CHAPTER 1: Fusi Time
Economies of Presence and Strategic Hypochondria
Fusi Time: Hungarian term used during the Communist period, meaning ‘to steal time from the factory in order to produce your own goods’. The practice included the illegal production of goods performed with the available machinery in factories or the engagement of working time for self-expression.
The works featured in this section of the exhibition inhabit the landscapes produced by the attempts to live, work and strike within the contemporary economies of presence. The term “economy of presence” was first used by William J.Mitchell in 1999, to describe the wide range of different grades of presence that are available to us thanks to new technologies. According to Mitchell, in our daily transactions we would start to gradually weight the amount of virtuality to use against the costs, choosing to engage in face-to-face meetings or instead to rely on one of the multiple different remote communication techniques at our disposal, on the basis of the importance or pleasantness of the activity considered.
Almost twenty years later, the economisation of presence metamorphosed from being a futuristic tool in our hands to the dystopian pleasure-based economy most of the world lives in: the urge for hyper-productivity has incorporated each field of our lives through the multiple platforms in use to mediate ourselves to the world, making it impossible to distinguish anymore between working hours and leisure time. Just like in the vertigo of utopic, high-performance landscapes produced in Don’t Look Down by Sabrina Chou, we are required to constantly perform, whether our performance takes the shape of labor, game, sport, survival or entertainment. We need to be always present, as the institutional apparatuses rely on our so-called ‘fear of missing out’.
In these landscapes, where immaterial labour, personal commitment and the search for pleasure are barely distinguishable and in constant operation, the practice of strike as physical absence is a strategy of refusal that ceased to be effective. In the age of self-performance, withdrawal from work is impossible, and different strategies need to be found to claim the right to inhabit our own time. Giving the title to the first section of the exhibition, Fusi Time by Clemént Carat features a race organised by the artist in a factory in Csepel, Budapest, to playfully reappropriate the legacy of the term ‘Fusik’, searching for alternative ways to sabotage workers’ exploitation from within. The two forklifts running in circles in Carat’s film perform as the hands of an ideal clock at the beginning the exhibition, running on a time-loop that is always stolen and, therefore, always a gift.
The two workers of Fusi Time, an almost iconic symbol of 20st century Fordist labour, dialogue ideally with the two protagonists of the film Printed Sunset by Andrés Barón, resting in the enjoyment of a digitally produced sunset at the other end of the room. Close by, this section of Abracadabra ideally concludes with the audio-essay Get Rid of Yourself, Again by Radna Rumping, a narration that unfolds through the politics of visibility and invisibility that regulate our personal relationships in contemporary society. The production of proxies, the use of camouflage and the visceral decision to engage in presence or absence in our daily lives are voiced through the stories and personal memories of several different characters, in a landscape where intimacy is both shared and challenged.
It has often been said that we no longer have an addressee for our political demands. But that's not true. We have each other. What we can no longer get from the state, the party, the union, the boss, we ask for from one another. And we provide. – Brian Kuan Wood
Since economy is no longer based on the production of objects, but rather runs on information, the conventional arbiters of value convert easily into immaterial alternatives such as emotions and experiences. Niceness, authenticity and love are the currencies of our time, equally appropriated by marketing strategies and institutional politics. This becomes very clear in the installation All About You by Olivia Hernaïz, in which a silky voice sings a hopeful love song in the ear of the visitors, while they are lying down on a massage table – only to find out that the lyrics are actually composed of excerpts from existing bank slogans. The work echoes with the idea that formal welfare and institutionalised forms of support can be replaced by our personal engagement in reproductive labour, or by the good vibes produced during a corporate mindfulness meditation session. The re-appropriation of forms of intimacy and dialogue is one of the focuses of Garden by David Bernstein: the artist invents objects to be performed with the audience, “things in between” to be activated through haptics, a somatic form of communication that takes place through touching, re-signifying objects and the time that we spend together with them and with each other.
If time management is the battlefield on which the economy of presence fights its war, health is a poisonous gift in the epoch of exploitation and neoliberal managerialism. Being healthy means being productive and achieving, and therefore the mental well-being of workers is as important as the job performed. The culture of high-performance, as Byung-Chul Han pointed out in The Burnout Society, is based on the illusion that each individual should be able to generate an inexhaustible amount of energy solely from his/her own resources. This is why concepts as tiredness, exhaustion, convalescence and illness can gain a productive and corrosive meaning if tentatively performed in the society of over-achievement. In the film Mothership Goes to Brazil, Josefin Arnell brings her mother on a journey from a Swedish burned down forest to the spiritual town of Abadiania, Brazil, to meet John of God, one of the most famous healers in the world. When they arrive, they are informed that John of God has been himself hospitalised, and mother and daughter have to figure out their own way to find healing, mostly through love, alcoholism and codependency.
