Title/Credit: How To Thrive In 2050: 8 Tentacular Workouts For A Tantalising Future! (14 minute digital film, Kai Syng Tan 2021)

Minimum credit: How To Thrive in 2050! (Kai Syng Tan 2021)

For those who are wondering: Look here to get my exotic name right

One-liner: A manifesto that re-imagines a more creative and inclusive ‘Neurofuturism’, one generation on, by celebrating the neurodiversity of humans (including ‘atypical’ cognitive, processing and communicative modes) and how they thrive alongside non-humans as well as nature.

World Premiere: BBC Culture in Quarantine 02 September 2021 and available online for the next 11 months. Iterations will then be shown in a group exhibition 25 September 2021 -16 January 2022 at the Attenborough Arts Centre, in a group show The World Is A Work In Progress that also features one of the performers in the film, artist Bob and Roberta Smith.

Links: Director’s statement and context; BBC story; interview with Manchester Metropolitan University; Arts Council England story; coverage on Enable magazine and Disability Horizons.

Genre: Art film, video art, creative non-fiction, cine-essay, video essay, experimental film, collage film.

Related Masterclasses: Includes workshop + portfolio session, Castlefield Gallery 03 May 2022: HOW TO THRIVE IN 2050 by pushing forward with ‘Adult Themes’? We will watch my film How to Thrive in 2050, then break into groups and share thoughts and action for our immediate and longer term future. We will also run through tactics to push back the pushback.

Click above for trailer. Watch full film on BBC iPlayer or my Vimeo. Instead of the 8-limbed Vitruvian Man of Leonardo Da Vinci (who incidentally had dyslexia and ADHD), I’ve updated and decolonised its 1490 male, anthropocentric version/vision with a woman of colour with ADHD whose body-mind is a chimera with tentacles. 

Feedback:

‘Working with Kai and the rest of the team has been a very fulfilling journey for me. The project theme and topic was creatively challenging which made the process even the more exciting. I was able to learn a lot from everyone and I think it also sharpened my skills in many ways because of the experimental nature of the film. Some of my favourite chapters in the film would have to be the octopus chapter and the final chapter where all the creatures and animals come together. I enjoyed editing and animating on those chapters mainly because I also came across obstacles that required me to problem-solve and discover many ways to creatively approach the same idea. Kai also pushed me to push boundaries and not settle for the “obvious”, I felt very supported and also that my views were listened to too. The film as a whole was a pleasure to work on and I feel that I took away so much out of it, from being more educated and aware on the topics it addresses, to having gained new skills and learnt more about my own abilities!’

Zineb BERRAIS, 23-year old FILM MA student who worked on the team as animator

‘The curious octopus, the easily bored octopus, the always moving octopus, the very brilliant and ancient octopus, the eight tentacled octopus, the loving and kind octopus, the shape shifting octopus, the neurodiverse octopus —- and you. It all makes sense’.

award-winning filmmaker and visual anthropologist Professor Amanda ravetz

Your film is great.  It left me grinning from ear to ear and then hammered me into a new Steve.

Professor steve miles

Watched your film. You are a tour de force.

Prof GiNNY RUssell, interdisciplinary ExtrAoRdinaire

Email Kai for images in high resolution, square formats, captions et al.

Top banner image of whales from Exercise V.

Synopsis: How To Thrive In 2050: 8 Tentacular Workouts For A Tantalising Future! is a manifesto by an Octopussy for a more creative, decolonised, equitable and ‘neuro-fantastic’ future, which prioritises nature, non-human animals and humans with ‘atypical’ cognitive modes. Blending discourse with mythology, geomancy with geopolitics, autobiography with the celestial, this collage is a retort to our troubled moment of multiple crises. Spanning performance, animation, interviews (including with artist Bob and Roberta Smith), text and original music composition, the 14-minute video-essay is a whirlwind of eight exercises for the body and mind. Playful yet at times poignant, coy but also blunt, poetic yet pungent, it argues that, in such times of despair, art can remind us to imagine how things can be, and that each of us must play an active part. Drawing on the words of Audre Lorde, Brecht, Beckett and Abdelkader Benali and more, it calls on viewers to (re-)imagine, and act on, how things can become. Be prepared to be disorientated, surprised, and re-energised. Are you ready?

