"This is Vern Block. It's 2040 and there's an uneasy peace here. Where the media once portrayed Malvern as a centre of gang-related gun violence and organized crime — things have chilled considerably. In the years following the 'defund' movement, police budgets were slowly redirected to mental health services, community therapy programs, and STEM education in priority neighbourhoods. The Perpetration-Risk External Evaluation (PREE) system, a so-called community watch program, took over the physical police presence in communities. Beneath the veneer of calm suburban safety and incoming gentrification, there remains an unsettling vibe in Malvern. Kadeem feels it — the residual energy of unresolved vendettas, the somatic heft of trauma carried over generations, and the persistent weight of surveillance. Confronted with these revelations, along with legacies of community violence and the allure of underground economies, Kadeem must make some choices about what he's willing to fight for."
— excerpted from the VERN synopsis
The VERN.WORLD site includes:
/ a plot synopsis, description of the setting (time, place, and vibe), and main character breakdown
/ a photography series depicting characters and speculative artifacts indicating the fashion, technological progress, people's everyday functional needs, and how all of these intersect in the culture
/ a palimpsestic map, layering changes that happen to the neighbourhood over time through processes of urban development, gentrification, and displacement; climate immigration; changes to law enforcement norms; replacement of colonial monuments;increased surveillance; emerging grey and black market economies; and various structural changes to the social safety net
/ images of hand-crafted speculative artifacts that reveal the realities of everyday life and survival in Malvern in 2040
/ a simple game inviting users to squash bugs and snatch chips while they browse— just for fun
Please view the project in full at: https://vern.world/
Hold your head, KadeemAfter stumbling on a trove of illegal counter-surveillance protocols and encrypted communications networks — Kadeem learns that Malvern's social wellness programs may equate to little more than a ubiquitous surveillance system that turns the community on itself.
Kadeem's SkeemaskMalvern youths frequently share makeshift anti-surveillance protocols. An emphasis on STEM education in public schools had resulted in a low-value labour force as computer code literacy became an all-too-common skill. Though the STEM skills never delivered on job market value, they enabled kids like Kadeem to develop their own encrypted systems and devices from recycled e-waste. Young people are often found wearing a "skeemask" as a method of evading facial recognition detection by PREE.
Kadeem Displays His GlovesKadeem's Gloves can distort or falsify fingerprints. A variety of add-ons can be purchased on the grey web to enhance the power and dexterity of the hand. Gloves like these present a real problem for the criminal justice system. Their encryption often leads to false accusations. Such enhanced Gloves are illegal, but their prohibition is hard to enforce as users can easily evade identification.
BPU NeuropatchThe BPU (Bio-Processing Unit) neuropatch is supposed to monitor and balance neurochemical levels. It's technically optional, but there's intense social pressure to wear it. Kadeem's is hacked; he can access and manipulate his own chemical levels, all while sending out false neural activity, so everything looks normal in the system. BPU chips originated in gaming to create intensely real, dream-like, entertainment experiences. When abused, BPUs can have dangerous mind-altering effects.
Kadeem's Brass TabletKadeem uses his Brass Tablet, a locally crafted lo-tech interface, to access VernMesh. The encrypted local network is separate from the mainstream metaverse. Brass tablet access to VernMesh creates a safe system for activists, and will be a critical tool of the resistance against PREE (the Perpetration-Risk External Evaluation)
Kadeem"You're a good yute, Kadeem"
My name is Asia Clarke. I am a multidisciplinary creative, passionate about transforming hair, jewelry, beauty, and styling. I am also a researcher, foresight strategist, freelance writer and community builder. Currently I am based between Toronto, Canada and Accra, Ghana. For the past 12 years, I have been developing my artistic practice as a craft artist and jewelry designer through Wild Moon Jewelry. The jewelry line, imagined in the winter of 2010, began as a form of creative bloodletting, 'Wild' to encourage and facilitate a connection to mother earth, spirit, and intuition. 'Moon' to acknowledge our connection to celestial beings. Upon graduating from OCAD University's Strategic Foresight and Innovation masters program in 2019, I became very interested in bringing black and POC voices to the forefront of futures thinking. Since 2020, I have been in the process of shifting my creative direction towards speculative fiction and design, specifically in the visual arts and literary arts practices. I have always seen myself as a multidisciplinary artist, and I endeavour to illuminate new ways of exploring future potential through speculative design.
All of my aforementioned interests and talents converge in this project, VERN 2040. It's a future-history told through design objects. VERN celebrates the community I am from in Toronto (Malvern), while also critically examining the future of Toronto (and by extension other multicultural North American cities) — specifically from a POC lens. VERN2040 is a reflection of emerging discourses on Afro-futurism, enabling a reframing and transcendence of historical injustices in African diaspora communities globally, and especially in Canada. I am inspired by the Afro-Futurist movement, spearheaded by woman-identified activists and visionaries like Adrienne Marie Brown and Ava DuVernay, who are stitching together hoped-for and plausible Pan-African futures and cultural expressions in the Americas and abroad.
As a future scenario, VERN2040 is intentionally complex and ambiguous, grappling with critical tensions between multicultural utopian fantasies and surveillance dystopian realities; between the promise of therapeutic wellness treatments and the real traumas causing mental health conditions in our communities; between freedom to and freedom from.
To create this scenario, I've worked closely with From Later, a foresight studio based in Toronto, on the research repository, artifacts, writing and worldbuilding. I've also worked closely with Megan Prosper, a fellow POC writer, who has helped me to develop the plot, setting, and character sketches. Architect and illustrator, Bianca Weeko Martin created a map of Malvern presenting how the urban geography may change, given the forces of urban sprawl and gentrification.
Our research and worldbuilding process involved:
/ gathering signals of change that we suspect will shape Toronto's future
/ reflecting on the struggles and rites of passage experienced by POC youths coming of age
/ considering external influences including how global geopolitics, climate change, and immigration trends may affect urban development
/ contemplating the various ways reconciliation efforts to address long-standing issues of inter-community violence and community-police relations could play out
VERN can be thought of as a future-history told through design objects. Indeed, the plot was partly conceived through my very personal process of crafting several speculative design artifacts. The artifacts reveal multitudes about VERN's imagined future — including a new digital ecosystem, a crisis of privacy in an emerging surveillance state, the evolution of fashion styles, and a technological arms race between crime and forensics.
The voices of Toronto's POC youth are inherent in VERN's language and style. We evidently applied Toronto-specific slang in the synopsis and referenced local spaces and places. It was important to me that we maintained cultural relevance in this Canadian-based and Afro-futurist inspired story. VERN2040 also aims to fill a huge gap in the futures canon by centering on a Black youth's experience in the scenario. Ultimately, VERN2040 is a vessel for the exploration of socio-economic and cultural themes such as restorative justice, surveillance, intergenerational trauma, and mental health in multicultural contexts.
My intention here is to expand the scope of speculative design to better reflect people I know and relate to, people in Malvern and places like it. VERN exists to engage people in conversations about what we collectively desire and what we are (not) willing to accept.