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  • Jan 02, 2012
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The Wilson Effect

Exhibition essay by David LaRiviere

Arriving at Dustin Wilson’s artist talk at AKA Gallery I was running a little behind schedule. Delicate matters of personal hygiene demanded some attention thus delaying my departure, and so I walked tardily right into the middle of his enchanting lecture. Three seconds in and I was utterly absorbed by an elaborate yet stoic case study, as the artist proceeded to layer text onto the open terrain of the future. At the end of Wilson’s talk there was an opportunity to ask a question or lend a comment and, for some reason, I decided to challenge him on his use of the term “research.” Given that his study is that of the future I smugly pointed out that the term “research,” which obviously contains the “re-” prefix, pertains only to that which is already in existence, like a representation, as opposed to a presentation or anticipation. Nonetheless, Wilson insisted on the term “research” as the best descriptor of his methodology, in part because he was already fully immersed in a paradox of time. In keeping with his “research of the future,” Wilson contextualizes his ongoing umbrella project within a paradoxical framework entitled “The Institute for Future Life Regression.” Brandishing this moniker Wilson goes even further, mangling time in such a way that a “regression” may be examined as a future-past, such that events can be recalled from the future. Herein is a story without end, and as we shall see Wilson’s system is decidedly an open system. With every image that he dutifully records onto graph paper still more folds are produced, following an endless stream of unpredictable developments. Ultimately it is “research” that Wilson carries out, for in his peculiar future construction we are invited to partake of an ongoing data-stream, detailing all manner of flora and fauna. My intention in engaging Mr. Wilson’s project is to fully participate in it, contributing an analysis that seeks not just to identify ideas but also to join in on their development. In this participatory spirit I hope to interrogate four major themes that traverse Wilson’s project: the paradox of time that he has provided, the relationship with Science that he strikes, the archeological layers of his diagrammatic proceedings, and the sociopolitical resonance of his future work as it reflects upon the present.

Installation view, Futurologist, Dustin Wilson, 2012



Entering first into Wilson’s paradox of time we have automatically broken with the “arrow” of time, and as such “anticipation” has been overthrown by a great memory divide, a canyon of mystery between the past-present (or presence) of memory and the future “image” of anticipation out of joint. In skipping forward, we jerk into a new condition given that ALL IS NEW. Futurology transpires enough into the future that everything familiar has been coated with the unfamiliar, evidenced by the absent memory passage between the events of present and future. The illusion of continuity that is perpetuated by a supposed “arrow of time” is now fraught with linkages that fully disclose the differences carried in the movement of repetition. Wilson’s skip in time persists as a repetition insofar as Wilson is there, in the future,  just as Wilson is here in the present. Throughout the repetition of this futurological investigation the eternal return produces a (cataclysmic) repetition of everything that is different, including Wilson. As such Wilson has become a man of action, producing the future for the presentation.


Repetition is a condition of action before it is a concept of reflection. We produce something new only on condition that we repeat – once in the mode which constitutes the past, and once more in the present of metamorphosis. Moreover, what is produced, the absolutely new itself, is in turn nothing but a repetition:  the third repetition, this time by excess, the repetition of the future as eternal return.[1]


Consequently, there are riddles embedded into the diagrammatic renderings of Dustin Wilson’s Futurology, quandaries and problematics are disclosed with an attention to detail, described through a systematic, scientific methodology that compels the curious among us to delve deeper. Eventually, following the contours of Wilson’s data sheets, we penetrate a complex, manifold reading of the future, one containing layers of social conditions and political economies, replete with many strange occupants and multi-faceted technological features.

Installation view, Futurologist, Dustin Wilson, 2012

In order to begin to unpack this complex work one is well advised to closely examine the analysis provided from within the work itself, in the form of an instructional video entitled Secrets from the Future. While the narrator of this short “documentary” is somewhat skeptical of Wilson’s method, thus portraying a detractor of sorts, the overall tone of the video remains enamoured with its fantastic subject. Certain stylistic or aesthetic choices contained in Wilson’s Secrets from the Future video mirror, as would an affectionate homage, an obscure science documentary program entitled The Hutchison Effect[2]. Mr. Wilson is transparent about the fact that this likewise science-smitten informational short was an influence and an inspiration, as evidenced by its honoured position next to the Secrets video on his own Future Life Regression website[3]. In fact the relationships between Secrets from the Future and The Hutchison Effect are psychologically complex. There is a sincerity shared between the two projects, a genuine attraction motivating their respective investigations. Along these lines Wilson has explored both the material content and symbolic expression of the Hutchison profile. A series of parallels emerge. For example, both works are charming in a low-budget modesty that is also reflected in either soundtrack. In The Hutchison Effect a muffled synthesizer lends an almost “science-porn” vibe to the proceedings; a sultry, early digital new-age score that might have likewise inspired The Boards of Canada. Wilson also fashions his own stoic presentational style on John Hutchison, to the parallel degree that his inspirational predecessor can likewise be thought of as a seer investigating science, always driven by an unorthodox method of intuition. Thirdly, Wilson’s project flirts with an irony that implicates aspects of the Scientific “establishment,” in particular authoritarian strictures that claim to speak for the moralizing “better good.” Such over-arching conceits belong to the scientist-despot, writ-large in terms of the entitlement and privilege the establishment accords itself (that is likewise, but mildly implicated in the Hutchison affair). Dustin Wilson, who has enjoyed the benefit of studying the Hutchison video, sympathizes with the imperative to make a case for wonder, but at the same time brings to the fore the “outsider” ethos that is reflected in Hutchison’s confessed discomfort with math. More radical than his forerunner, yogic method and fugue states are but two of the tangential methods that Wilson deploys in order to deterritorialize “quantum particle entanglement theory” and thereby enable the reception of information from another time. In terms of science Wilson prefers the minor voice to intransigent classical “truths;” this is what drew him to Hutchison in the first place. The minor voice enables a confluence of “outsider” input, a variety of simulacra poised to lead the investigation into the future. Ultimately Wilson’s challenge to the scientific establishment is delivered with transdisciplinary force, simultaneously traced from both inside and outside of contemporary scientific paradigms:

