Mette Ingvartsen

This text was first printed in 2006 in the magazie Maska No. 200: Project 2023+

A vague beginning on how to think the future.

The film Metropolis was released in 1927 and speaks about a society divided between thinkers and workers. The conflict plays out in 2026 only 3 years after this Maska issue will enter the museum. It concerns the workers revolution against the governing class. In other words an analogy to the time of the hot issue of capitalism vs. communism.

In 1927 the figure of the “robot” is already playing an important role in the construction of science fictions narratives.

In 1962 communism is still a threat. In the Manchurian Candidate the threat is produced by the Soviet army brainwashing American soldiers who have been captured during the Korean war. They intend to send them back to infiltrate the US army as undercover agents. A kind of hypnosis with implants of false memories have been used to cover up the tracks that could trace the brainwashing back to the soviet union.

Finally in 1968 a space ship is sent to Jupiter to search for a monolith sending out signals. Monoliths in this case are a part of a Solar-System-wide computer network planted by an alien civilization to monitor an experiment called humanity. A delegation is send out to follow the signal, but unfortunately something goes terribly wrong and the computer HAL 9000 starts killing the crew of the spaceship until there is only one member left who manages to deactivate the computer and survive.

The year after, although not released until 1971, in THX 1138 the narrative topic changes. We are now in a future state where people are forced to take an emotion- killing-drug which prevents them from feeling, loving and procreating. At the same time the state is also controlled by faceless android police officers detecting any deviances from the state system. Two of the residents stop taking the drugs, the woman becomes pregnant and they are both put in prison charged with sex crimes and drug violations.

In 1977 we are no longer on or even under the surface of the earth but rather out in space fighting star wars, two years later the invasion come from outer space by aliens. Recovering from that situation 10 years later the threat is genetic manipulation and in 1999 its the shock of discovering that the entire world is a matrix construction that destabilizes our entire perception of reality.

The list goes on….. although the topics differ, one thing remains intriguing in the genre of science fiction. The situations of today are interpreted through what we can imagine them becoming in the future. Not that it is about prediction only, because it’s also imaginative and most often about the dystopic effects certain tendencies of the society we live in can have on the future. Maybe there can be said to be two different kinds of science fiction movies,

-those that analyses the effects of the world we are living in by taking certain problems to an extreme case scenario

-those that from the beginning have no need to root their imagination in real or realistic threats.

The first kind of science fiction is interesting because it makes it possible to invent solutions to problems that have not yet become unsolvable. Like cleaning up the mess before it is so extreme it cannot be managed. The second kind is interesting because of the speculative and imaginative character. The possibility of inventing a world which functions radically different from the world we are living in, without having to bother about what kind of realism a certain fiction produces, is a relief. What is exciting is rather how crazy and far removed the fiction can be from the fixed logics of thinking that follows any of our established systems. The most important part of the second kind might be how this removal can allow new thoughts to arise in relation to the world that we are currently living in. ( how the disconnected becomes relevant by offering the mind a free space to wonder around in)

In any case, films need conflict in order to have something to resolve. What would a happy end be without an unhappy beginning? And what does all this have to do with performance?…Do we also need to have a problem in order to imagine? And if so, what kind of problems can we imagine having?

I dislike speculating and fictionalizing too much if I am suppose to seriously express concerns about work and performance. But as I can not even start to think about what the future will bring I may have to speculate nonetheless. And since we are now already talking about science fiction maybe we can make a little experiment and start with a scenario.

Imagine we are in year 2023 in a city called Experisis where a small group of performance researchers have been captured by a large scale corporate business. The group is being forced to use their performative expertise in order to develop high end experience oriented products but they are no longer allowed to make actual performances, nor to develop net-works functioning outside of conventional theater frames like internet performances, community discussions or general knowledge circulation. All their movements are monitored and they will be denied access to valuable information the moment they are discovered breaking the corporate business agenda.

It’s a world where going to the theater has been replaced by large scale commercial enterprises selling “home theater entertainment” isolating people from actually having a shared performance experience. The social event that in the past used to connect people and allow for a revolutionary spirit, has been banned. It is a world where every aspect of reality has become performance based, resulting in people no longer stopping and reflecting, but constantly consuming an overload of experience products.

The corporate business uses a form of brain washing which is a light hypnosis streaming from the computers the group has in their possession for their research. The light is a kind of subliminal message which makes the research group think that they are working for their own cause while they are actually providing the enemy with highly important developments in performance practices.

By accident, one of the researchers discover the manipulative messages because she gets a new pair of glasses which for some reason filters the light and makes the subliminal effect disappear. Fortunately she is a hacker and is able to hack into the light system and send messages to her fellow researchers. Together they slowly start to corrupt the information they are producing for the corporate business which little by little makes the business fall apart. To their great luck they realize that the enormous amounts
of work they have produced over the last years have been stored.

They immediately start developing new practices based on the research results they have developed and soon a new world of performance is flourishing.

Happy ending.

A happiness conditioned by the fact that only psychics, magicians and science fiction writers can determine what the future will bring, the rest of us can only speculate.