Shadow Fair

Bethany Johns

I’m beginning a working research document titled Shadow Fair: The Unfinished Business of the World of Tomorrow centered on the 1939 New York World’s Fair. From the intro:

This inquiry is at this intersection of the worlds of art, graphic design, politics, corporate structure, and dominant history/alternative histories that cross-cut past and present. I teach methods of using primary research from archival material to elicit ‘graphic response’ to the material’s implications using text, image, motion, space, etc. There are seemingly endless archives pertaining to the 1939 World’s Fair and its context in that particularly potent moment of American history. I’m beginning by gathering content from which to elicit this response, and update/refine this document frequently.

As we near 2019 we’re witnessing many parallels in global conditions to the moments of portent leading to the 1939 World’s Fair:

Is it possible to revisit the manufactured spectacle of the Fair as a locus for critical response from artists, designers, writers, curators, architects, etc.? With the premises, claims, material forms, and political context of the 1939 World’s Fair as lens we may find a way to turn critical focus on contemplating a World of Tomorrow, today.

In that the 1939 World’s Fair attempted to ‘write’ the Future, the 2019 80th anniversary can provide opportunity to examine the the largely-unsettling present state of the world it was meant to predict—and to attempt to read/write/rewrite and otherwise speculate on the future via the Fair’s thematic nodes.  

I’m especially interested in traveling to the UK in the presence of the Brexit argument, given the critical role of the British at the advent of World War II corresponding with the 1939 World’s Fair opening week, and for its many archives to explore.