Liam Young’s Future City Fiction

by | 09. Nov 2016

Article | Student Writer
Hello City! performed by Liam Young at Chicago Architecture Biennial.jpg

Hello City! performed by Liam Young at Chicago Architecture Biennial

By Kristina Barniškytė

Fiction and reality seamlessly overlap in the work of speculative architect and technology storyteller Liam Young, as he uses hints of the future, hidden all over the present world, to imagine the possible futures of the urban environment. Megacities and vast landscapes that he designs are not meant to be built: they are projected on screens, become sites for various narratives to unfold and act as transmitters of his visionary ideas to a diverse audience.

The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
/William Gibson

Young produces films, performances and objects with his think tank Tomorrows Thoughts Today. In this way, Liam Young shares his versatile knowledge of the contemporary city: he examines it, giving special importance to systems and technologies, as the city blocks and physical infrastructure determine the current urban development less than Wi-Fi reception and virtual communities.

Together with Kate Davis, Young also runs a nomadic workshop, Unknown Fields Division, exploring existing urban anomalies and wilderness in the present world, thus providing material for speculations on the urban realities of the future. Travelling with Unknown Fields Division provides him eye-opening knowledge of the backdrop of the contemporary city – its supply chains, such as huge data storage centers or vast nickel and cobalt mines that provide batteries for our digital gear.

Here we are both visionaries and reporters, part documentarians and part science fiction soothsayers as the otherworldly sites we encounter afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.”
New City exhibited in Future Fictions.jpg

New City exhibited at Future Fictions Exhibition, Z33 Gallery, Belgium

One of Young’s recent works, video installation New City is a vision of a future urban environment, the in-between of fiction and documentary, stitched together from pieces of the observed and analyzed post-human landscapes from Unknown Fields Division expeditions. It embodies Young’s method of “exaggerating the present” and rather than attempting to create a dystopian image of the future city, aims to uncover the signs of possible futures that are already tangible today.

New City is a series of animations, displaying murky future city skylines, inhabited by tall skyscrapers and blinking advertisements. Abundant in detail, the films encourage the viewers to decipher the cultural, political and economic trends, inscribed in the images and allow space to reflect.

New City: The City in the Sea

In the eyes of the public, Liam Young fits the description of a performer rather than that of an architect – narrating in a story-teller’s manner in front of a 3 screen projection of his film or flying choreographed drones above the city, he invites the audience to a captivating encounter with his research. The immersive medium of film enables Young to create striking worlds in motion, filled with discomforting noise of the future.

Liam Young’s recent piece Hello City! is a live cinema performance of Where the City Can’t See – the world’s first entirely data based fiction movie (directed by Liam Young and written by  fiction author Tim Maughan), set in near-future Detroit. Protagonists of the film move in a driverless taxi through the blueprint-like point cloud, through the data of the city, captured by laser (LIDAR) scanners. The smart city is at the same time a site through which the driverless vessel is taking the spectator and an independent organism, able to control its physical body without any human intervention and gradually becoming the main character in the film.

Where the City Can’t See

While Google Maps and CCTV surveillance form the contemporary urban experience without us really knowing it, witnessing the journey to the uncontrolled outskirts of the fully surveyed and entirely automated smart city becomes a staggering experience.

We have always found the eccentric and imaginary in the spaces the city can’t see.”

Liam Young uses speculative fiction as a tool to distill reality into possible future scenarios, where technologies and networks gain more importance than the physical elements of the city. Extraordinary narratives delivered in an engaging form of film or performance allow the audience to witness the future that is already here.

Still from the film 'Where The City Can't See' by Liam Young and Tim Maughan.jpg

Still from the film Where the City Can’t See by Liam Young and Tim Maughan

‘City Everywhere’ – Multiscreen Storytelling Performance