The other week I had the opportunity to take part in an event in a deserted entertainment center – a place we used to call Multiplex at the end of the 20th century. The countless spaces inside the vast building are now squatted by a self-organized group of people who refuse to take on an explicit and non-ambigous name and use the spatial structure of the architecture for different forms of research and presentation. At the time of my visit, the space was dedicated to a performative exploration of the notion of model worlds, a scope and diversity of discussion which did more than credit to the multitude of rooms in that crooked monster of a house. Below, I shall mostly try to recollect a kind of guided tour, as provided by a self-proclaimed private scholar by the name of Roni Layerson, and through a collective exchange during and after that tour. The re-reading of the last sentence actually implies to "g-e-t l-o-s-t".
add at this point, that I myself have been involved, over the course of
the past years, in a collective endeavour, mostly an adventure of sorts,
connected to the production and sharing of knowledge between artists,
architects, theorists and other cultural workers. After a while some of
us stumbled upon the notion and practice of performative research, which
has been initiated eons ago and coined a bit later. We interpreted it
by using the dramatic troika of script, setting and cast, i.e. a conscious
use of staging processes. Such processual approach to knowledge production
neither aims at production of traditional art objects nor of concepts
or theories. Performative research produces subjects.
must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or two ideas
that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, for instance, they
taught you at school is founded on a misconception. Not only geometry!
Everything they taught us at school is wrong, utterly wrong. I mean, perhaps
not wrong in the empiric way. But highly useless, at least inadequate
and possibly made up in order to keep us away from researching social
reality or – behold – acting upon that reality.
(First page, you read) "Only a cynic would say that no one could have guessed in the last years of the 20th century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than a human and yet as mortal as any single human; that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as someone with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency humans went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the minute organisms under the microscope do the same. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. Some fancied there might be other life out there, perhaps superior to themselves and ready for a colonial enterprise. Yet across another gulf of space, the space of cybernetics, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the 21st century came the great allusioning."
in on the Nile-Delta, Google Earth provides a link to Central London,
WC1B3DG. In the North-West wing of the British Museum we find some of
the earliest examples of human model building. The cabinets of Room 63,
Egyptian life and funerary, are extraordinary: We look into the model
of a house, a granary. We can scrutinize the little figures in their everyday
life. On the ground floor a woman kneads dough. A man sits on the floor
above, maybe a supervisor or the owner. Other models include tiny boats.
The Egyptians saw the blue sky as a celestial river, on which the sun-god
Re travelled every day in his own boat. One of the aspirations of an Egyptian
king was to travel with the god across the sky in the Afterlife. To help
achieve this, models of boats as well as essential scenes of life were
put into the tombs."
INT. ABANDONED ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE – NIGHT. (SPECIAL AFFECTS)
A group of people strolling through the diverse spaces of the squat. Roni Layerson acts as a kind of guide, but most of the participants are autonomously investigating the spaces on their own. Some are making out in dark corners, we hear their affectionate moans etc... others try to watch them, but when they get closer, all they see is porn movies. In a way a sexed up atmosphere? YES.
Some stagehands prepare the next scene and sing along:
Someone trips over a cable, causing a short circuit. BLACK.
For the following 15 minutes or so a noteworthy phenomenon developed (it could have been hours as well… who remembers time in such a Merzbau Darkroom): While one part of the participants continued discussing the sociopolitical influence of film and especially its affective turn out – in the production process, on screen, in "real" life – others got turned on themselves by the blackout and joined the orgiastic ranks. A true mash-up.
