Wayfaring with Future Machine 2021-2022

Wayfaring with Future Machine 2021-2022

Future Machine is a witness to when the future comes, however and whatever the future brings.

Autumn 2021

2021 in Finsbury Park, as all the world over, was a difficult year. As the pandemic continues, the park has struggled with local government cuts, the impact on a reduced team of rangers is immense.

Between all this activity and park life, I have spent the year preparing for the Future Machine to appear. Spending a lot of time in the park, getting to know the wonderful park ranger Ricard and building up a new collaboration with local artist Esi Eshun and growing my ongoing collaboration with musicians Alex Dayo and Dave Kemp, who created the sounds of the Future Machine.

Future Machine is a mysterious artwork that travels across England to the same five different places as the seasons change every year, planned to take the same journey every year for 30 years (until 2050). Future Machine appears in each place as a witness to the changes that happen when the future comes, collecting and playing back messages for the future, from place to place. It also captures the weather using live weather sensors attached to the back of the artwork, prints out an invitation to think about the future and sings the sounds of the weather.

In 2021 Future Machine started its first journey across England. Appearing in Christ Church Gardens in Nottingham, when the trees blossomed, to the River Leven in Cumbria as Summer turned to Autumn and then in Finsbury Park November as the autumn leaves fell in November. This journey expanded in 2022 to also include appearances in Cannington, Somerset and Rotherfield Peppard, Oxfordshire.

As these journeys have taken place, Future Machine has evolved, physically as parts of it were rebuilt, improved and refined but also as its character and presence has grown. Future Machine is somehow becoming a being of its own, beyond an artwork, as people project their ideas on to it, as myths grow about what it is, where it has come from and where it is going. It gathers peoples’ visions, concerns and dreams of the future. The sounds have also evolved and become more complex, layered in such a way that they are different each time, responding to the live data reflecting the weather and place. Somehow Future Machine is creating experiences as it goes, as each appearance, in each place, informs the next.

The human artist/musicians – Rachel Jacobs, Esi Eshun, Alex Dayo and Dave Kemp planned the procession through Finsbury Park. Esi devised a route that linked seven trees around the park – a willow tree by the lake, a row of silver birches, a Euclyptus tree, an elder tree, a great hornbeam, a mulberry tree, with the procession finally returning to the London Plain Tree by Furtherfield Gallery. Future Machine led the procession pulled by its companion Rachel Jacobs and others who helped out uphill and over difficult terrain. The seven trees related to the story of the seven sisters. that the road along the park is named after. Seven elm trees planted in a circle around a walnut tree. As the procession stopped at each tree, Esi talked about the tree, its history, uses and her own reflections. Local poet and founder of Finsbury Park’s incredible cycling club for people with learning disabilities Jo Roach, took turns to read a poem related to the trees, and Ricard – the ranger – talked about the work he was doing in the park, giving his perspective on the trees. We also stopped at Weeds and Seeds to meet May deGrace where she talked about the gardening and drumming project in her corner of the park.

Many people joined the procession, some coming and going throughout the day, some following all day, some joining in to help push the machine up hill. Everyone was invited to speak to the future and we stopped along the way for children and adults to turn the handle to power the machine, receive their invitation to speak to the future, and speak into the small copper trumpet on the side of the machine to leave their messages. As Future Machine led the procession, it sung the songs of the weather, changing throughout the day from dry, windy and mild to cold.

The procession ended with everyone gathering around the London Plane tree for a live performance with the musicians Alexandre Yemaoua Dayo, David Kemp, Miles NCube, Terese, with Rachel and Future Machine – and the paraqueets joining in from above, in the canopy of the plane tree.

Winter 2021

The first annual journey of Future Machine came to a close.

When the trees blossomed in Nottingham in the Spring, it only felt safe for 8 people to meet socially distanced. We lit up the tree with bird light boxes at dusk, made by children from Mellers Primary School, people met Future Machine and left messages for the future.

When the bells rang on a sunny day in Cannington as we emerged from lockdown, Future Machine was presented through pictures and stories but was not able to travel to meet the bell ringers and school children from Cannington Primary School. The children sent messages for the future in the post, that were spoken to Future Machine at a later time.

When we met by the River Leven in Cumbria to celebrate the Windermere-Leven watershed, it only felt safe for 8 people to meet, however we were able to eat together to celebrate the harvest, walk with Future Machine to the river despite the rain, and speak to the future.

When the Autumn leaves fell in Finsbury Park, we felt safe enough to have a procession in the park, with over 100 people meeting and following Future Machine. We visited seven trees that represented the seven sisters, with talks and poems, followed by a performance with Future Machine and the musician rain makers that sung the weather.

Notes I took from When Winter turned to Spring in Rotherfield Peppard in Oxfordshire:

“I have been preparing Future Machine to take its first journey to Peppard, Oxfordshire, in time for Celandine Day.