In the contemporary post-immunological age, hypochondria itself can become a compelling theme to address and a helpful device to employ. According to Gilles Deleuze, the hypochondriac is not suffering of a form of abnormal malady, but rather expressing a super-sensitivity to bodily forces. The hypochondriac can see and feel what regularly healthy people cannot, thus becoming able to activate processes and sensitivities that escape the control protocols of a society obsessed with health. In Redsky66 by Ruth Waters, the hypochondriac’s supersensitivity takes the shape of apeirophobia: the fear of eternity. The dystopian effects of the economy of presence strike back again in the film, this time in the form of the involuntary over-presence of an online comment that becomes so unbearable that it resembles infinity.
Just outside the dark environment dedicated to Redsky66, the attempt of locating and redirecting perpetual motion is put forward by Joe Highton and Victor Ruiz Colomer. Puller presents the experiment to produce DIY machines engineered to escape friction and self-maintain motion, where a mechanical routine melts into a more unreliable sense of time. As a landscape to this section of the exhibition, Nonsense by Ilya Grishaev challenges the relationship between the technology of reproduction of data and the human ability to mechanically replicate a shape, producing a pattern that inhabits the gap between algorithmic language and automatic writing.
CHAPTER 2: The Wind Blows Where it Wants to
Descriptive language and ineffability
We all know how we know what we already know, but we don’t know how to know what we don’t know. That is a very fundamental notion of western knowledge
– Irit Rogoff
The works featured in this section of the exhibition open up to the possibilities conveyed by ineffability. Just as the term ‘Abracadabra’ was able to persist in multiple cultures and languages thanks to the fundamental ungraspability – and, therefore, untranslatability – of the meaning it carries, the latency of sense can activate ways of producing and sharing knowledge that smuggle away from the requirements of efficiency and control we are daily forced into. As described by philosopher Federico Campagna, ‘the ineffable dimension of existence is that which cannot be captured by descriptive language, and which escapes all attempts to put it to ‘work’ – either in the economic series of production, or in those of citizenship, technology, science, social roles, and so on’. Similarly to the protagonist of the short script that accompanies Dog in Space by Fritz Hendrik Berndsen, the force of the unconscious and the potentialities embedded in ineffability and ‘not-knowing’ can generate a new reality that exceeds the expectations imposed over it.
Giving the title to this section of the exhibition, The wind blows where it wants to by Bram De Jonghe has a candle as the protagonist of a journey in the room. Between the inspirations of the small kinetic sculpture wondering around the space, there is a scene from the movie La Ville Louvre by Nicolas Philibert, in which a sculpture is moved on a trolley towards the restoration department, and almost comes alive thanks to this movement, suddenly allowing us to see the museum from a different angle through its disembodied eyes. The time of our daily existence and the time of narration and history gets confused in De Jonghe’s work, as the artwork becomes the only light source allowing to look closely to the perimeter of the original room of the Rassvet factory, maintained in its original condition in occasion of the exhibition.
The unspeakability of the ineffable, that can never be reduced to any linguistic classification, is key to its ability to fail the expectations that are imposed on it by external forces. The sphinx featured in And if in a Thousand Years by Patrick Hough was originally buried after being produced and used on the film-set for Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. In the film, the sphinx comes back to life in its hybrid form and cryptic presence, reflecting on its ability to constantly disappoint the demands and claims that were made upon it time after time. The strategic latency of the sphinx raises a last, unanswered question: to what extent is the persistence of the ineffable to be ascribed to the strength of its forces and to what extent is it instead a humble consequence of human inability to grasp it? As the sphinx itself suggests, apostrophising the viewer: ‘So do I persist because I am a riddle without clues or because you are endlessly forgetful?’
And if in a Thousand Years dialogues with a series of works in Abracadabra that tackle the issue of what happens to monuments that were built as the direct expression of a specific power, once that power has been put aside. In Sic Semper Tyrranis (Dance, Dance, Dance) by Anastasis Stratakis, a civilian is filmed while smashing a bronze statue of Hitler with a sledgehammer, in Cologne right after the end of World War II. The video fragments when the statue is hit were removed, making invisible but still distinctly hearable the blows of the hammer, that guide the viewer to the next section of the show, echoing and responding to the loud sounds produced by Monelle by Diego Marcon from the underground space.