MUSIC: Slip Inside This House, 13th Floor Elevators
– So you mean film has been the role model of today's production processes? – (aahhhh) – All this talk about film – (UH!) – Come on, that's so last century! – (Yes!) – Sure, but from a historical perspective! – (YES!) – Aren't you generalizing, I mean, what if – OH! – Creative Industries – AAHHH – YES!!! ... processing emotions, I mean that's a central point (oh!) affects are the motor (uh! uh!) like a Special Affect (suck me) YES! (like an industry of special affects) (giggles) mmmhhh... social engineering… – fuck this alienated production of subjectivity (try this) (aha!) Come on! – and post-Fordism is based on the exploitation of subjectivity (AAHHHH!) – ...yes... up my ass! – I think I forgot the safeword, haha... – now THAT'S better! - say that again, about power relations... I see (AH!) we all deal in and (mmhhh) with feelings (OH!) Uhhhhhhhh...
while it felt useless a try to distinguish the two parties, or even particular
voices; it was more like all people discussed and made out at the same
time. Like one huge monster on cocaine losing itself in masturbation,
a hundreds of tentacles all over, winding, sucking, a thousand slimy threads
of discursive ectoplasma, in all directions, a singularity high on its
someone lighted a match. And looked into sleepy faces, scattered all over
the floors. In the little tumult that followed, people were getting up
again, arranging clothing; I witnessed a small conversation, concerning
our guide, who had appeared again and switched on some cozy light.
I might return your focus to some of the movie clips shown before: A lot
of Science Fiction. Documentaries in disguise... hunting down reality
like a wolf in Dolly the Sheep's clothing. Miniature worlds are a common
topos in SF. The view from above... already part of the classic War
of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, which starts with a description of
Earth being watched by the Martians. Scrutinized by distanced eyes."
SCIENCE FICTION AS A ROTATING HALL OF MIRRORS
two prominent figures within the wide boundaries of SF which I would like
to discuss here: One is the model, the miniature, the other is the time
machine. Both narrative figures are often employed to negotiate social,
political, ethical questions of the present time of the author, and quite
often they fold into each other, forming multi-dimensional textures of
immense beauty and narrative power. In the following, I shall try to outline
some features of this binary phantom and suggest how both model worlds
and time machines are essential script engines of the socio-political
global complex which is often subsumed under the term of post-Fordism.
143 WHITE TEXT ON BLACK SCREEN
I could go on with these pseudo-academic style trying to sum up some ideas
about Science Fiction. But it won't come close – not even as a model.
(Beware: The next part may be skipped. If the budget's limited, jump to scene 144 directly.)
INT. A LONG HALLWAY WITH DOORS ON EACH SIDE
some Steve Reich phasing stuff.
From behind the doors we hear the choir of the stagehands, who sing a simple canon (if there is such a thing). Now and then a door opens up and we see and hear one of them on-screen.
(Off Screen / On Screen)
Door 144A opens and a woman pops her head out.
144A INT. DINING ROOM AT THE TIME TRAVELLER'S HOME
worked on the comparatively short Time Machine for many years.
It's social critique has been well discussed: The book projects the British
class system into a future where the beautiful little Eloi live an apparently
carefree life in a pastoral landscape. Ruins attest to a former high level
of civilization. Only after a while we learn about the Morlocks, albino-ape
like cannibals that have evolved from the former working class. They live
underground and keep the machinery going, breeding the Eloi as their flock.
But beside this obvious social comment by the the socialist author, the
text is as exquisite a device as the eponymous invention in it: The first
modern SF-story about the future mirrors its own revolutionary narrative
operation in a machine! The book starts with its inventor challenging
the geometry taught at school and introducing time as the 4th dimension.
(The machine's first appearance is in the form of a miniature model, which
the protagonist let's drive off into another time in front of the selected
will literature's first time traveller do in the future? He visits the
past – enters a building that, in our limited range of technology
and understanding of the space-time continuum, probably resembles a sort
of time travelling operation the most. As Sefik Seki Tatlic points out,
a museum and its more recent revenants in cyberspace are places where
actually nothing is going on, and to which – for that reason? –
the lower classes feel attached. No wonder, that rather soon our future
noob time traveller is driven away by a Morlock that has made the museum
its home; a literary lower-class avatar acting as what they termed a "griefer"
in online worlds like Second Life; a pain in the ass for dedicated players
of the game.