Covid-19 remains an issue. Juliet is still shielding and the virus remains a huge risk to many. Meeting up after over 2 years is such an exciting prospect, but we are taking as many precautions as we can, preparing Future Machine for the journey in the safest way possible.

The plan was to pick up Future Machine from the place where it stays when it is not wayfaring (at Primary Studios in Nottingham), staying in a hotel to minimise contacts, travelling down for Future Machine to appear on Wyfold Lane to celebrate the Lesser Celadine’s flowering, marking the end of winter and the joy of spring to come. But the storms came. Storm Dudley hit the North, bringing the high winds. Storm Eunice threatens predicted to be the worst storm to hit the UK in 30 years (and seeing the damage of the storms we have seen since 2002, particularly in the North of England, that is pretty frightening).

After the storm comes the sun and it arrived at the Lesser Celandine’s flowers, Wyfold Lane in Peppard just in time, in fact 3 days early. What awe and joy to see the photo Juliet took of the little yellow sunshine faces of the Lesser Celandine poking up on the verge.

In the spirit of When the Future Comes we have listened to the sound of the wind and the predictions of the storm and decided Future Machine will wait to journey to Peppard until a safer day. The preparations will continue, so that now Futie will aim to arrive in time to appear in Peppard at the Spring Equinox on 20th March.

Celandine Day will be celebrated by Juliet and Rachel meeting, to witness the flowering of the Lesser Celandines and to post the Celandine Day cards through the letterboxes of the houses around Peppard, letting people know the Lesser Celandines have flowered, the harbingers of Spring and that the Future Machine will be appearing.

Meanwhile on Wyfold Lane, the sun goes in again after the first patch of Lesser Celandine have flowered. Other buds have emerged, ready to uncurl in the sunshine and warmth of the gathering days and nights, as spring comes.

Celandine Day. Monday 21st February. The Celandine’s have flowered on Wyfold Lane on time, and Juliet and I have managed to be together in the Parish of Peppard, on this weekend of the worst storm in 30 years – one of three storms to pass over one weekend. Some of the celandines are battered and some hidden under piles of branches from the large fallen tree on the lane. It took some wading through large puddles from last night’s storm of wind and rain. The wind is still strong at 40-44 mph but nowhere near as strong as the 80-88mph on Friday (a recorded 110 recorded on the Isle of Wight). The rain has stopped and as the sun is shining through, clearing the clouds, more celandines are opening their happy yellow petal faces towards the sun as I return from a slightly nervous walk to the edge of the woods, listening to the creaking sway of the still standing trees.

The first step towards When the Future Comes in Peppard, Oxfordshire has been preparing for Celandine Day, Monday 21st February 2022.

We had planned a meeting, between Future Machine, Juliet Robson and Rachel Jacobs, finally, after over 2 years of shielding, lockdowns and remote collaboration.

We made 100 Celandine Day cards that we posted through the letterboxes of as many houses as we could reach before sundown within the parish boundaries of Peppard. We began our posting once the wind calmed (around 4pm) and the sun started to dry out the partly flooded lanes. As we handed out cards we talked to dog walkers and people out for a walk after the storm and compared notes on the trees and phone lines down. We were grateful to friends of Juliet’s we met along the way who helped us post more the cards.

The energy of Spring is carrying us along, showing us the way towards the joys to come”.

Spring Equinox

The weekend before the Spring Equinox, I went to Nottingham to pick up Futie. I hired a van from London and drove to my studio taking care to socially distance along the way. My friend and one of the Guardians of the Future Machine – Vanessa Bailey – met me at the studio to help get Futie in the van, easier than a car but still too high to fit in a standard van so the octagon needed to be separated for the journey. I stayed the night in a hotel near Nottingham Castle and drove the van back down South to Oxfordshire the next day. Arriving in time for Juliet’s husband Glenn – another treasured Guardian – to help get Futie out the van and into Juliet’s studio. Juliet finally met Future Machine and Future Machine met Juliet!

The sun shone. We finished the celandine garland made from metal and thread and placed it around the octagon and moved Future Machine out of the studio into the garden, under the magnificent magnolia, buds slowly losing their fleecy protection, ready to flower. We turned our faces to the sun.

During the week before the Spring Equinox, 20th March I began to feel unwell.  My Covid-19 testing regime had continued, to ensure I was clear before I revisited Peppard.  By Thursday I was psyching myself up to drive back to Peppard, with a negative PCR test I was trying to ignore the sore throat and sneezing. As it worsened, I took a final lateral flow test and it was positive. Thankfully having taken this care I stayed put and went to bed with my laptop and phone as we changed plans yet again. Amazingly Juliet, Glenn and some of the other people who had helped us in the village agreed that they would go ahead. The Guardians rose to the challenge and on Sunday 20th March they went wayfaring with Future Machine along Wyfold Lane to the common opposite the Unicorn pub. Helen – who has been renting a room to me in Peppard and now also signed up to be a Guardian – was kindly sending me photos along the way!