CHAPTER 3: If I Can't Dance I don't Want to be Part of Your Revolution
Secret Words and Related Stories
In the world risk society, politics is made in various realms of sub-politics, whether it is in the firm, the laboratory, at the gas station, or in the supermarket. New types of conflict emerge and new coalitions become thinkable. Sub-politics thus questions the status of existing systems, calls for a rethinking of the various schemes of classification according to which people are accustomed to perceive their organisational environment’
– Ulrich Beck
The atmosphere opening this section of the exhibition is set by The darkest hour is just before the dawn (thoughts on solo drinking) by Vasilis Papageorgiou. The space is populated by a number of scattered elements, where the viewer can recognise the sculptural deconstruction of a bar. The objects may resemble dream-like relicts belonging to a community that just left the site, or hint at ghostly monuments of a subculture that can be re-activated as a sculptural script. The landscape set up by Papageorgiou hosts the narrations of a section of the show singed by the suggestion that the search for agency cannot be regulated to a firmly cordoned-off arena named the political.
The birth of anarchist Emma Goldman’s famous statement ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution’ and its succeeding appropriation and transformation in multiform slogan (lastly, the title of this same chapter of the exhibition) stands as a suggestion that the search for sovereignty might have to be directed towards interstitial spaces and gestures, minor compositions, oblique and secret scenarios that recall what has been recently theorised as the ‘undercommons’ – an opaque realm where micro-politics and unexpected economies can attempt to take the lead. This search echoes in the almost invisible gestures recorded by Natalie Maximova in ILL SEEN, or in the movements of Zeibekiko dance, re-choreographed in the dark streets of Athens by to kosie. It is ironically claimed by Svetlana Vorontsova-Velyaminova in her magical amulet for contemporary times All Work and No Play, playfully re-appropriating the magical procedure used in ancient times to activate the word “Abracadabra”, proposing а magic call for a break in the form of rave from the contemporary society of 24/7 work. The sub-politics of exuberance can be considered as the flip-side of the economy of presence: they don’t oppose dominant paradigms but rather slightly exceed their expectations, providing for the production of an unforeseen surplus that enables the transgression of predefined demands. Exuberance interrupts the regime of debt and credit, through the activation of an unexpected economy of overabundance: giving too much of what is not presently requested – radical generosity against rational calculus.
In Secret Words and Related Stories by Jonna Kina this “excess” takes the shape of the intimate narrations hidden behind the impersonal passwords that we are required to submit in our online accounts, undercovering how the protocols of security and privacy demanded by contemporary society create cold proxies for the emotional and sometimes hilarious human stories behind them. In the same room, Word Count 1 and The martyrdom of Professor Sanchez by Kasia Fudakowski push to the extreme that same attempt at controlling and quantifying human nature through language, in a dystopian future in which scientists confirm a direct correlation between the dramatically rising sea levels and the amount of words that we speak. The two works composing Fragments of a Conversation with a Counterfeiter, created by Diego Tonus in collaboration with an anonymous counterfeiter, ideally close this investigation on the contemporary systems of the definition of value and the strategies to secretly hack them – questioning the valorisation of language, time and space in contemporary life.
CHAPTER 4: The Theatre of Sleepwalkers
Stories of Suggestion and Self-Suggestion
During our regular night shifts, the general manager used to be abrasive with any worker he saw dozing. He used to take punitive action against them. One night, one hundred and eight of us went to sleep, all together, on the shop floor. Managers, one after the other, who came to check on us, saw us all sleeping in one place, and returned quietly. We carried on like this for three nights. They didn’t misbehave with us, didn’t take any action against us. Workers in other sections of the factory followed suit. It became a tradition of sorts.
— Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar (Faridabad Workers’ News), May 2014
In the last few decades it has been speculated that sleep, lucid dreaming and unconsciousness can be a legitimate reply to the anguished insomnia of constant productive hyper-connectivity imposed by the culture of high-performance. If the battleground of the economy of presence is deeply embedded in the circadian rhythm, it is in that same realm that we can search for strategic withdrawals, inhabiting the possibilities for action entailed in the dialectics between ordinary awareness and altered states of consciousness.
The Variational Status by Riccardo Giacconi enters this narration articulating the variations on a same topos performed by two overlapping narrations: the espiritado, a Colombian puppet character presumably inspired by the murder of a policeman during a village celebration, and the Italian soldier Augusto Masetti, who shot at his commander in an act of insubordination against the colonial war in Libya. In both cases, an act of mutiny is carried out in a state of trance or somnambulism, in which unconsciousness becomes the weapon enabling an insubordination that would be unimaginable in the rational order of things.