If there is one later work of fiction with equal influence on the public's knowledge about time travelling, it is most certainly the Back to the Future trilogy of the 1980s. Starting in 1985, Doc Brown and Marty drive their DeLorean back to 1955, later to 2015 and back to 1885. Once more, the time travelling act is pre-enacted through the use of models, through which Emmet Brown explains Marty's return from 1955 respectively 1885 to his date of departure.
In the second installment of the series, we see another of Wells's narrative operations at work: What does Marty do first thing he's arrived in 2015? Off to Café 80s! In this Future Retro Café he is served by Max Headroom-alike avatars of Reagan and Khomeini and enjoys a short video game on a vintage arcade machine. Needless to say that this as uncanny as cheap postmodern forecast of the year 2015 was anticipated in reality by more than 10 years. Rarely have time travel stories predicted the future as accurately as in this postmodern loop: Capitalism exploiting cloned remnants of culture and creativity ad nauseam and zombie politics cannibalizing on its own hegemonic fictions. (As usual the flying gadgets didn't happen. Outside Second Life.)
(Hotlink this to the next page on the clipboard, which will come up in scene 152)
144B INT. THE ROOM OPPOSITE THE ROOM THAT WAS DESCRIBED IN 143A
Everything looks breathtakingly symmetrical in here; some kind of higher dimensional super symmetry, as laid out in string theory. Super, but not quite perfectly explored yet. Well, probably never to be grasped at all in its proposed unifying theory of everything. But, as said, looks and sounds just great.
MUSIC: At 40,000 Kelvin, it's Dr. Octagon (with the Emperor General)
1898 and H.G. Wells has established himself as a leading author of what
he himself calls Scientific Romance. In a documentary series,
we would now see an actor playing Wells sitting in his study and writing
the first page of War of the Worlds. While the narrator tells
us about the basics of the story and its later radio adaptation by Orson
Welles etc. etc., we could clearly make out some key phrases in the closeup
of the manuscript: "watched this world keenly and closely",
"as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures
that swarm and multiply in a drop of water", etc – you know
this, " Layerson added with a voice a bit weary of self-reference.
149 INT. MAIN GLASS STRUCTURE OF BIOSPHERE 2, ARIZONA DESERT
2 was built in the 1980s an artificial closed ecological system. It was
used to test if and how people could live and work in a closed system,
exploring the possible use of closed biospheres in space colonization.
been written in 1953, four years before Sputnik, still in the haydays
of SF's space operas – intergalactic wars and romances… And
then Dick comes up with the heretic idea that all we will find there is
dead rocks. And instead people will play some Sim-game. Probably one of
the few SF-stories of that time which were truly prophetic.
From behind a banana tree, McKenzie steps forward as the narrator of another episode of our docu-mini-series, professionally delivering his introductory text.
He goes on – an impressive performance, but we move on to the next room. These studio tours are scheduled tightly, indeed.
exhibit on display is the charred command module of the Apollo 10 mission,
the dress rehearsal for the actual moon landing. The inscription reads:
"Many 'spin-offs' have been claimed for the Apollo flights, including
the miniaturisation of computers and a huge boost to US technology. It
also represented a huge industrial effort which engaged 390.000 people
and took over five percent of the US Federal budget in 1965. The project
generated enormous passion. North American Aviation, the contractors for
the capsule, estimated that some 20 per cent of the 500 millions man-hours
in the project were contributed as free overtime by staff."
Another image appears: It's the famous Earth rise photo of Apollo 10. The blue planet behind the lunar horizon looks like a miniature model carefully attached to the background of a film set. In a way, I think to myself, the moon hoax accusations have a point. In terms of project organization and affective embedding, it has been one enormous film set, for sure.
I recognized that our group had significantly decreased in number, probably
due to this confusing parallel tour gimmick. That's ok, I said to myself.
It's fragmentary knowledge by definition, so it's fair enough to drop
out at any point you like. And anyway, I just love boring lectures, because
then my mind can aimlessly wander around, and often I come up with great
ideas when I'm totally off the actual subject. Or jobs. Imagine working
at a big theatre production, video department. Early in the production,
not much to do. You and your buddy sit in front of the rehearsal stage.
