Let’s start with this scenario: Humankind has gone through a phase of total technologization. After that, humankind has transcended technology and has given it up to itself. How do people live, what kind of technology have they kept in their lives?
I find it funny in either way, in either scenario: in one everything would be automated and technology would be so advanced that it is only able to communicate with itself, leaving humans alone to play like millionaire’s children. The other would be that there was an apocalypse and the only thing that remains are strange hardware parts, which nobody knows how to use anymore. In both scenarios, we would not be in a very primal nature state, instead we would again be in a strange hybrid space where we would still have to deal with technology, capitalism, neo liberalism, techno solutionism, it is already embedded in our minds, in our culture, in our society. In both scenarios, humans are again free to do what they want, but still of course, they are not.
They would measure themselves still with the machines.
Yes. And they would try to communicate with them because they want to connect with them, of course. What would be a scenario that reflects on the one hand this alienation and on the other hand, still gives people a certain agency to connect, either with nature or with technology? It was always interesting to simply admit how alienated you are actually from technology and capitalism and to allow yourself to be naïve again, because I think it‘s really out of fashion to be naïve or to call yourself stupid. Everybody has to be pragmatic and self enchained. If you are alienated from all that, then you‘re allowed to play again, like a child.
Somehow have ownership over it again.
Somehow. In that act of playing you can relate to things. It‘s on a symbolic level, but on the other hand, everything we are allowed to do under this highly advanced system is to play on a symbolic level.
You were mentioning Robert Pfaller’s concept of interpassivity before, who wrote that people delegate being human to machines in order to not have to live themselves. In your project, xeno realism, people kind of take back their life. It’s obvious that technology is not functioning to live it for them. The workshop that you gave at RIAT, it was partly taking place in McDonald’s? What was that about?
Yeah. I gave two workshops for RIAT, the first, was sort of a post-studio practice where we would use the mall as a sort of studio and also to use to go for a hunt, like a professional shopper. To embrace this consumerism, to not see it in this negative way, but to find materials, which you can afford of course, and then again how you can, in situationist way detour them.
It’s embracing it and then subverting it?
Yes. Subverting it and also use these capitalist spaces like McDonald‘s where you have free internet and you can hang around as a place to meet and talk and produce art works. It was provocative, because art and western individualism has this notion of purity - to keep art pure from everything else, as well as to keep your soul as an individual pure from consumerism, which does not work, because again it‘s this Western opposition. Me against the world or me against capitalism. Art against economy or something. It‘s interesting to form hybrids and to really embrace these hybrids to cope with our surroundings.
And the other workshop?
The original plan was to build a gas mask out of a coconut. It turned out it doesn‘t work and you cannot do it. I changed the plan and we reenacted how the coconut comes to Austria to our group. This globalism is a really obscure system where you could not possibly understand the complexity of how your smartphone is produced and arrives to your place. I found it interesting to reenact, replay in an animist way how a coconut arrives at our place and where it is.
I think it’s very refreshing that all the other people gave workshops to try to demystify technology and make tech literacy available and you gave up completely on the concept and you just substituted.
Exactly. It‘s a really radical way to admit how little you can know, I completely gave it up. If I have got a highly technological tool, I don‘t try to understand it anymore, but lick it like an animal or a child and see how it tastes. It‘s sort of a primitivism as a way to find a connection no matter how stupid it might seem. We agreed on one narrative about where coconuts grows, probably somewhere in Thailand? Then we came up with a very spontaneous con-fabulation, purely speculative. Still it was a story that everybody could comprehend and identify with. If it‘s true or not that‘s another question.
The other workshop at McDonald’s, did you document what people bought in the mall?
Yes, I gave everybody some Euros and they went shopping and they produced archaic weapons from the materials they bought, like bow and arrow, axes and shoes and stuff like that.
Is there anything else you want to add to your approach to workshops?
Yes. I find workshops really interesting under the assumption that people are getting more alienated from society and technology, as everything is getting more automated. Another implication of this automation is that it cuts down on human interaction. You don‘t ask for your way but you type it into your app. I find workshops a really interesting way for the future to meet, to talk and to do something, even if it is in a childlike play or as a way of a ritual, because I think all this is taken away by the digital ideology - concerning the ritual and actual doing something in reality.
Machines do everything repetitive.
The human also has an urge to do something repetitive, it gives security and it‘s calming together with other people. I like to think of the workshop as a pre-enactment of something that could happen in the future, be it like a imaginary community, as you said, or like a ritual where you would meet around the campfire. In times of a-temporality where linear time doesn‘t exist anymore, you can see a small society, like a cult or like a workshop as a seed of something that could happen in the future. It just depends on how it can be collectivized.