ñ    First by mounting his case with tangential means, thereby eschewing classical truth-claims that would speak to a full account, a closed system, a final word.

ñ    Second by engaging Hutchison (or “influence”) not as a Platonic “Model” to aspire towards copying, but rather as simulacra carrying out deviations.

Wilson effectively casts himself as a comrade of Hutchison in the struggle against scientific totalitarianism. Here is a resistance that deviates from the established procedure  and thereby seeks to overturn the model by diversifying approach and shifting or de-centring paradigm. To this end the Wilson Effect renders the system open-ended.


Moving on from the Secrets video, we are presented a series of drawings undertaken on graph paper, each of them annotated with codified entries as well as notes, and systematically laid out in parallel rows of airline cable. Taken as a whole we enter into a giant flowchart. The layout is itself open-ended, widening as one proceeds, and always receptive to new data that Wilson collects from time wormholes. The installation that I viewed was at AKA Gallery, however judging by the photo documentation of other iterations on his website, it would seem that the work is quite pliable to shifting configurations. The first consistency to note is that these suspended flow-chart papers are dominated by drawings, Wilson’s preferred form of scientific divination. Drawings populate the flow chart and drawings record his research findings, including his most profound revelations. This is because drawing is the only medium available to Wilson while he is in the fugue state necessary to receive tachyon beams from the future. No doubt it is the automatist in Wilson that has predisposed him to this artistic brand of scientific endeavour. From here the artist-as-scientist-as-artist begins to catalogue a future society with its own complex relationship to science. As Wilson stated in the Secrets video, “Judging from the content of future images rendered by myself, it appears as though the down-streamers do indeed frequently alter the human genome.” What is revealed in the drawings constitute a bestiary of biogenetic perversity, whereby the future privileged class, who wear blue suits and live in protective geodesic domes, have marshalled the gene pool to the violent degree of predetermining evolution. Wilson’s drawings graphically depict a variety of hybrid creatures that the blue-suited ones have “programmed,” but Wilson’s depictions also chronicle horrible miss-steps, catastrophic genetic disasters that would dwarf the consequences of the Cane Toad debacle or that of the Nile Perch. For example, let us consider the mole phisher– here is a dome dweller fuck-up par excellence. Initially the mole phisher was biogenetically determined to chase after another genetic mishap, namely the over-stocked p’tits deer. Of course the ferocious and prolific mole phisher devoured all p’tit deer stocks in no time flat, and, not being in the least bit satiated, immediately began to feast upon varieties of the hominid slave classes, such as the Homo Domesticus or the Homo Pilosus. Ironically, the more that the genome is subjected to this classical brand of scientific determination– presupposing all of evolution as merely an admixture that can be ruled over– the more that wild, unforeseeable variables run amok. Such is the hubris of this future science: to persist in their arrogant determinations in the face of such disasters! Indeed, the blue-suited dome dwellers persist to the point of necessitating their own evacuation! Of course, the indictment of a corrupt scientific establishment, or of the privileged “authorities” who carry out their misbegotten determinations with relative impunity, is not far off from the obscene wealth, status, and impunity accorded to contemporary pharmaceutical or biotechnological industrial “leaders.”


Installation view, Futurologist, Dustin Wilson, 2012

Hence the scope of Wilson’s future scenarios can not be limited to the time of Futurology. The implications of his work repeatedly enfold past, present and future into a pretzel. Complicating matters even further, Wilson interweaves at least two kinds of time-enfolding procedures in his work, the first archeological and physical, the second trans-dimensional in the resonance between different times, or different times producing a resonance in the present time. On the one hand he exposes a future with many strata of archeological data. On the other hand there is a conversation that goes on between the present conditions of his research and the data produced by the “research” in-itself.