The actors and the director try to transform written language into 3-dimensional
space. Add another dimension: time. And now with more empathy: 5D. You
notice a red fire extinguisher in the middle of the improvised stage design.
Just in case something goes wrong… haha. In between they discuss
the play, which is about language, staging and time itself. In a way it
can't get better anyway, you think.
JUST IN TIME
a flash I'm back in that squatted Multiplex.
150 INT. BIOSPHERE 2, MUSEUM SHOP
The participants browse through the shop. Someone buys a banana-cookbook, or a DVD of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Most people will bring home a small glass bubble, containing air, water, algae, and shrimps: a closed eco-system, a miniaturized merchandise of Biosphere 2.
I take up another DVD: Welt am Draht (World on Wires), originally aired in 1973, is a two part made-for-TV science fiction movie by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, based on the novel Simulacron Three by Daniel F. Galouye. The Institut für Zukunftsforschung und Kybernetik has developed a computer that simulates a whole tiny world for socio-economic forecasts. Problem is the artificial inhabitants don't know about their artificiality; the further narrative logic is quite obvious (recursivity!), earning the film the label "Matrix for the advanced"
The paradigmatical narrative setting of Welt am Draht combines the miniature model and time-travelling, as the simulation model is used for prognosis of the future. The very same procedure has today become an essential operation for optimizing technological and ecomomic processes, both small-scale as in globalized transfers of goods and information.
151 EXT. THE WIDE PLANES OF THE SECOND LIFE GRID
A bunch of daft avatars typing away into the empty air.
OF FREDRIC JAMESON
OF MARGARET CAVENDISH
152 INT. ENTERTAINMENT CENTER, INFO BOX
Roni Layerson is gone. Only her clipboard remains, a last trace of information, structure and direction. Miraculously it floats above the main exhibit of this room – a maquette of the Multiplex, built long ago to impress money laundering investors and later displayed in this room to create some form of spatial identity for the visitors. The clipboard turns around and I get a glimpse of what seems to be the final page. Somekind of an animated diagram, depicting aspects of models within a multi-dimensional continuum. I can read some of it:
CYCLIC TIME – CYCLIC SPACE
had a peculiar design. It almost curved the paper it was drawn upon, longing
to break out of its two-dimensional limits. My eyes could not focus on
details. The individual subparts seemed constantly in motion, slowly morphing
into each other. An unknown symmetry. A perfect symmetry of immaterial
MUSIC: (fades in) Life is Life, Laibach's version. Fanfares, "Every minute of the future / Is a memory of the past" etc…
Someone next to me speaks up: "Scientists have found out that the very same brain regions are activated by remembering the past and imagining the future. Mental time travels seem to rely on the same neurological processes. A suspicion first observed by the old greeks and later detailed by french philosphers Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze is finally confirmed! Without any doubt! Authorized by publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences!!!"
political theory has taken up Bergson's and Deleuze's thoughts in order
to study the specific time manipulations within today's socio-economic
regime. Join us for next week's episode, when we will see how left theorists
try to analyze what's really going on in society and in your mind!"
studies show that the mental time travel mode is the default activity
for the idle brain. The article ends like this: It seems that unless called
upon to do something specific, your brain is busy recalling the past or
projecting into the future. So next time you catch yourself staring into
space instead of getting on with your work, or drifting into reverie as
you try to read a book, don't beat yourself up about it. Your daydreams
will pay off in the long run."
(...) indeed, for those only too wary of the motives of its critics, yet no less conscious of Utopia's structural ambiguities, those mindful of the very real political function of the idea and the program of Utopia in our time, the slogan of anti-anti-Utopianism might well offer the best working strategy. (Fredric Jameson, Archeologies of the Future)
rendering of this text has been published in the popular SF magazine Multiplex
Fiction in its spring 2006 issue (available through daegseingcny.net