Looking Ahead: Sandy Ewen and Her Future Time Machine
On Saturday, November 21, 2015 at El Rincon Social there could be a strange and wondrous guest: a time traveler. The Time Traveler’s appearance at an event called “Future Time Machine” is made possible by a brilliant notion brought forth and acted on by Sandy Ewen. Through a grant she received from The Idea Fund, Ewen will deposit $1,000 into an investment fund for 500 years. In 2515, when the initial investment has matured to a robust $328 billion, it will be used to research and construct a time machine that will then be used to travel back in time to… yep, November 21, 2015.
FPH: Have you been fascinated with time travel and its potential for a long time? What are the origins of this project?
Sandy Ewen: I think about time travel a lot. Mostly I’d like to go to the future, but faster than the usual speed. I also think about, if I ended up a few hundred or more years in the past, if I’d be able to teach people science or anything. I imagine there’d be language barriers and they might think I was a witch. I imagine I’d have my cell phone with me, so I think about how long the battery would last and if any of the apps would work.
I created this project in response to the Idea Fund. I had had some more practical ideas, but the Idea Fund projects tend to be a bit unusual. So I treated the whole grant writing process like creative writing, to make the most outside the box concept I could imagine. And I ended up getting awarded a grant.
FPH: Why is the future time machine being referred to as an “art project’ and not a “science explosion of genius”?
Sandy Ewen: I haven’t actually done anything scientific. This project is inspired by text-based conceptual artworks. It has a lot more to do with Fluxus, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros & Sol LeWitt than it does with science.
FPH: Can you explain a little more about the money management side of this project? For instance, who is the attorney administering/protecting/entrusted with this fund?
Sandy Ewen: I started off talking to a lawyer, who explained that this sort of thing is a lot more complicated than I had thought, and that there are investment fees and all sorts of stupid things. The law is set up so that people from the past cannot boss around people in the future. There was talk of shell corporations, but those are complicated and not free, and there’s nothing to keep the future board of directors from changing the corporate charter. Recently, I talked to Andrew Warner from the Long Now Foundation. Long Now is hoping to be a cultural institution for the next 10,000 years. Anyway, Andrew explained to me that the only groups that invest for periods of time like this are royalty, universities, and some governments. Typically you need 5+ million dollars to have access to long term managed investing. Andrew said there are basically three ways to make my project work. (1) I could partner with a University that already has an endowment in a long term fund. (2) I could get an index fund or treasury bond, but this would be problematic because there’s a lack of memory associated with that. (3) I could utilize Long Bets. I’ve decided to use Long Bets. Long Bets allows people to place bets on things that won’t be determined for a long time. They invest their money with a special-purpose Endowment portfolio and plan to exist well into the future. I will bet against myself, so that in 500 years the money will be released to a non-profit of my choosing. I am creating a text-based artwork that explains the project. I will print it nicely and frame it & I will give to the non-profit . If the non-profit decides to shut down for whatever reason, they can donate my artwork to another institution. The ownership of that artwork will dictate where the funds will be directed in 500 years. Owning the artwork is an agreement to spend the investment money as the artwork dictates – to make a time machine and come to my party. This, I think, is by far the best way to invest the money without getting killed by fees, and to make sure the money is tracked through time, and to make sure the money is delivered to the institution that holds the artwork. It also makes owning the artwork easy and not an accounting nightmare.
FPH: For those out there that have little to no imagination at all, how do you explain the merits or virtue of this project?
Sandy Ewen: This project is about optimism & following through with the craziest idea you can think of. Something strange is bound to happen. I like that I’ve set up an interesting chain of events, however they unfold. And I might be getting a time machine.
FPH: With respect to being optimistic about the future, what specifically do you hope this project changes or shifts about people’s vision of the future?
Sandy Ewen: People should start thinking more long-term about everything. There’s a lot of talk about ecological sustainability, but we need to talk about the sustainability of constant GDP growth and the whole financial system. This project highlights the fact that currency and money are abstractions. I am trying to bring this fact to its illogical conclusion. This project is only as insane as the system that makes it seem plausible. I don’t claim to have any answers, but I might end up with a time machine.
FPH: So it’s very possible that a time traveler, or several, could attend the Future Time Machine event on November 21, 2015 at El Rincon Social, correct?
Sandy Ewen: Not only possible, I’d say it’s highly probable.
The Idea Fund is a re-granting program administered by DiverseWorks, Aurora Picture Show, and Project Row Houses and funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
by Mills McCoin