Visions of the Year 2000

At the turn of the twentieth century a team of illustrators created their futuristic vision of the birth of the twenty-first century.

  • Words: Rachel Halliburton

Some artistic predictions of the future can seem uncannily prescient, others are doomed to end up looking dated. Yet there can be a certain charm even to those that miss the mark, and it would take a 3-D printed heart of stone not to be beguiled by these French illustrations, which predicted the year 2000 in 1900.

No one is precisely sure who commissioned artist Jean-Marc Côté to come up with his futuristic visions – though they were initially designed to fit into cigarette packets. The works were also displayed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, but were then forgotten until science fiction writer Isaac Asimov chanced upon them, publishing them in his 1986 Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000.

To the twenty-first century eye, it’s the absurdity that strikes first. Take the procession of ornithopter aero-cabs, or the boy rotating a handle so that a Heath-Robinsonian-device can transmit books directly into schoolboy brains. Yet look beyond the eccentric details and there are some arresting parallels – the airborne postman delivering a letter directly to a balcony surely shares his conceptual DNA with the Amazon drone.

For all such charms, the final image brings the sobering reminder that even then, they could predict the deadly consequences of the industrialisation of warfare. It’s the only illustration that makes the Promethean link between technological advance and destruction, a warning that no matter how great the sum of human ingenuity, whether it is put to bad or good use is always down to chance.

Article taken from
Articles

Further Reading

Hunting Eagles in Mongolia

Against the backdrop of an unforgiving landscape, the Kazakh tradition of eagle hunting endures. Photographer Frédéric Lagrange documents the culture he first fell in love with seventeen years ago.

The Man Who Talks to Sperm Whales

James Nestor reports on the astounding qualities of the sperm whale. Working with a highly qualified free diving crew he discovers how we are getting ever closer to communicating with the world's largest predator.

Ice Music

Jazz musician Terje Isungset on why a trumpet made from a Greenland glacier will sound different to one made from a polluted frozen lake.

Current Affairs

If global shipping were a country it would be the sixth biggest producer of greenhouse gases. We talk to the pioneers in the race to make boats more environmentally friendly.

Where Are All The Female Grandmasters?

Girls play chess better than boys at primary school, so why do so few make it to the top? A look at how challenges facing female players have changed from the medieval era to the twenty-first century.

Soviet Bus Stops

Photographer Christopher Herwig recounts the epic Central Asian road trips he took over 12 years, covering 30,000km, to document the unique and architecturally experimental Soviet bus stops.
Browse by Category