In the dialogue The Theatre of Sleepwalkers, that gives the title to this section of the exhibition, Giacconi and philosopher Andrea Cavalletti recall a third narration that resembles the same structure: the famous novel by Thomas Mann Mario and the Magician (1927). In the story, Mann represented the mesmerising power of authoritarian leaders in Europe at the time through the metaphor of the magician Cipolla, a hypnotist who uses mental powers to control his audience. In the novella, the sinister magician subjugates the masses with his autocratic attitude, but is finally murdered by Mario, a native of the city where the hypnotist was touring. The story allowed the reader to imagine an alternative to the control of authoritarian powers, since consciousness, will and self-control are products of a game of suggestion that works in both directions. The self-suggestion of the hypnotist is as important as the suggestion of the audience, amongst which a non-suggestable subject may suddenly appear, producing an unforeseeable – and sometimes deadly – outcome.
This section of the exhibition continues in the underground space of Rassvet factory, with the film Monelle by Diego Marcon. In Marcon’s film, the ‘theatre of sleepwalkers’ takes the shape of the Casa del Fascio in Como, built in the Thirties by Giuseppe Terragni as the local headquarter of the National Fascist Party. Most of the film is black, as the images appear unexpectedly thanks to flashlights that are spread in the space, exposing a group of young girls sleeping amongst the architectural elements of the building, before being plunged back into darkness. A series of other presences – digitally generated but indistinguishable from the real bodies – surround the girls and engage in different obscure activities within the space, betraying the modern myth of transparency with the opacity of mysterious forces that end up being accommodated as in a collective hypnosis operation.
The chapter of the show ideally concludes with the spiritual fiction Leokadia by Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson. The drawings tell the story of a young woman who undergoes a near-death-experience, and loves it so much that decides to hack the border of life and death and jump back and forth to the afterlife.
CHAPTER 5: A Hand in the Game
Dark Ecologies and Erotic Cosmonauts
To be “fully human”— what a drag. We seem to have been trying that for twelve thousand years. Playing as a broken toy among other broken toys sounds more like it.
– Timothy Morton
This section of the exhibition ideally starts with two mosquito magnets. Mosquito magnets are consumer products commonly used during the summer to repel mosquitos in the backyards of family houses. These devices are designed to release a continuous stream of carbon dioxide, octenol and other scents, technically replicating the exact chemical reactions produced by a human body. By so doing, the magnets attract mosquitos through tricking them into thinking that these overly-human machines will be more appealing to bite than real human flesh. Mosquito magnets have been the first research focus that Thomas Hämén pursued for Cosplay Campers. According to the artist, these proxies of the human body synthesise in their symbolic function two of the most primeval fears for all living things: on the one hand, the fear of having one’s body eaten by other animals; on the other, the fear of one’s body being replaced by machines. In Thomas Hämén’s mythological perspective, mosquito magnets, by virtue of the representation of these atavistic human fears, can inhabit two diverse paradigmatic figures of our time: the vampire on one side and the cyborg on the other.
Hämén’s work attempts to re-enchant a technological device, borrowed from the consumerist products world and forced into an alternative narrative of co-existence between humans, machines, animals, commodities, decoys, chemistry and insects. The re-enchantment, though, is far from offering a conciliatory understanding of the relationships involved: it is uncanny, annoying, somewhat threatening – in a word: dark. Just as dark is the inter-species sociability proposed by the scorpion-human relationship of Ultraviolet by Marc Johnson. As Timothy Morton would say, ‘the darkness of ecological awareness is the darkness of noir, which is a strange loop: the detective is a criminal’. In Morton’s perspective, we are the criminals and there is no redemption: together with the possibility of inhabiting others we have lost the privilege to be fully human. ‘We are less than the sum of our parts; multitudes teem in us’.
Outside by Beny Wagner features the overlapping of two cyclic metabolic paths: the human metabolism on one hand and the infrastructural processing of waste on the other. In the film, the concealment of waste inside the human body is dialectically followed by the concealment of the human body inside waste. The complex biodiversity of the digestive system becomes a micro-biological device to open up new ways of understanding human intelligence as decentralised and closely linked to organic life. Beny Wagner’s research on macro- and micro-infrastructures tackles the role of boundaries in the post-immunological age, proposing a collaborative threshold in which oppositional forces are kept in balance. Outside echoes the sculptural intervention by Violet Dennison ShaStreamEarthTrauma, a powder-coated steel structure that emits the sound waves at 528 hertz, a frequency that can only be experienced unconsciously – the sound can be easily mistaken for environmental noise –, but is known to have the power to directly act upon human DNA. In Dennison’s work, human bodies are the scenography for processes that cannot be explicitly grasped: they become echo chambers for outside frequencies or vessels for rapid bacterial growth.