Juliet was met by friends from the village. She introduced Future Machine and the wayfaring stick to them – the wayfaring stick is a holder of stories and sounds of the Spring, the village and beyond with small speaker devices attached to it.

As they made it to the common Helen sent me a photo of Future Machine stuck in the gate, too wide to get through to the daffodil and blossom strewn field with the bench – the planned stopping and gathering point! The villagers decided the only way forward was to remove the larger gate, probably once used for access to animals for grazing on the common. They searched for the padlock that had been buried for decades in the earth underneath and dug it out, removed the gate and pushed Future Machine through. Others from the village then joined the group to speak to the future, hear the sounds of the beautiful warm spring weather as they were played by Future Machine, and listen to the wayfaring stick.

After a somewhat difficult journey around the lanes, past the woods, involving a dog, a fall, too many road humps and much conversation, they returned to Wyfold Lane and Juliet’s studio for chocolate damsons (made by Juliet in the winter) and elderflower gin. I zoomed a hello and talked a bit about ‘When the Future Comes’, Future Machine’s journey to the other places, and how it all came about.

Messages were left for the future including a haunting Irish melody on a harmonica from a visitor to Peppard from Ireland!

When the trees blossomed in Nottingham 2022

As winter turned to Spring the full year’s journey was over.

The cycle began again quickly with the cherry trees in Christ Church Gardens blossoming the week after the Spring Equinox, six days earlier than last year, during a global heatwave, whilst I was still in bed with Covid. Frank sent me a video of the blossoms on the tree as he did his regular walk to the gardens.

This heatwave was an echo of the most shocking polar temperature rises, at both the north and south poles – up by 60 degrees centigrade in some parts, pushing the Antarctic to freezing point for the first time in recorded history. As I wrote the ‘news from the planet’ for Future Machine to print out, with my collaborator Senior Climate Scientist Prof John King from the British Antarctic Survey,  we discussed the impact and causes of this rise, continuing our discussions over the last few years on the changing climate, the impact on the polar regions and how these stories can be told and shared in ways that have meaning to the people in the places in England where Future Machine visits.

This year in Nottingham we had planned to do things differently, with Covid concerns rising again to the highest infection rate yet, myself, Frank and Roger (Frank’s collaborator and another Guardian) were all still recovering from Covid and struggling with the resulting post viral fatigue. Yet all government restrictions were now removed. We decided to keep the meeting under the blossom trees as simple as possible whilst inviting residents, friends and people from Primary. We were finally able to meet with the school children from Mellers Primary after two years of working with their wonderful teacher Lila Bird, throughout the Covid lockdowns. This year we decided to set a date in advance – after Easter – hoping there would be some blossoms left despite the early blossoming.

Then came the snow – always a possibility in April. A few years back, before Future Machine had been created, when we first started meeting under the blossom trees the Beast from the East similarly slowed the blossoms down, then last year a later heatwave was also followed by a flurry of snow and a cold spell.  This year the near horizontal snow was dramatic, Frank filmed the blossoms as they survived the onslaught, but our original tree suffered, with the blossoms drooping and not fully coming out, a visiting tree consultant suggested the tree needed a prune in the Autumn.

By the time we met under the blossom trees, they were all in varying degrees of blossoming. The new baby blossom tree, planted by Caroline Locke as part of her frequency of trees project was just fully in bloom, a young bright pink/purple in contrast to the much older trees we had been following for the past five years.

The day of the meeting was a long one.  It began with a mysterious discovery of a painting of a blossom flower left under one of the blossom trees.

We met 62 children and 4 adults from Mellers Primary School and introduced them to Future Machine. We showed them the weather word light boxes they had created, lit up and made into an artwork, placed under the trees alongside the bird light boxes last year’s classes had made that were being hung in the high up branches of the trees amongst the blossoms. We explained how Future Machine turns the weather into song and Alex and Dave who were visiting from London played the weather music, with the children joining in with their own sounds. As the wind picked up and blew the blossom from the trees, swirling the white petals about like snow, we waved with the wind and Alex danced with his Djembe drum amongst the swirling petals.

Then the children split into groups of 5 and planned their messages for the future. Taking it in turns to meet Future Machine, they turned the handle, pressed the button and spoke to the future.

We stayed in the gardens throughout the day. Frank and Roger continued the mammoth task of hanging the light boxes in the branches of the trees. People came and went, some met Future Machine and left messages for the future, others continued their day. Later, people came and gathered under the blossoms, met Future Machine, left messages and listened to Alex and Dave playing, as we waited for the light to fade. They played a traditional song from Burkina Faso, to celebrate special moments of people coming together, and then with Future Machine we played the weather as the bright sunlight refused to fade. We practised people turning the small hand generators to light up the trees, until eventually nearly an hour later than we had expected, the light faded fast. Future Machine, Alex and Dave, Frank and Roger and the people gathered under the blossoms each captured and witnessed the moments in 2022 between light and dark, past, present and future in their own ways.

More on Future Machine here.

Written by Rachel Jacobs






Tags: , ,