is thus created by a machine, but its beneficial effect on the human soul remains the same.