Twitter: #CultureInQuarantine @kaisyngtan @wesatonamat @erikaconchis @bobandroberta @zinebberrais @McrSchArt @ManMetUni @bbc arts @ace_national @thespacearts @weareunltd     

Instagram: @bobandrobertasmith @kaisyngtan @bbcarts @aceagrams @thespacearts @weareunltd @misk.el.lil (Zineb Berrais)  

Credits: A film by Kai Syng Tan (2021). Creative Team: Composer: Philip Tan; Animator: Zineb Berrais; Producer: Erika Conchis; Writer, Editor, Camera, Kai Syng Tan. Performers: Bethany-Anne Arnold; Orion Corrigan-Arnold; Bob and Roberta Smith; James Smith, Kai Syng Tan. Funders: The Space, Unlimited, Manchester Metropolitan University. Citations (written/spoken text): Samuel Beckett; Abdelkader Benali; Berthold Brecht; Peter Godfrey-Smith; Audre Lorde; James Steventon. Citations (audio-visual): Wellcome Collection; Orca Research Trust. Special thanks: Rudi May Hart; Tony Law; Dominic Smith, Ade Castronovo; Dr Atif Mohammed Ghani; Simeon Ogden; Leighton Moody; Prof Amanda Ravetz; Angela K Walker. Executive Producers: Jonty Claypole and Lamia Dabboussy (BBC); Natalie Woolman (The Space).

8 exercises: The film is structured as 8 chapters or ‘exercises’. Each is a call to action for a more creative and equitable future. It invites us to mobilise our bodies to ‘work out’, and our minds to ‘work it out’. The ‘Octopussy’ (played by Kai) is the ‘instructor’. En route, we run into a constellation of characters, who collectively help paint a ‘more than human’ body-mind-world poetics.

USPs:

  • Giving hope —and homework! — to viewers to consider own priorities and values;
  • Opening up spaces for discussions about neurodiversity and its diversities, beyond Zuckerberg, Richard Branson or other autistic white, privileged male dominating the screen and popular imagination (CF Rain Man, The A Word, Undateables); 
  • Raising quality of discussion around inclusivity and neurodiversity beyond objectification and sanitised versions purported by the global elite;
  • Breaking complex ideas down into irreverent, practical and accessible way;
  • Modelling an inclusive and creative way of creative research and filmmaking;
  • Being positively tentacular, intellectually-promiscuous, mind-full/mind-fool and busy-body.

Audiences/Market:

  • Risk-takers, makers, change-makers, dreamers and doers
  • Those frustrated or feeling hopeless
  • Neurotypicals + Neurodivergent people (‘out’, closeted, young, old, undiagnosed) + other hidden/marginalised groups
  • Those keen to learn + those not keen to learn and but are accidentally lured in

Why 2050?: The film draws on my various commissions since the pandemic. Early 2020 was when I began to use ‘2050‘ as a framework to think about how the way things are can, or indeed should be. Explorations have included:

Why Octopussies? Both pussycats (social-distancing, immortal etc) and octopuses have been in my work for many years, but are more important than ever. Cats hijack soul-destroying Teams calls, while octopuses are die-hard. Around for 296 million years, with 3 hearts and half a billion neurons or ‘excitable cells’ each, they are ‘curious, embracing novelty, protean in behaviour as well as in body’ (Godfrey-Smith2017). Each limb is its own mind, problem-solver and sensor.

Why Neurofuturism?: I have not invented the term, and in a forthcoming monograph, I will research further into it to learn about its historical and cultural contexts, and am keen to come up with a working definition that is updated, anti-colonial, intersectional and tentacular, by looking into how neurofuturism relates to and departs from other futurisms including Afro- (Sun Ra, Nwando Ebizie), Sino- (artist Lawrence Lek since 2016), trans- (Attenborough Arts Centre 2021), queer diasporic futures (Khanna 2022), asylee futurism (Majid 2022), and the macho, technology-worshipping Italian movement during World War One.

