Experiential Dreamscapes

Posted Jan. 23, 2023 by Time's Up

There is no question more pressing than that as to the world in which we want to live. Together, with choice and agency, with solidarity and safety. Being able to think out loud about possible futures helps make this possible – we cannot try to live in a world that we cannot describe. What is this thinking out loud? It is about thinking on one’s feet, presenting possibilities, listening and being listened to, (mis-)understanding one another, saying “Yes, and” instead of “Yes, but” in order to add additional layers to the imagination.

Too many of us have never really thought about futures, other than as an extension of the now, or some science fiction world, whether a post-nuclear wasteland or techno-gloss utopia. “Thinking about futures seems so hard.” “And the world is deterministic anyway.” “And there are no ideas about how to think about futures except to just think.” Only it isn’t like this. Many years ago FoAM, at a project group meeting, guided us through a process of imagining several possible future scenarios. Not many of the details remain, but the idea that a process could be used to facilitate a group towards imaginations of possible futures; well, that was new, that was inspiring. This opened up a new realm of exploration. It let us know that future is a verb.

One of the more powerful ideas when futuring is not around predicting what will happen, but imagining what might happen. Developing a scenario, a collection of various changes and characteristics of a possible future, involving many shifts and their combinatorial implications, helps create detailed explorations of social, technological, ecological, economic, and political repercussions. Scenarios are often brought down to a collection of bullet points, perhaps a mood board of images, a narrative, some projected historical perspective looking at what happened between now and then. Descriptions. A diagram and a list of novelties. Not necessarily the best way towards understanding.

Understanding is crucial in order to make decisions about how we want to live.

Understanding is a form of learning. It is often said that experience is the best teacher. We adapt the well-worn adage to come up with “I hear futures and I forget. I see futures and I remember. I do futures and I understand” in order to gain insight into the power of Experiential Futures. With experiential futures, the possibility of comprehension becomes grounded in physical reality, where thoughts about futures can emerge more naturally, embedded in physical space using multiple perceptual paths and ways of knowing.

When we build a fragment of a possible future as a thing, a space, an immersive environment to be explored, to be experienced, we cannot make it complete. An experiential future is not intended to be complete, to be a hoax, but to create a subjective perspective, a somatic, experiential stream of information that offers insight.

Intentionally incomplete, experiential futures have a Mut zur Lücke, a courage of the gap. We leave aspects open and undecided, allowing visitors to an installation the chance to imagine and fill in with their own conceptions of the future. We do not want to force their hands and make too many assumptions. If the existence of the European Union is not important in a scenario, then neither should the existence of the Euro be, and thus all references to currencies are problematic. One solution is to leave them out completely, to leave a gap, to un-ask the question of currency.


An arts-based approach to futuring meshes well with Experiential Futures with arts thinking being comprehensive and experiential, contingent, open to interpretation, less purely analytical or reductive. Akin to working with smells to explain air quality, at Time’s up we work with experiential future physical narratives to convey the full-body idea of a possible future. We invite the visitor to walk a mile in a future’s shoes.

An experiential future physical narrative is a form of scenario embedded in space, explorable, haptic, open, holistic. Is it a vision? Vision is one of those big words that sound a lot like “Glorious Five Year Plan” or “Company Mission Statement” and remind us that a utopia—whether Thomas More’s, the island of New Atlantis, or so many others—is a form of (benign) authoritarianism. Better to think of dreams. Or even wishes. Being able to speak out loud about dreams and wishes should be possible. Sometimes we find the ways in which our dreams overlap with our neighbours’ wishes, and vice versa. Dreams are, when looked at awake and rationally, usually incoherent but filled with fragments of desire, comprehension, data points, and then a melange of interpretation trying to make sense of all these fragments. That’s one of the contemporary theories for how dreams work. And it makes sense. As it does when we share our desires and imaginations of how life could be. Many fragments, many data points, many experiences and memories and resonances. Shared, muddled together and then, through a process, turned into some kind of collective dream. Not quite coherent, but then again, neither is real life.

Perhaps this is something that could be called Social Dreaming. Perhaps this is what happens in futuring exercises as we chaperone groups of people through a process of turning some fragments of ideas about possible futures into larger fragments, slivers of perspective, corners of a community. It’s not quite the free jazz improvisation of “Yes, and” but we as the conductors/facilitators are not completely in control, even as we steer the participants through their own set of whitewater rapids.

We invite social dreamers to think out loud about possible futures. To build a fragment of that future, to find out and share what it feels like. The experience will help comprehension, then the combination of comprehension and understanding can guide further dreams about possible futures. And so it goes.


Photo by Susi Maschek

Photos in this post are impressions from Turnton2047, artwork by Time's Up.

This text is featured as part of FoAM's Anarchive