Player Piano: A Subjective Atlas of a Landscape of Labour
Player Piano seeks to reframe the question of a post-labour society in historical terms. It prefigures a future (or maybe remembers a past) society that establishes itself on the island of Abraxa, the future site of Utopia—a landscape-as-collage built on millennia of mythologies, technological breakthroughs, societal conflict and class struggle.
“The future Homo Ludens will not have to make art for he shall be creative in the practice of his daily life.”
— Constant Nieuwenhuys
Visitors take a journey to the island of Abraxa. This fictional island is populated by a series of true stories, micro narratives and scenarios. The exhibition featured 33 films constructing an alternative timeline on the history of automation and labour. A wire mesh island built at the scale of 1:1000 floated in the air. Visitors to the island used the custom viewfinder to scan the landscape and view its environments and inhabitants within a VR film overlay. 100 meters of privacy film - typically used to conceal the information on a computer screen - here forms the horizon of the island. Meanwhile the sound of music can be heard coming from the player piano autonomously.
Player Piano a revisitation of American writer Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 debut novel. Set in a fully automated future, the book is a meditation on the meaning and purpose of life in a work-free environment in which labour has become the domain of machines.
Whereas Vonnegut’s text is a dark parable illustrating the crushing effects of mechanization on human freedom and culture, this exhibition seeks to reframe the question of a post-labour society in historical terms. It prefigures a future (or maybe remembers a past) society that establishes itself on the island of Abraxa, the future site of Utopia—a landscape-as-collage built on millennia of mythologies, technological breakthroughs, societal conflict and class struggle.
The only thing more ancient than the dream of liberation from work is the dread of automation itself; yet stitching together fragments of this panorama of human endeavor another vision is possible – a civilization simultaneously liberated from the cults of labour, technology and ownership.
The current conditions of our existence are presented to us as inescapable—a political, economic and social order driven by imperatives of expansion and consumption to which, we are told, there is no viable alternative. Torn on a daily basis between the promise of technological salvation and the specter of systemic collapse, we are left to make sense of an increasingly vast, complex and fragmented reality in which the spectrum of what is possible to change has, paradoxically, been dramatically reduced.
Player Piano is a reflection on what is at stake as we set about the task of designing the future. Situating visitors in an undefined future landscape (an island, or perhaps the surface of a meteor), viewers are invited to recast themselves as tourists visiting a distant and unfamiliar reality in which ideas and technologies already visible on the horizon have dramatically expanded the boundaries of what is collectively considered possible. In this parallel reality, which exists outside the hegemony of neoliberalism, the landscape becomes a metaphor for the Stack - the infrastructural materialization of social order - and biohacking, full automation, decentralized economies and new forms of ownership are the tools through which it is built. Throughout this landscape, a series of artefacts – artworks, clippings, objects and ephemera – recount the trajectory towards an alternative vision of our collective future, and how we can build it.
To accompany the exhibition the French edition of the book: Accelerer le Futur. Post-travail & Post-capitalisme : Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams was published with an appendix insert: Notes for travellers to the island of Abraxa, Space Caviar. The appendix outlines the politics, bio-topography, ethics, economy, bio-politics, sociality and environment of the island Abraxa. These Ethnoanthropological notes, much like Inventing the Future outline the island's general refusal of work
We traveled to 20 countries to film sites of seminal moments within the history of labour. They’re all real, but we were not interested in the reality. We were interested in presenting fictional characters or fictional scenarios, so we removed all specificity of time and place, and simply presented them as a whole. Our intention was that the experience of the exhibition would be a little bit like editing a film through the movement of your body, taken through a series of transitions of connections and relations. And through all of this, it suggests the possibility of a completely different reading of history.
Curator: Space Caviar (Joseph Grima, Simone Niquille, Giulia Finazzi, Sofia Pia Belenky, Jakob Skote, Nicci Yin)
Acoustic Design: Charli Tapp
Production: GISTO (Alessandro Mason, Gabriele Lucchitta)
Book Accompaniment: Notes for travellers to the island of Abraxa by Space Caviar
Accelerer le Futur. Post-travail & Post-capitalisme : Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams
Exhibitions: 9 March- 9 April 2017
Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne 2017
Cité du Design, Saint-Étienne, France
Subjects & Locations:
Hammer (Kenyathropus platyops, 3.3M BC), Lomekwi3 archeological dig, West Turkana, Kenya
Talos Urn (unknown, 5cBC) Ruvo di Puglia, Italy
Elephant Clock (Ismail Al Jazari, c.1206 AD, Iraq) reproduction in Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai, c. 2005
Uro settlements (15c) Lake Titicaca, Peru
Knitting machine (William Lee, 1589) Calverton, Nottinghamshire, UK
The Admiralty building (Thomas Ripley, 1726) London, UK
Cromford Mills (Richard Arkwright, 1771) Derby, UK
Prosthetic leg (James Potts, c.1815) Chelsea, London UK
Statue of Joseph Marie Jacquard (1840) Lyon, France
Famine follies and roads (unknown, 1845 onwards) Western Ireland
Cragside Manor (Lord William Armstrong, 1863) Rothbury, Northumberland, UK
Dishwasher (Josephine Cochrane, 1887) Chicago, Illinois, USA
Credit Card (Edward Bellamy, 1887) Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, USA
Remote Control Boat (Nikola Tesla, 1898) reproduction Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia
Port Arthur Refinery (Texas Company, 1902) Port Arthur, Texas, USA
Motion Studies ( Frank & Lillian Gilbreth, 1908-1924) various locations, USA
Fordlandia (Henry Ford, 1928) Aveiro, Brazil
Hoover Dam (US Reclamation Service, 1931-36) Nevada/Arizona, USA
Rockefeller Center Lobby (Diego Rivera, 1934) New York, NY, USA
Shannon Free Zone (Brendan O’Regan, 1959) Shannon, Ireland
Carousel of Progress (Walt Disney, 1964) Buena Vista, Florida, USA
Post-it Note (Spencer Silver & Art Fry, Cynthiana, Kentucky, USA, 1974) New York, NY, USA
Vitra Test center (1989) Weil am Rhein, Germany
Trojan Room Coffee Machine (Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, 1991)
New York Stock Exchange Data Center (NYSE Euronext, 2010) Mahwah, New Jersey, USA
Ostrich Pillow (Studio Banana, 2012) Lausanne, Switzerland
Joylent, aka Jimmy Joy (Joey van Koningsbrugge, 2014) Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Proposed telecoms mast (Vigilant Global, 2016) Richborough, Kent, UK
After Tools (Leonardo Amicio, Federico Floriani, 2016) Milan, Italy
Mental Modems (Erik van der Veen, 2016) Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Fake News (Town of Veles, 2016) Macedonia
Leaf Cutter Ants (unknown) Brazil
Weekend (unknown) Central, Hong Kong