The Future Is Now
By DC Rutherford
The past 18 months have given us a glimpse into a future that typically occupies the realm of science fiction. Confronted by a global pandemic with apocalyptic undertones, the past year and a half have been a living, breathing anti-utopia. So how does art, once the lone sanctuary for predictive representations, adapt to the arrival of the future?
Ranbir Sidhu leaves that up to the audience.
The Toronto-based artist and futurist doesn’t see artistic interpretations of the future as bleak or pessimistic, but rather in a unique and inspiring way, reflected in his work and his “incubator for high-concepts and a platform for the art of impossibilities,” FUTUREZONA. “We don’t colour the art we create with characteristics like optimism or pessimism. That would be leading the observer’s thought,” argues Sidhu. “The approach isn’t happy or sad, but a dedication to going beyond expectations and possibilities to create outstanding items. We have many phenomenal things to share going forward, so I can only look forward with anticipation.”
Furthermore, the chaos of 2020 and 2021 has not altered Sidhu’s artistic imaginations of the future. His work has been described as “futuristic art” and having the unique ability to highlight “the intersectionality of art and technology.” “I don’t think my work has been changed by the introduction of the pandemic,” he says, and reiterates that the popular dystopic representations in art don’t necessarily manifest in his work. “[It] certainly wasn’t dystopian in nature before, so going forward it won’t be either. My art celebrates something that is exciting and arriving, not anything melancholic or to be feared.”
That philosophy is embedded in the foundation of FUTUREZONA, and while dystopia “may be a frequent trope for other artists to follow as bad news is so easy to exaggerate,” the incubator is “about elevation, not depression. When we look at what hope technology can bring, we show you the possibilities that arise when we marry art to it. Disasters, calamities, and challenges will come but they don’t have to dictate or colour your vision in a way that maintains the negative sentiment.”
Sidhu’s renditions of tomorrow have garnered global attention, and he has been commissioned to do work for collectors and celebrities alike, including Drake and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. But the Toronto artist does not see the conflation of art and commerce as inherently problematic, as can be seen in his bespoke designs.
In fact, he sees the reconciliation of art and commerce—when they’ve, for better or worse, become inextricably linked—as essential. “This is definitely an era where art and commerce are bedfellows. The reconciliation of the two are important, especially with bespoke design, to consider, calculate and understand worth.”
Sidhu cites American pop culture artist Jeffrey Koons as an example of an artist who balances the somewhat traditionally opposing forces. “He has figured out a way to monetize the art he so dearly loves to create,” he says of Koons, renowned for both his own futurism and record-setting auction prices, like the $91.1 million US one of his three stainless steel rabbit sculptures in 2019. “[Koons] demonstrates that, if you can know your worth, you can foster your art. The way to do that is to build good business practices so you can dedicate time to creating great art.”
But can that ideology alter the creative process, especially when you’ve been commissioned by international superstars? “The process is similar in that when I am working on my commercial interests and my commissioned work, I pour a dedication to excellence into them both,” says Sidhu. “Examples such as an executive table I created for Jay-Z that had details of the place that he grew up (Marcy Projects). We used a scaled version of the buildings as separators in the design for a specific and original element he could appreciate. That personalization isn’t procedural but is standard in commissions.”
Creations like the desk for Drake and the coffee table for Jay-Z (though reducing the pieces to “desk” and “table” do an injustice to their accomplishment, as they are equal parts art and utility, tactile and interactive) reflect both those artists and Sidhu’s commitment to ambition in design and artistry. “The materials that are used, especially with commissioned pieces, are often reflective of the people, occasion, or taste of the client. For the most part, that dictates that we use unusual and unique items such as 24-karat gold, diamond dust and even utilizing pieces of asteroids from billions of years ago. Understanding how people relate to art and enjoy function creates interactivity and enjoyment with many of the pieces.”
Headlines of the past year be damned—the future looks bright through the eyes and work of Ranbir Sidhu. “I’m excited by what we will see in the future, I think we all should be, artists or otherwise.”