In the first “archeological” instance let us consider his drawings and animations of the bizarre technological mass-transit system of the future called an “N.B. Jumper.” What are these strange contraptions that carry mostly a slave-class from home to work on a daily basis, thereby functioning as a form of mass transit? What are these strange sling-shots that release and capture what appear to be subway cars? In order to approach these questions Wilson does not have the ability to visit other times along the future pathway that he has opened, he is subject to the flow of time and has even suspected downstream influence in terms of where he is drawn to in time. So how does he produce the diagrammatic data from between the present and the future, for example, with the N.B. Jumper as a technology? It is an “archeology” that Wilson uses to illuminate these strange machines. By examining the object a little more closely Wilson begins to trace various strata of time which have left their physical mark upon the N.B. Jumper. First of all, careful inspection has revealed that the N.B. Jumper are not only made with subway cars, but in particular they are made with re-purposed subway cars stripped from the Montreal metro. The diagrams reveal an assemblage that is comprised of retro-fitted subway cars likely from the Montreal metro-system. What has befallen Montreal? This part of the future only appears as an archaeological ring, evidence embedded into a future where such demolition is already in the past. Contained in this insight, however, is some kind of testimony to a cataclysm, and in the wake of the cataclysmic consequences a further testimony to the subsequent re-purposing. Re-purposed, perhaps, but these clumsy death-traps are hardly an “advance” in mass-transit. Interestingly Wilson goes to great lengths to also relate that the N.B. Jumper is not a safe ride, that there are a lot of accidents. The emphasis is necessary to impart a diagram of the future that is not “teleological” in its movement, which is to say that the future is not so predictable. These people of the future ride around in the “bones” of a bygone transit system, but one that is now riddled with deadly kinks. While aspects of this technological development are impressive, for example the dramatic motion of the N.B. Jumper-cars are almost hypnotizing, what is nevertheless revealed is a lost technology repurposed as a strange new, inferior one with a high mortality rate.


Let us also consider the case of how our aspiring Futurologist came to experience a “quantum flash” in the course of discovering his first time wormhole. With the N.B. Jumper the enfolding of past, present and future took the physical form of archeological strata, whereas the quantum flash anecdote reveals a “resonance” between connected points in the past, present and future. To begin with Wilson admitted that it was voyeurism that accidentally opened up his channel to the future, but not some romantic voyeurism of the future, rather he was listening-in to his next door neighbours having a quarrel very much in the present. Expanding on this domestic squabble, Wilson recalls that his neighbours are representative of many Newfoundlanders living in the Lake Shore Village near Toronto, insofar as they moved to the area in hopes of finding employment at the nearby Goodyear Tire factory. Many of the factory workers found themselves thrust into adverse economic conditions following the historic closure of the tire plant. Such events formed part of an the enduring predicament, very much like a containment system with little space for social mobility. While this backstory does not factor directly into Wilson’s drawings, it is certainly resonant with the future manifestations of an underclass: genetically modified hominids (GMHs) that are as much an object of manipulation for the blue suits as any other animal enslaved to their manipulations.

Installation view, Futurologist, Dustin Wilson, 2012


What is resonant between past, present and future predicaments is a lack of agency or mobility bound up in a designated, preordained identity construction.  The resonance is not produced by two of the same thing, the Newfoundland diaspora living outside of Toronto are of course not the same case as the GMHs of the future. Nevertheless a resonance between the predicaments is produced, a resonance predicated on difference relating to the different as an ontological and elemental building block of the movement of time. Beyond the economic consideration of their utility, the Homo Domesticus, Homo Faber, Homo Betula, etc., are as much expendable playthings for the blue suits as any other material determination that they manipulate. Meanwhile, the plight of the present-day disenfranchised in an advanced capital society is also confining and difficult. Conversely, it is perhaps the one who is not confined to a single time, the one who has taken flight from any such confinement, who is best equipped to undertake the critical task of (automatic) drawing a resonance from the future. As the Wilson Effect continues to unfold his future reflections only complicate their inter-relations, adding branches to the flow chart and confounding the controlling measure of any Dome Dweller with still more wrinkles and folds.


[1] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, 1994. Page 90.





Dustin Wilson (Toronto, ON) has developed a multidisciplinary approach, producing animation, performance and multiples with a focus on contemporary narrative drawing. Wilson’s practice is based firmly in the processes of experimentation and research and is executed through the use of series, repetition and text. This exhibition takes a speculative approach in looking at the future of his home province of New Brunswick as a microcosm, dissecting issues of rural identity in the current era of rapid social, economic and physical change. He draws a line from the unfortunate outcomes that result from short-term, reactionary thinking and connects this with the current global issues of climate change, migration and mass extinction which humanity will inevitably be forced to contend with. He employs intentional future anachronism, combining sophisticated antigravity and advanced genetic engineering technologies within a culturally atavistic frame of reference.

As part of the exhibition, the artist will deliver a performative lecture, assuming the role of a “futurologist” presenting his findings to the public. Wilson’s work speaks to the ways we all imagine the future, rightly or wrongly.

Opening 2012 with this exhibition amidst all of the wild speculation surrounding what may or may not happen in the course of the year contends with the potential for hubris and disappointment wrapped up in the current cultural climate.

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