“Abundant futures”: the anti-human gaze of a historically exhausted system

14 April, 2022

Artwork by Ernesto Neto in "Abundant Futures", an artist who has spent the last few years focused on creating immersive works about fertility and the female reproductive system.
Artwork by Ernesto Neto in "Abundant Futures", an artist who has spent the last few years focused on creating immersive works about fertility and the female reproductive system.

The more we investigate what a communist society will be like, the more evident it becomes that capitalism, now in a historical phase that makes it already reactionary and anti-human, has nonetheless created the foundations that make a society of abundance possible. The opening of the exhibition “Abundant Futures” of the “TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art” collection, however, clearly shows that neither the Art of the bourgeoisie nor its most “sensitive” members can even imagine a decent future for the human species whose social work they organize. For them abundance means scarcity just as peace means war.

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Abundant futures or scarcity by another name?

Work by Olafur Eliasson in “Abundant Futures”.

In a statement to El País, the curator of the exhibition and artistic director of the collection rightfully affirms that “scarcity is not something natural” and stresses that “that’s what this exhibition is all about”. Promising. But misleading. Any hope vanishes immediately. Abundance for her “goes through the reduction of consumption, the redistribution of goods and the reflection on the rationale of scarcity”.

Reducing consumption? Consumption is the mercantile form, characteristic of capitalism, under which the satisfaction of human needs is accessed. For any worker in the world, less consumption means more scarcity. When the daily life of a large part of humanity is that of a permanent and ongoing food emergency, to speak of “reducing consumption” as a supposed environmental negation of Malthusianism is an exercise in boundless cynicism. It is the same as saying “Antimalthusianism is Malthusianism”. As clear and absurd as everyday propaganda’s “peace is war”.

And the fact is that in the language of the exhibition -and in almost all its works-, as in the “newspeak” with which Orwell parodied Stalinist language, “abundance is scarcity”. It becomes clear in the original documentation of the exhibition when the curator herself presents as a “program” resulting from artistic research “to renounce whatever is necessary in order to promote more life, and to decrease our productivity and waste generation for the common good”.

At least she is coherent in her Malthusianism: reducing productivity – giving up technology – can only produce more scarcity. The road to abundance requires breaking capitalist social relations and replacing them with the rule of human needs. Abundance is the product of what happens thereafter: increased physical productivity of labor (producing more with fewer hours), socialization of the economic metabolism and “reunification” of the latter with a Nature of which it is a part despite the false dichotomy created by the logic of capital.

Beneath the phony abundant futures: old confessions…

Ai Wei Wei’s work for “Abundant Futures”. Ai Wei Wei is one of the great artistic frauds of the contemporary artistic world and could not be absent in this exhibition.

The inability to envision, even artistically, an abundant society, capable of satisfying universal human needs, is characteristic of all ruling social classes during the decadence of the modes of production they administer..

Historically it has been accompanied by discourses on Nature that rediscover it as terrible and vengeful, unmanageable and alien.

In fact, both of those two things reflect the fact that the ruling classes recognize themselves as incapable of transforming Nature in a non-destructive manner that satisfies collective needs. Discourses that exacerbate the Humanity-Nature separation, either to “protect” us from Nature, or, in its most pathological form, to “protect” it from Humanity, then become commonplace.

These ideological phenomena, common throughout the different modes of production under which social work has been organized, go hand in hand, for the same underlying causes, with the inability to create true Art from the classes in power. Art in these periods is a thing of the class that is gearing up to take the reins of society.

But capitalism does not produce a new ruling class as successor. The working class does not accumulate in the existing society the kind of power which allows the creation of a new class-specific Art. That is why today, with the old ruling classes exhausted, Art in its full sense is simply not possible.

This exhibition is grotesquely beautiful and revealing in its own way precisely because it translates into a scenic space the confession of a chronically and venomous patient: he can think neither of abundance nor of a future in which he is not harmful to Humanity, and for the same reason, he cannot express himself artistically, he cannot reveal anything liberating or ennobling for our species coming through him.

…and new traps

Regina de Miguel. “Symbiont Embrace.” This, like most of the works in the exhibition, responds to a commission from “Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art” on the theme “Abundant Futures”.

But make no mistake. There is novelty and innovation in the discourse of “Abundant Futures”. In fact it reflects the avant-garde positions… of the new Malthusianism increasingly encouraged and adopted by states as their own.

The war in Ukraine is giving rise, for example, to falsely “technical” recommendations from neo-Malthusian consulting firms, well supported by the media, which sell us the “sacrifices” associated with the closure of gas imports from Russia as “a radical change in our relationship with the Earth”. Significantly suggesting that “we must concentrate our footprint to make room for abundant nature”.

We find here openly the discourse stated in “Abundant Futures”: abundance is what remains on the side of “Nature” as the opposite and victim of the social. It is the discourse of a decadent ruling class: as the system is increasingly antagonistic to human development and therefore to Nature, but they are incapable of thinking of another system, the idea is to sacrifice human development to avoid further damage to the natural environment.

In other words, since the way in which social production is organized destroys everything in its path, instead of changing the organizing system, society is asked to restrain itself in order to maintain it. This is the discourse which also appears in campaigns such as “Half Earth” which dream of turning half the planet into a natural park as a “solution” to the capitalist destruction of the environment.

These are reactionary utopias. There is no “containment” possible. If the ruling classes are turning to the “Green Deal” it is precisely because they see in it the way to revive an accumulation that has been faltering for more than a decade.

Read also: Climate Change exists and is a product of reactionary capitalism, the Green Deal is capital's non-solution, communiqué of Emancipation.

But let us now return to our exposition. It is clear that much of its discourse points in this direction. But it also brings its own twist, celebrated as a feminist contribution. The works of Neto or Miguel are quite explicit: the feminine is Nature and the abundant in the human, they tell us. In other words, the cult of femininity and feminine sexuality would provide us with a “form of abundance” that would compensate us for the scarcity and poverty accepted to allow a radical and “conservationist” separation from Nature.

It is inevitable to point out the parallelism with the cults characteristic of the decadence of slavery (Isis, Apis) and the proliferation of miraculous Marian cults during the decadence of European feudalism. Again and again, we come back to square one. Our ruling classes can go no further. All their artistic intuitions, all their “abundant futures” become irremediably anti-social and anti-human utopias.

There are no islands of abundance or ways out within the capitalist labyrinth. The only possible way out is to tear down the walls that keep our species enclosed in it.

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