A History of the Future

“The worst thing about bad habits is that they are habits.”

Debret, an excellent exhibition and another lavish artist book launched last week in Lisbon through Assírio & Alvim, made me go back to an extraordinary and often forgotten figure, a Portuguese thinker and priest that published his “História do Futuro” as early as 1718.

Long before science fictionurban studies or Jacques Attali, António Vieira understood that the writing of the future was not and could not be anything else but a projective fiction or actual reflection on the knowledge of past and present.

This is also what Vasco Araújo’s exhibition is about, if only projecting the past onto the present. Going back to the past’s highbrow culture, might be none but finding ways in which to re-present delicate aspects of today’s culture.

The conflation of Jean-Baptiste Debret and Vieira’s quotes in Araújo’s sculptures serves not, in such case, to reconsider slavery or sexual politics per se, but rather to re-propose a critical vision of today’s social inequalities and power games.

The artist’s work becomes political as, particularly in many sections of Portuguese contemporary society, the seemingly far past is subtly revealed as indistinguishable from the present.

As Vieira put it many centuries ago, writing both about present and future, “to deprive a few of respect is to seek, as death, the universal destruction of all.”

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