3_TRENDS_Vol.17: Victoria Buchanan: Surrealism, World Saving Luxury + Fractional Work
3_TRENDS is an interview series with the world's leading cultural researchers and thinkers, sharing their favorite overlooked trends.
Victoria Buchanan (VB) is Futures Director at The Future Laboratory, a strategic foresight consultancy using trends and cultural intelligence to build future fit strategies. With over a decade of experience, she’s worked with brands including eBay, Chanel, Spotify and Google. She likes to flaneur and she tweets at @VictoriaFutures.
MK: Victoria, what’s on your mind?
VB: Last week I went to the Tate Modern to see the “Surrealism Beyond Borders” show and it got me thinking about dreams and the unconscious mind. Why does lunacy and irreverence feel so resonant right now?
One of the principles of surrealism is an expression of the absurd in order to question power and I’ve similarly noticed Gen Z quietly raging against the madness of the world with content that is surreal, weird and oft-uncomfortable.
Jordan Gretzner, describes her dreamcore TikTok’s as “a strange but comforting nostalgia”, whilst @sammyhaigmusic can be found playing his trumpet into a bowl of jello. This humor, with its absurdity, is a little bit comforting and a little bit unsettling — all at the same time.
In today’s world – which is more and more complex and contradictory – surrealism seems to be resonating with Gen Z because it embraces all their contradictions instead of resolving them.
Take the continued growth of the Birds Aren’t Real movement as an example. It’s a satirical conspiracy theory, positing that birds are actually drones operated by the United States government to spy on Americans. It’s a perfect combination of post-truth satire and Gen Z shitposting, essentially using lunacy against misinformation.
Perhaps it’s all a sign that we are finally done with the Millennial obsession of idealistic realism?
MK: Today, surrealism, our “super reality” according to artistic leader André Breton, is our coping mechanism. And Birds Aren’t Real is just a clap back. It’s our collective “fuck it.” Fighting absurdity with absurdity.
The surrealistic fever dreams we see across today’s platforms are coded nods to our moment. They’re (fun house) mirrors. When our stasis, which is so out of whack, is consistently compared to 30 Rock or Handmaid’s Tale, it’s clear reality and fiction are indistinguishable.
But there’s two things I find noteworthy about today’s surrealism:
First is our spectrum of leveraged surrealism. There’s the shadowy and ominous, the whacky and frivolous, and the nonsensical and untethered. Twin Peaks, The Eric Andre Show, and Tiger King, all surreal, reflect back unique, convoluted stories. To deal with our moment, there’s no discrimination in the dreams.
Second, is surrealistic art’s original intent: to unshackle the mind's imagination and unconscious thoughts, liberating us from the oppressive boundaries of a rational reality.
Its lineage makes sense: surrealistic art was developed post-WWI and then grew in prominence after WWII as artists attempted to process the atrocities they experienced. Releases of the unconscious.
Surrealism is not just an escape, but an excuse. Our hall pass to dream, invent and think beyond our current chaos and limitations.
What’s our (su)per (reality)?
Things don’t have to be this way.
World Saving Luxury
VB: The ultimate in luxury is now found in the ephemeral, and those with the freedom and capital are focused on being the select few who get to feel, shape or witness a moment in time.
For example, SpaceX just launched its first all-private mission to the International Space Station with a crew of wealthy entrepreneurs who will spend eight days on the station. As part of the project, digital artist Refik Anadol has created a limited edition NFT that utilizes the data archive from the flight to create a generative art piece, serving as an “Important Memory for Humanity.”
Should we be fixing problems here on earth first? (Yes, probably!) But I do think it’s fascinating to watch our technological capabilities progress, which is broadening our horizons in ways we sometimes fail to recognize. Advanced space tech is already accelerating sustainability solutions.
Take NASA-approved Air Co which is applying carbon removal technology to repurpose CO2 into fragrances and spirits. Or the Polestar 0, the brand's moonshot project set up to create a climate neutral car by 2030, which is forcing them to reach beyond what is possible today.
Luxury is no longer about simply reviving heritage codes of the past, but rather it’s a dream space. Status is therefore found in radical solutions and ground-breaking projects.
MK: Who doesn’t want to feel like a superhero? Especially in our moment, which feels akin to the set at the end of a Marvel fight scene.
Writing checks to “explore the frontiers of space”, is the new climbing Everest — another flavor of hero cosplay.
It’s a fascinating evolution of status... and I’m here for it... for as long as these luxurious buys are additive to our environment — not extractive. Let anyone feel like a hero for as long as it’s to the collective’s benefit.
The Musk Bezos super hero/villain trope is nauseating at this point, but it finally seems like some super money can help us.
While fashion houses are recycling materials to make new shopping bags, Prada is leveraging Econyl as a new material, a recycled nylon made from abandoned fishing nets. Meanwhile, Aether Diamonds is creating positive-impact diamonds, made from air extracting CO2, while on the lower end of the spectrum, up-cycled kicks are just as in. GQ this season coined “Drip Responsibly.”
Consumption and sustainability are paradoxical — we can’t buy our way out of this — but some rebranding won’t hurt. Positioning luxury as Earth-saving (or at least not incredibly destructive), can ultimately frame caring as aspirational.
But, important questions then arise:
With a goal becoming infinitely wealthy, can the method of attaining prosperity and spending it on our planet ever be seen as heroic? Or is the stain of “the rich” so strong at this hour, second-hand Fendi becomes just as pointless as comical?
VB: I’ve been imagining a future scenario where employees are fractionalized and instead of dedicating themselves to one company, we belong instead to a collective aligned with our values and financial goals.
Platforms like Metalabel will help people come together to form collectives to promote new ideas based on shared passions. In short, it’s a kind of open sourced network which provides value based on participation, allowing workers to pool their resources together and work to their own schedules.
59M Americans already performed freelance work in the past 12 months, representing 36% — or more than one-third—of the entire U.S. workforce according to Upwork.
In the future, the Other Internet also believes we won’t necessarily interact with money as individuals but as collective “wealth squads.” They talk about how fractionalization can create opportunities and group resilience that would previously have been impossible to achieve alone.
The big shift is not going to be about “working” or “not working” but how work is done at a particular time in our career.
Fractional work = autonomy + community + equity.
MK: The line between a “wealth squad” and a company of only friends is razor thin, but is it futile to attempt to evolve existing businesses, rather than dropping out and going freelance?
There has to be a middle-ground, one which not just permits, but incentivizes pursuits outside of existing responsibilities. Programs to train divergent thinking and sharpen Swiss Army Knife skills.
As I’ve written, unpacking the ever-elusive Creator Economy, polymaths are all the rage. Beyond static labels (and careers), the future workforce cannot be defined by a single title, and especially by a firm which prevents them from exploring others.
As a strong proponent for the diversification of work (see here with Zine), building a Career Portfolio is not just incredibly fulfilling, but ultimately job-proofing. By building relationships and reputation outside the walls of a single office, fractional work can be a win-win. Employers just have to tap the upside for themselves... more satisfied employees for one.