A Hand in the Game - Termination by Hillevi Cecilia Högström acts as a threshold, a scenario and double backdrop of this section of the exhibition. In the video Termination, the artist hacks the anthropocentric gaze conveyed by the videogame SimPark, released in the 90s as a means to educate children about ecology and biodiversity. Over a simulation of one hundred years, the artist manages the ecosystem for ten years dutifully according to the instructions of the software company, and then lets the system degrade for the following ninety years, provoking the anarchic upheaval of the natural world, muddling up things and positions, de-enchanting and re-enchanting pre-existing narrations. ‘There is a scientific hypothesis that the second plague was caused by an ecosystem collapse that began with a toxic algae blooming in the Nile that disrupted the biological balance and dyed the water red’, points out the artist’s voice while some moose run confusedly around an army of intimidating frogs within the luxuriant landscapes of spruces, lilac and giant sunflowers that the SimPark simulation produced in November 2059.
The experiment enacted by Högström conveys the idea that the relationship between myths, presumed rational scientific narrations and our perception of reality is blurred and can be challenged. As Richard Jenkins suggests, ‘formal-rational logics and processes can themselves be re-enchanted from within, or become the vehicles of re-enchantment’. Scientific narrations could therefore become a tool for a process of re-enchantment of the world, as the narration featured in the site-specific installation RIOT: by Ryts Monet proposes. The outer perimeter of the building of Rassvet factory hosts a golden text composed by the artist, recalling a recent scientific study that puts forward the hypothesis that gold is not an authocton metal of Earth, but actually came to our planet from outer space after a storm of meteors. This scientifically accepted hypothesis hints at the re-interpretation of the physical nature of gold, and, together with it, at the re-interpretation of its symbolic value in the history of humanity. How should we re-read the roles that were attributed to gold in different epochs if we start thinking about it as an alien matter – from the divine and mystic features given to it by ancient and contemporary religions, to the geopolitical importance it still has in the definition of international powers within global markets? Could this discovery be as relevant for humankind as the measures that brought to the ‘Nixon Shock’, the moment in which the direct convertibility of the US dollar to gold was cancelled, bringing for the first time to the dematerialisation of capital? The golden letters of Ryts Monet’s work surround the exhibition space as a sort of armor, a protective layer hypothetically coming from outer space and strategically engaged to divide the exhibition space from daily reality.
In 1972, ironically one year after the ‘Nixon Shock’ measures, NASA installed a golden plaque on the spacecrafts Pioneer 10 and 11 to bring a message for extraterrestrial life from mankind. Voyager Return Trip by Tomoyuki Ueno suggests a contemporary reflection on the peace message featured on the plaques, in a complex installation that ideally closes the exhibition, together with the film Discovery by Sybren Renema. In dialogue with Voyager, the farthest spacecraft from earth, Discovery documents the initially apparently more modest journey of a chip of wood. Launched to reach a height of 35 kilometers, in nearly three hours we see the chip of wood arriving into outer space and then getting violently catapulted back to Earth. The journey acquires an epic atmosphere when we come to know that the piece of wood in the film is a relict that the artist took from the vessel of the RSS Discovery, the first polar exploration of captain Robert Falcon Scott, that was led in 1901-1904 as the first scientific attempt to study Antarctica. Reflecting on human ambition, its perseverance and its futility, the piece articulates a narration that transversally cuts time and space, suggesting a foreign, disembodied perspective on the human drive to reach for knowledge.
CHAPTER 6: The School of the End of Time
Educational and Public Programme of Abracadabra
The School of the End of Time is a quasi-educational and performative platform that aims at exploring collectively new ways of inhabiting knowledge through a non-hierarchical approach between theoretical learning and artistic research. The School of the End of Time is conceived as a long-term project, a living organism, a nomadic institution composed of an ever-changing community of researchers and practitioners. The activities of The School of the End of Time employ formats, tools and roles developed by dramaturgy and theatre to situate knowledge in a specific, exuberant act.
In occasion of Abracadabra, The School of the End of Time developed a three-day educational and public programme co-curated by Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti, Ambra Pittoni and Paul-Flavien Enriquez-Sarano. The programme featured practicioners and guests directly invited by The School of the End of Time and a number of performances conceived by artists included in Abracadabra. At this page you can see documentation of the artists' performances. Please jump to The School of the End of Time for extensive information about the project in general and to browse the full public programme.