Second Realm

Eric P. Rhodes, Artist

Has the Art of Tomorrow Lost Its Soul?


“[Zombie Futurism] doesn’t provoke dialogue or critical thinking; it is digestible, easily accessible, and often visually mesmerizing, but it doesn’t stick to the ribs of our cultural consciousness.”

Hi! My name is Eric and I’m a recovering Zombie Futurist.

In a world brimming with technological advancements, we stand on the precipice of the future — a future often painted with the brush of innovation, progress, and a technology-driven utopia. But beneath the veneer of this shiny tomorrow lies a phenomenon I term “Zombie Futurism” — a concept that describes technology-based art that is repetitive, formulaic, and a somewhat superficial approach.

What Is Zombie Futurism?

At its core, Zombie Futurism is an artistic approach that marries technology with creation, yet does so without a vision that transcends mere consumption. It’s a term I’ve coined to describe a phenomenon where the application of technology in art becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to a more profound end.

Zombie Futurism manifests when artists and creators employ the latest technologies—be it AI, VR, AR, or generative algorithms—primarily to captivate an audience’s fleeting attention. In these instances, art doesn’t aspire to challenge, inspire contemplation, or provoke critical thinking about the broader implications of technology on our lives and futures. Instead, it falls into a comfortable groove, churning out works that are consumed quickly and forgotten just as swiftly.

One of the hallmarks of Zombie Futurism is the prioritization of consumption—the rapid intake of art as one would a disposable good. This model is eerily reflective of our broader societal engagements with technology: quick to adopt, eager to be entertained, and slow to question. Art in this vein doesn’t provoke dialogue; it is digestible, easily accessible, and often visually mesmerizing, but it doesn’t stick to the ribs of our cultural consciousness.

The essence of Zombie Futurism lies in its disconnection from the human element. It is seen in art that uses advanced algorithms to create, not to express or question. It is seen in the replication of aesthetic patterns that please the eye but don’t engage the mind or stir the soul. It is technology for technology’s sake — impressive, perhaps, but ultimately hollow.

Echoing the sentiments of thinkers like Zoë Sofia (via Tina Rivers Ryan), we must seek art that bridges to deeper engagement with our world and ourselves, not just replicate existing frameworks. Sofia urges us to embrace art that challenges and reinvents these structures, fostering a critical engagement with technology and providing alternative visions for the future. This art should remind us of our poetic strivings, connect us with our collective memories, and challenge the market’s influence on creativity. In doing so, it can oppose the notion of “futurlessness” and instead offer us meaningful futures enriched by the human experience—a stark contrast to the consumption-driven trends of today.

Symptoms of Zombie Futurism

To recognize Zombie Futurism, we must look for its symptoms in our art, technology, and broader cultural landscapes:

  • Repetition without Innovation: The same ideas repackaged in new technologies without substantive change or critical engagement.
  • Surface over Substance: A focus on aesthetic or technical novelty without deeper thematic or conceptual layers.
  • Disengagement: A lack of invitation for the audience to interact, reflect, or be moved beyond passive consumption.
  • Commercialization: Art and technology that prioritize marketability and trends over lasting impact or ethical considerations.

These symptoms aren’t flaws but signals — they point to the pressing questions we must ask about the role and impact of technology in our lives and in our art. They remind us that without intentionality, creativity, and ethical reflection, we risk creating and engaging with art that is devoid of humanity.

Antidote to Zombie Futurism

How do we combat Zombie Futurism? The antidote isn’t found in the rejection of technology but in its intentional application and the fostering of conscious reflection. Artists, technologists, and thinkers must collaborate to imbue our outputs with meaning and direction, ensuring that each step taken is a deliberate one toward enriching the human experience.

Intentionality in Creation: We must employ technology in art to serve a higher purpose — to tell stories that matter, raise questions about our society, and propose ethical considerations for the future. Consider the works of Patrick Amadon, who ingeniously embedded jailed activists’ names within his digital displays in Hong Kong, showcasing how technology can powerfully highlight pivotal stories.

Interactive Engagement: Design art and technology that requires active participation, not passive consumption. Interactive collections like Gazers by Matt Kane challenge participants to not just view but to respond, to enter into a dialogue with the artwork, creating a connection that compels thought and emotion.

Inclusivity in Perspectives: It’s imperative to bring diverse voices into the creation process. Projects like VerticaCrypto Art’s Residency Program demonstrate how art can reflect the multifaceted nature of humanity, bringing together creators from different backgrounds to envision a future that’s as varied and vibrant as the world’s cultures.

Critical Discourse: We must create and nurture spaces for conversation about the implications, potentialities, and direction of our technological advancements. Forums, panels, conferences, and publications that delve into the intersections of technology, ethics, and art, such as Non Fugible Conference, are vital in this discourse.

A Call to Action

Zombie Futurism isn’t an inescapable fate. We have the power to shape a future that’s teeming with life, purpose, and humanity. It begins with each one of us — as creators, consumers, and citizens of an increasingly digital world. We must demand more from the technologies we celebrate and the art we consume. We must look beyond the screen, canvas, or code and find the human pulse within.

Let’s commit to engaging with art that transcends mere entertainment to challenge and question, supporting platforms and initiatives that prioritize depth and meaning over immediacy and spectacle. As we move towards tomorrow, let’s do so with our eyes wide open, our minds actively engaged, and our hearts fully invested in championing a movement away from Zombie Futurism.

We must encourage and be patrons of creators who dare to use technology not as a crutch but as a scalpel to dissect and examine our reality, wielding it with intentionality to create works that not only entertain but also engage and resonate, lingering in the mind long after the initial encounter. This balance between entertainment and engagement is the key to an art that truly reflects and enriches our human experience

As we navigate the intersection of art and technology, let’s not merely be passive observers but active contributors shaping a future where humanity is amplified, not overshadowed by the machine. Our collective efforts will bring forth a digital renaissance rich with human insight and creativity. Let’s commit to this journey with the question driving us forward: how will our contributions today influence the legacy of tomorrow? Together, let’s forge a legacy that celebrates the human spirit in every pixel and code line of our digital age.