Selected by Unseen Platform
Shortlisted for the 2019 Unseen Dummy Award, Ross Sawyer’s project The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be depicts self-made constructions seen through the eyes of the camera. Although deliberately refusing to replicate reality, his creations bear unusual similarities to the actual world.
Tell us a bit about your latest project, The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be.
People who used to think that they could count on their home and family as the epicentre of power have felt the risks that are in the air – risks levied by the inflation and crash of the housing market, climate change, overpopulation, the rise of digital technologies, and the fall of an entire economy predicated on their predecessors. Many of these individuals have become preoccupied with fortifying themselves and the people they hold dear against the new world. At the same time, these individuals often can’t help but turn towards the more scintillating changes that are emerging: apps that proffer a home in any corner of the world; health care with the power to yield longer lives, extending families’ time together; technologies that disrupt nuclear families but connect communities of the like-minded. The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be, for me, is a reflection on the possibilities – or lack thereof – for the status quo to sustain us in the future.
The photographs in this series can be a little unsettling, evoking a sense of imminent collapse. Can you tell us a bit about the processes that go into creating these images?
The constructions I photograph are made from scratch out of a combination of bought and found materials. I look for building supplies that have been discarded and have deteriorated over time and combine this detritus with purchased building materials where necessary. The process starts with a fairly concrete idea of how I want the construction to look, but after the initial photograph it takes on a life of its own. The photographs in The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be come from only two discrete constructions. I’m constantly adding and subtracting from a construction until I feel it’s ready to be photographed, then the additions and subtractions begin again. More than once, a construction has collapsed under its own weight. When that happens, I photograph it and start building again.
Why do you choose to present the photographs, rather than the constructions, as the final artworks?
The camera is a transformative tool. Regardless of the subject, the camera renders it static and presents it from a single point of view, allowing the viewer to visually access only what the maker wants them to access.
Ideas around housing and concepts of home, shelter, privacy and community seem to recur in your work. How do you see these issues coming to life within your current series?
This is a project about home, and the way the places we call home become stages for us to act out and be witnessed in our most intimate experiences of selfhood. These experiences are sometimes the big exaltations and micro-triumphs that occur over the course of a lifetime; the home is a space for beginnings. But more often they are linked to perceived and actual frustrations, insecurities, losses, and failures – our everyday apocalypses. Thus, home is also always about time: beginnings and endings. In fact, the title of the project, “the future isn’t what it used to be,” is meant to play with one’s understanding of how our experiences of the spaces, both real and imaginary, we grow up with affect our perceptions of the future and memories of the past. The types of homes and dramas in question play out in personal domestic spaces, but they can also evoke urban, geopolitical, or even planetary landscapes (not that any of these are ever completely discrete). This project invites reflection upon the different scales and timelines of home, as well as the varied emotional registers and resonances – longing, nostalgia, repulsion, fear, or even indifference – that I hope to evoke through my photographs.
How do you see this series building on, or differing from, earlier projects?
My work has been centred around themes of home for nearly 20 years. I don’t see any particular project as a deviation from previous work, but more like a new chapter in a novel that may never be finished. For a long time, my work was based on direct observation of the world around me. Lately, however, I’ve been much more interested in considering what the world might become or what it might have been instead of what it is.
Text by Ish Doney