TIME FIGHTERS: BLACK QUANTUM FUTURISM AT THE CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE BIENNIAL
Cities everywhere are being reshaped by visions of the future, often those of governments and developers who frequently show no interest in, and even disdain for, the communities who live on those streets. These urban futures — and the very notion of linear time via which they operate — are what Rasheedah Phillips and Camae Ayewa resist and reimagine through their work as Black Quantum Futurism (BQF).
Central to BQF’s practice is the conviction that the concept of linear time, which dominates life in Western societies, is not the only metaphysical possibility. Many African cultures — for example Swahili societies in East Africa — understand time more cyclically or dynamically, with the past and future simultaneously being partially constructed and reconstructed in relationship to the present. BQF posits that a new framework for thinking about time — one based in Africa-centered time concepts, Afrofuturism, and quantum mechanics — opens up possibilities of empowerment and healing for black Americans, whose enslaved ancestors were thrust from one concept of time into another, and who still today face systemic violence under the current social, political, and economic order. According to BQF, linear time is an oppressive structure that weighs heavily on black communities in particular.
In response, BQF wants to inspire the creation of new realities. At this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial, the duo installed an interactive Community Futures Lab, a place to discover alternative time concepts, engage with different ways of recording history, and consider questions like “What do you see as the future of Chicago?” As Phillips explains, “The lab is a place where you can experiment. We want to create the time and opportunity for people to engage with an Afrofuturist framework of thinking about the future, about housing, and about what that looks like for low-income folks.” The current lab, which runs until January 2020, is a reactivation of a project BQF first launched in North Philadelphia, where they are based. In 2016–17, their Community Futures Lab took over a storefront in the once-thriving African-American neighborhood of Sharswood, which is being demolished and redeveloped through eminent domain. This process is “burying or erasing the preexisting temporalities that that community created together,” Phillips explains. “Government authorities and developers are saying, ‘Well, this is my vision of the future,’ but not really doing the real work of going deep into the community and grappling with the conflicting temporalities that are present there — nor with the stakes that they have had in the community becoming impoverished enough to the point where it was prime for this kind of takeover and for redevelopment to happen in the first place.”
It might seem theoretical, but how we conceive of time has real-world effects. In addition to being an artist, Phillips is a practicing attorney specializing in housing law and community lawyering, and sees firsthand how the court system’s concept of time disproportionately and negatively impacts her community. People fighting to keep their homes will have hearings conflicting with their work schedules and the result is either missed court dates or missed earnings. Under capitalism, Phillips stresses, “Time is money.”
While time can be a tool of regulation and exploitation, BQF also see it as a source of liberation and connection. This is the “quantum futuring” they invite others to take part in: a celebration of the many ways time is felt and kept and a praxis of building new futures through resisting, reframing, and channeling time itself.
Text by Drew Zeiba.
Artwork courtesy of Black Quantum Futurism.
Taken from PIN–UP 27, Fall Winter 2019/20.