Notes on the 8 exercises:

  • Exercise 0: Warming up. Introducing Kai the ‘kaimera’ of an octopus, pussycat, ape and more, as ‘Octopussy’.
  • Exercise I: Bunny Jumping Over the Moon, Hissing in Bliss. What could 30 years into the future (2050) look like, given how things have been 30 years ago (1990) and the now? 8-bit video game animation; Chinese and other non- western myths about immortality; being born in the year of the bunny
  • Exercise II: Anthropoid Artfully Raising Fists and Hope. Art + artfulness +future = hope. From a 1.5 hour Zoom conversation (June 2020) with artist Bob and Roberta Smith.
  • Exercise III: Curating Change (Cat and Muse). What is the role of art in curating dialogues for change? Punning on ‘cat and mouse’, meaning ‘constant pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes’, the title refers to the challenges – and beauty – of art to interrogate the status quo. In the film, this tension is translated in multiple ways, exploiting the power of film to tease, seduce, affect, confuse, and catalyse (new) questions. In a reversal of dominant roles associated with gender and ethnicity, we see the artist preparing the muse as a sculpture. The film ends with the muse holding a placard that refers to returning to its country of origin. This is a commentary on the (non-)repatriation of cultural artefacts, but also a re-appropriation of racist tropes about asking migrants and people of colour to ‘go home’. The notion of healing is also central. The film reminds us that the word ‘curate’ originates from ‘to take care of’. The muse/sculpture is thus played by an NHS worker — a physiotherapist at that, who uses his hands for healing. Amid a time of multiple global crises, Curating Change is an urgent demonstration of film as a research medium, not just a tool to illustrate research. It shows how film can widen access and engage a diverse and neurodiverse (dyslexic etc) range of audiencesbeyond academia. It reminds us of the creative possibilities of artistic research during a time of funding cuts to the arts and arts education.
  • Exercise IV: Octopus Bending Rules and Twisting Fate. On why we should become more tentacular. Can we become more crafty like the octopus?
  • Exercise V: Killer Whale Biting Back and Kicking Butts. Can augmented reality elevate humanity? Re-rising from being beached on an electronic wasteland, the killer whales are biting back, wailing: ‘Can we stop using technology to destroy, but to become truly humane and benevolent instead?’ On tech for good amid Industry 4.0.
  • Exercise VI: Bright Stars Shining, Tantalising Times Coming. Conversation with Bethany-Anne Arnold, a Gen Z mixed-race teacher on being a young mother to Orion, intersectionality, art education and optimism.
  • Exercise VII: Falling Head Over Heels for Neuro-Futurism. On a ‘neuro-fantastic neuro-futuristic neuro-utopia’. Neurodivergent cockroaches survive the fall, rebel and build a new reality in an homage to ADHD-er Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines that fail/fall.
  • Exercise VIII: Octopussy Running Riot and Having a Whale of a Time (To Be Continued). Semi-synthesising some of the themes introduced. The work continues. Let us conjoin at the hips – hip hip hoo ray! Rays of sunshine.

