At some point during the question and answer session on the second day of the conferences, a girl steps up to the microphone and asks, after a lot of talks on bodyhacking and constructing future mankind:”And if we get rid of all the computers…?”
The question is followed by a long silence. Silence from the part of the audience, and silence from the members of the panel and even silence from the moderator. During the silence you can hear the tension growing, as if nobody wants to be the first one to laugh.
Listening to it at my home thousands of kilometres away I had to think of a scene in a fictional blockbuster movie. A movie set in a near future that dealt with the prediction that computers will end human existence on earth in a war between man and machine. The movie could be titled Exterminator 5, The War of the Universe or simply The End. It has elements of romantic comedy and scifi. So, a bit more halfway through the movie we are in a big room, darkish, faces caught in the blue lights of the computer screen, a big dark screen full of dots that indicates how fast the man eating machines are approaching our presents eating themselves through space/time.
Then the girls face gets illuminated. She turns around to her colleagues and says: “hey, what if we get rid of all the computers?”
The question doesn’t get a very serious answer in that Q&A session. The work on the computer is right at the heart of the activities that some of the speakers are engaged in.
Up to that point The Cyborg conference has had talks that covered elements of science-fiction, eugenics, art, activism, stand-up comedy, performance, anthropology and Hollywood.
Radio On will broadcast all those talks and discussions in the coming weeks.
There is a a couple that I remember. The various explanations of the term ‘transhumanism’ by Daniela Silvestrin, the historical overview presented by Christopher Coenen, at some points hilarious because I could easily imagine James Bond villains at work.
The talk by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi in which he remembers Antonio Caronia, the man whose last book was the inspiration for the Cyborg conference, is well worth listening to, also in an other context. It starts: “I met Antonio Caronia in Milan on a foggy day in 1977.” And it ends with: “And then he died, because in the end we all have to die.”
But there are some speakers who doubt this dying part as they refer to the engineers of transhumanism who work on eternal life.
Jack Halberstam knows how to deliver an entertaining speech. It was full of gossip, bashing, and easy solidarity with the poor. She also made an embarrassing mistake as she linked Pete Townshend and his guitar destroying to Viennese actionism, and, to make it even worse, turns Townshend into a punk musician. But she also gave us Bas Jan Ader.
As conferences should be thought provoking, and, as in my case they were, I would like to add some words to her observation that Ader’s art was about failing.
I had a look around in computerland and somewhere I can’t remember where, he is quoted. He wanted to feel gravity. To feel gravity, to really feel it on and with your body as the power it is, must be an overwhelming experience. To link it with a more political stance – failing – is an act of iconoclasm, not exactly as ISIS does, but sense deadening and -deafening all the same.
Keep on listening to Radio On.
With many thanks to Tatiana Bazzichelli, Daniela Silvestrin and Kim Voss for setting this up and for allowing us to cover it.