“Protopian imagination’s focus rests on care, radical tenderness and celebration of life rather than violence, conflict and isolation.”
During COVID19 complete lockdown in Spain, I started collaborating with Monika Bielskyte on a couple of protopian science fiction scenes and now I can finally share the result of said collaboration. But first of all let’s talk about what world building and protopian futures are.
A general description defines world building as “the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or fantasy writers. Worldbuilding often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people, including social customs and, in some cases, an invented language for the world.”
Examples of great world building works are The Middle Earth (The Lord of The Rings), Pandora (AVATAR), Westeros (Game of Thrones) or The Wizarding World (Harry Potter). However, it is important to pay attention to who, how and for whom designers and writers create these fictional worlds. Fantasy helps us shaping our understanding of the world. It can help us reinforce some previous thoughts but also broaden our mindsets and create new ideas and concept. This is specially important when the stories are consumed by young people and children.
And this is where Monika Bielskyte and protopian futures play an important role on science fiction. Monika is a futures researcher and futurist designer exploring the concept of protopian futures. Being a digital nomad, she’s lived and given talks all over the world. That’s one of the things that makes Monika’s work so real and deep: she really lives different realities and surround herself with really diverse people. Therefore, her work tries to push the boundaries of science fiction to more inclusive and relevant futures for all through the concept of protopia.
According to Monika, “protopian futures do not have the pretense of ‘Utopia’ as perfect, finite future but rather attempts to challenge racism, ableism, mysoginy, homophobia, transphobia, ageism and the resulting erasure in Sci Fi concept design.” While traditional science fiction and fantasy depict marvellous worlds, either utopias or dystopias, full of magic, technology and different races, sometimes authors imitate our own worlds to do so. This is the reason why science fiction is built mostly on the stories of white, cis-het, abled men, with women usually being the lover, the healer, the supporter, but usually the secondary (if not tertiary and if there’s any relevant woman on the story at all) character. Let alone LGTBI, BIPOC or disabled people
“Protopian futures have plurality —beyond binaries—, community narratives —beyond borders—, celebration of life and physical presence, environmental awareness, rituals and spirituality, creativity and subcultures.”
“One of our main goals was to challenge ageism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and the resulting erasure’s in Sci Fi concept design.”
With this project we wanted to depict a more inclusive future world, far from the worn-out western scenario and eschewing the oppressive patriarchal western culture lens, where BIPOC people representative of diverse cultural backgrounds and gender expressions have a central role. One of our main goals was to challenge ageism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and the resulting erasure’s in Sci Fi concept design. Hence, our characters are strong, powerful women and non-binary people, and our depictions focus on care, radical tenderness and celebration of life rather than violence, conflict and isolation like traditional Sci Fi.
A key thing was to show that bleeding edge technology can also be used for purposes other than warfare and surveillance, but rather as a form of self-expression,
art or to help both humans and the planet we inhabit. Instead, we wanted to encourage people to connect technology with tattoos, fashion, music, parades and dances. Prosthetics that are not militarised but rather enhancing our human and artistic abilities, and drones that are not meant to surveil citizens but to interact both with humans and genetically modified and improved bioluminescent plant life in the city. The bodies of our characters are adorned with animated tattoos and wearable devices that do not encode workings of a police state but are the extensions of their selfhood, cultural and gender expressions.