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s t i l l a l i v e

Digital video, sound, 2:58. 2022, after John Carpenter's They Live

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The video work stillalive is a commission for the Kunsthaus Graz and the exhibition ‘Faking the Real’. The concept was to produce an artistic edit of a specific three-minute excerpt from John Carpenter’s film ‘They Live’. This approach corresponds to my way of working. My video works often draw on film quotations as source material, which I modify with editing, loops, effects, etc.

Although Carpenter’s film was made in 1988, its aesthetic makes it feel more as if it was a product of the 1970s. The movie criticises the commercialisation and consumerism in the USA of the 1980s, and hence the time of the neoliberal turn under Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Invisible to the population, aliens rule over media corporations and manipulate humanity with hidden messages such as ‘Work! Don’t think! Consume! Obey!’

My aim was to bring this film sequence into the present, since the critical view that the film casts on society remains as current as ever. It is only the methods and technologies of exploitation and concentration of power that have become subtler and more granular. Today, algorithms and artificial intelligence dissect, describe, interpret and analyse us. The technical means are so advanced and ready for use that we can be observed and recognised at every turn. We live in a digital totalisation that is eroding democratic foundations. Many give up privacy and data protection for promises of security. Manipulation is achieved through scaremongering. In this way, our consent is forced to accept millions of cameras in public space linked to facial recognition systems. Racism and inequality are on the rise because the systems are unfair and display bias effects – prejudices and preconceptions are systemically inscribed in AI and algorithms. The collaboration between autocrats/dictators and tech oligarchs is endangering democracy and human rights. Sebastian Kurz was recruited by Peter Thiel to bring in his political connections, especially in Eastern Europe. Thiel represents an anarcho-capitalist ideology that seeks to undermine democracy. China is already further ahead – it could be described as the first data-driven dictatorship. Its digital social credit system is to be exported across the digital Silk Road. Many countries are interested, including France and Poland. And in the US, Elon Musk dreams of a single app combining all functions, which is the motivation behind his interest in Twitter. This would give him a sphere of control and power that would surpass even that of China in the sense that his ‘customers’ and ‘users’ are distributed across the globe, i.e. everywhere except behind China’s ‘Great Firewall’. The resulting ideological rivalry would be between a capitalist system based on the perversion of private property and a system based on the perversion of communism as state capitalism without barriers. As for the ‘aliens’, they are unlikely to invade us from distant galaxies but may soon visit us from our own solar system: they are already on their way to Mars. Instead of improving conditions and circumstances on Earth, they are concerned with control from Earth’s orbit and the exploitation of other planets.

One could describe the whole thing as a truly cosmic ‘Deep Fake’. Especially if you consider that the microcosmic and the macrocosmic are being manipulated here. The world is, so to speak, being psycho-technically manipulated from within. I therefore use ‘Deep Fake’ techniques and Artificial Intelligence to produce a manipulation that does not conceal but rather visualises. In essence, I work with aesthetics instead of anaesthetics, that is, with the production of perception instead of the anaesthesia and obfuscation that constantly obscures our view today. In this sense, the pixelation of the ‘real world’ representation is also a metaphor for the digitalisation of the world, whose technical resolution is increasing, yet which means that we can in fact see and thus know less and less. And so it is dissolving as a meaningful and sense-giving environment.

Lastly, a word about the terms I have used. The terms that appeared in Carpenter’s film, such as ‘Work! Don't Think! Consume! Obey!’, have in part been changed and combined here with terms more relevant to the present day. In contrast to the 1980s, when representation had not yet been replaced by performative modes and gamified forms of action, today there are new roles to be fulfilled: Compete!, Speculate!, Believe!, Influence!, Self-Improve!, Capitalize!, Expose and Share! and Perform! are the messages we are supposed to follow without question. After all, it’s all just a game.

Shown at: FAKING THE REAL The Art of Enticement 22.09.2022-08.01.202, Kunsthaus Graz, AT.