Fragments and forgetting

LOST FUTURES, vol. 1: ‘in search of lost time’ (January 2021), eds. Kieran Cutting & Christian Kitson

‘Go on a journey with me’ urges Kieran Cutting in the introduction of LOST FUTURES, a compulsion that grabs the reader and pulls them into its strange temporal and spatial worlds. If the first volume is a journey, we embark unsure of our destination, unsure if we will arrive and, by the end, even less confident we will ever make it back safely. We travel through time, space, memory and dreams on a journey ‘from out of the chaos’. The result is both enriching and enjoyable, disorientating and disruptive.

The zine’s vision is set in ‘two ghosts’ with the division (and disruption) of “real v imaginary” and “concrete v abstract”. The present-day “real” woman to whom the poem is addressed is absent for the poet; she is ‘a you’, one of an infinite number of possibilities for who she might now be. In contrast, ‘the you’ is a presence fixed in the past, but also a ghost, a non-existent entity who has ceased to be, and who is therefore painfully real. This rich poem hints at many of the tensions that resurface throughout LOST FUTURES: the rupture of past, present and future into an amorphous mess; the intricate balance between relationships held too long or relinquished too soon, and the search for ‘some shred, some tatter’ which is played out in the volume’s fragmentary multimedia work.

Daniel Bristow-Bailey’s wonderful title, ‘an excerpt from “the wholeness” (a work in progress)’ reflects on the impossibility of completeness. The seemingly autobiographical opening immediately complicates temporal linearity by starting before the author’s birth. The author narrates how his father escaped from a bubbling bar brawl in order to attend his birth, which he admits ‘may or may not be entirely true’. Of course, such a disclaimer could be applied to the past in general — history, myth, legend and fantasy are flexible categories that overlap more often than not. Regardless of how much truth is behind the story, the nascent brawl is a powerful example of a “lost future”: an event that may or may not have taken place, a mystery that doesn’t need solving. What matters for the author is that it became “a brawl” rather than “the brawl” when his father walked away to attend another beginning.

The rest of the story poses the question of parallel universes through the urban myth of Bob Holness’ sax solo on Baker Street. As well as the unreliability of the past — which is brilliantly expressed in the “imperfect perfect” construction ‘he used to have done’ — the introduction of ‘another universe’ raises the question of opposing spatial realities. This idea also forms a key part of Christian Kitson’s ‘parasite’, which contrasts ‘the reality of the moment’ of the reunion of lovers with ‘the simulated world I’d painstakingly built’ during their time apart. When these two ghosts collide, their incompatibility is destructive: ‘you, the stranger, collapsed my dream world’.

It is significant that imagery of orbits recurs throughout the volume. This reminds us that the basis of our existence is mere chance, that our environment (like time) never stands still, and that small bumps in the (orbital) path can set us off in a completely different direction. The collage built around the concept of ‘IF’ — a tiny word with enormous significance — is perhaps the best embodiment of our fractured and changeable existence. The dream of utopia is in fact a partial and messy reality, constantly reimagined and reframed to adapt to present experience. Meanwhile, in ‘new worlds’, language has the power to reinvent and reform our experiences. Do we taste and smell differently if we ‘hear waves of mint’? Can new wor(l)ds — or new combinations of existing ones — create ‘a future/ where we hold each other’s houses’? IF is both a powerful and crushing word: it communicates hope for something better and acceptance that reality is not how we would like it to be.

The collage’s screenshots of tweets and WhatsApp messages add a sense of fragmentation and ephemerality that characterise much of the modern age. This is, however, countered by the seriousness of the messages: imagine ‘if we reinvested in networks of care instead of surveillance’. Technology’s “lost future” had earlier been foreshadowed in references to MSN Messenger and CDs, examples of technologies that shaped (and, perhaps, continue to shape) our lives despite now being largely redundant. Likewise, Duunya’s powerful artwork ‘another day’ satirises both technology and modern jobs in its portrayal of a worker slumped at their desk. The figure has one hand on a keyboard and the other on a mouse, while the computer screen bears down on them from out of shot. As occurs throughout LOST FUTURES, absence makes the computer’s presence even more overpowering. In the background, frames of happier, more human moments dance out of sight, a potent contrast for an age in which many lives have been altered and many futures lost staring into cyber space.

This debut volume is a varied and skilful collection of work by Kieran Cutting, ‘some fantastic friends and some well-timed strangers’. Serendipitous connections are certainly appropriate for LOST FUTURES with its array of moments, missed moments, nearly moments, imagined moments and forgotten moments. The search for lost time — time lost to abusive relationships, believing something that was never true, or ‘holed up in a crumbling castle’ — is as paradoxical as it is imperative. These “lost futures” (‘the world-where-you-never-held-her-hand’, the space between IF and THEN, ‘missed connections, grey days,/ unescapable nights’) are neither real nor imagined, utopic nor dystopic, remembered nor forgotten. They are ‘possibility, nostalgia, regret’ all rolled into one.

LOST FUTURES, vol. 1: ‘in search of lost time’ (January 2021). Available here.

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