Biographies

  • Dr Kai Syng Tan is an artist, curator, academic and consultant. She uses art and ‘artfulness’ to open up spaces to catalyse conversations for change. Turbocharged by her ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia (discovered after her PhD at Slade School of Fine Art), she trespasses boundaries of discipline, genre, roles and rules. Awards include National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement Award 2019 for Culture Change and San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award 1999. Her film work includes as a director (Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival New Asian Currents 2001), producer (Annecy International Animation Festival Official Selection 2016), and video artist (New York Film Anthology in MoMA 2005; Tokyo Fashion Week 2004). Her work has been described as ‘beautiful’ (Disability Arts Online 2018), with an ‘eclectic style and cheeky attitude’ (Sydney Morning Herald 2006) and ‘positive atmosphere’ (Guardian 2014). She has been named ‘a media artist to look out for’ (Art It 2005) and a ‘foremost video artist’ (Contemporary Art in Singapore 2007). Her films are in the public collections of Fukuoka Art Museum (Japan), Museum of London and Land Transport Authority (Singapore).
  • Philip Tan is a Creative Director, Composer and Educator, with a 28-year international portfolio. He has collaborated with Kai since 1999. Philip’s zest for multimedia story-telling have been showcased in more than 30 countries, creating works with new formats, technologies, ideas, learning and relearning. Philip’s unique creative approach involves inclusive collaborations with members of the community with all age groups and various learning needs to co-create sensational multi-disciplinary performances. Programmes he has led include the Opening of the Singapore National Stadium 2015, SEA Games handover 2013 (Myanmar), the £4m ASEAN Paragames 2015 Opening and Closing Ceremony, Opening of Gardens by the Bay 2013, World Orchid Conference 2011, One Voice 2018, ASEAN Best 2018 etc. In 2007, Philip was awarded the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award for his visionary approach. In 2017, Philip was awarded the Top 50 Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, for his outstanding contribution, innovation and effective instructional practices that added to the quality of education. He holds a Master of Arts from Kingston University, UK, 2001 and is currently working on a PhD. Philip sits on the Board of Directors of Global Cultural Alliance Limited and Cake Theatrical Production. He is an Industry Advisor Panel for Lasalle College of the Arts, Technical Expert (SGS – ISO certifications) and external examiner in various Tertiary Institutions.
  • Zineb Berrais is a multi-talented emerging film artist. The Algerian/British is studying documentary filmmaking MA and specialised in animation for her undergraduate studies. She leans towards a diverse range of art forms and loves to experiment. She is inspired by everyday life, East Asian and Middle Eastern cinema, photography, and art that tells stories of different social and personal topics. For Zineb, the human condition is the most complex piece of art one can experience. As a filmmaker and artist, her objective is to explore its varied spectrum and to continue learning.
  • Much of Bob and Roberta Smith aka Patrick Brill OBE RA‘s art takes the form of painted signs, the more iconic of which includes There is Still Art, There is Still Hope, Make All Schools Art Schools; Art Makes People Powerful, and Let’s Make Art Cosmic. In 2013, Bob and Roberta launched the Art Party with Crescent Arts, Scarborough. Furious about the state of education, he stood against the then Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove in the election in 2015. With the Covid-19 pandemic, Bob declared that artists are key workers (2020) and that teaching art is a human right, and art teachers are human rights workers (2021). Central to Bob and Roberta Smith’s thinking is the idea that campaigns are extended art works which include a variety of consciousness-raising artefacts. Bob studied for his MA at Goldsmiths. He was an Artist Trustee of Tate between 2009 and 2013, and he is currently a trustee for the National Campaign for the Arts, and a patron of the NSEAD.
  • Erika Conchis is a project manager and designer with a focus on the delivery of cross-disciplinary, cultural and academic research. She has delivered with Kai large-scale projects centred around equity, diversity and inclusion, including a 4-day Pan African Congress 75th Anniversary festival for Black History Month 2020 which reached 18.2 million worldwide. Erika has been awarded a full PhD studentship at the Manchester School of Art to research design and co-creative mapping practices for urban health and sustainability, through the Leverhulme Unit for the Design of Cities of the Future.

Transcript

Download PDF here.

Filmography

The film, or clips from the film, has/have been featured on the following:

  1. 2022: Invited Keynote Speaker for Deep Meaningful Conversations, as part of London College of Communication Summer Degree Exhibition, University Arts London, UK.   
  2. 2022:Invited Provocateur for event by FUEL4Design: Future Education and Literacy for Designers, a 3-year  project jointly delivered by the European consortium of leading HEI partners: Oslo School of Architecture and Design (NO), Politecnico di Milano (IT), Elisava (ES), and University of the Arts London (UK). To respond to ‘How to imagine an actionable otherwise of futures design literacies within and beyond the systemic conditions of our educational institutions?’
  3. 2022: International Short Film Festival Oberhausen Video Library
  4. 2022: Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Market 
  5. 2022: Invited Workshop, Castlefield Gallery. Dr Kai Syng Tan – How to Thrive in 2050? By Pushing Forward with ‘Adult Themes’.
  6. 2022: Invited Keynote Speaker, LUCA School of Arts, Gent, Belgium.
  7. 2021: Installation on a Neuro-Futuristic 2050, at Attenborough Arts Centre group exhibition The World is a Work in Progress with Bob and Roberta Smith and others. 
  8. 2021: Artist’s talk, on a Neuro-Futuristic 2050, at Attenborough Arts Centre group exhibition The World is a Work in Progress
  9. 2021: Invited Keynote Speaker for European Network for higher arts education (ELIA). Introduced/Premiered ‘Tentacular Pedagogy’, an EDI-centred framework on transferrable and applied creative intelligence for its 300,000 members of lecturers, educators, researchers, technicians, and students across 282 institutions in 48 countries Europe, N and S Americas, and Australia and Asia. See this interactive map for the locations of the members and member institutions.