In a state of permanent revolution: videoscenarios of technocapitalism on view at MAST Bologna

34 video installations trying to depict a picture of contemporary mutations in a context of extreme technocapitalism

Around 300 years ago, humankind managed to turn the agricultural and commercial systems into an industrialized realm, characterized by the automation of production processes and an increasing use of machines. Since then, tons of precious and non-renewable resources have been consumed. Mechanization and electrification did not only revolutionize massive production and distribution, but also led to new forms of communication and consumption, human and non-human behaviours, and – last but not least – irreversible change in our ecosystem and the earthly landscape. We are, since then, living in a state of permanent revolution, uncontrollably going down in an overwhelming spiral of what we used to naively call “progress”.

In the last 50 years, relentless acceleration, quantity and complexity has dulled our senses. How to navigate in a present that is always progressing and changing its boundaries? Gathering together 34 video installations, the exhibition Vertigo – Video scenarios of rapid change tries to depict a picture of contemporary mutations in a context of extreme technocapitalism. And what image could effectively represent change than a moving one?

Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani, The Rise, 2017 Film still © Fischer & el Sani, by SIAE 2024

Curated by Urs Stahel at Fondazione MAST in Bologna, the show is on view until June 30th 2024. “Data shows that in many European countries”, Stahel explains, “over 40% of the population is inclined to move away from the traditional media, and their mediating function entirely. This phenomenon is accompanied by an increasing alienation from democratic processes, and a general acceptance of autocratic forms of government that promise to simply life – that is to reduce its complexity.

Aiming to offer the beholder an overview of this unreduced complexity, the show organizes these changes into six thematic sections, each focused on distressing an environment in which capitalist accelerationism is evolving beyond the modern paradigms. Sure, using an exhibition as a tool of research and expression implies necessarily a simplification of the “state of the art”: by choosing a precise amount of artists and works, and a precise set of themes and point of views, any curator is making a selection that cuts something off. Therefore, reduction is unavoidable; yet, in this selection, this conceptual complexity is somehow preserved.

First of all, we delve into the issue of productive processes, since technological development has deeply changed means and conditions of intensive production. In this section, we find 15 hours (2017) by Wang Bing, a 15-hour long movie which documents a day in a garment factory in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, providing an insight on labour conditions of migrant workers in China. Likewise, Anna Witt’s Unboxing the Future (2019) lets the viewer into a Toyota factory, in the homonymous Japanese city, asking the workers about their expectations and fears regarding automation and AI involvement in the production process.

Stefan Panhans & Andrea Winkler, Anima Overdrive, 2023 Film still © Stefan Panhans / Andrea Winkler. Courtesy of the artists

Another section delves into the different modalities of trade and commerce: in this thematic area, artists such as Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler reflect on the so-called delivery economy with Anima Overdrive (2023), while in Asia One (2018) Cao Fei enacts a contemporary version of Chaplin’s Modern Times in an Amazon’s Warehouse. Further, new human behaviours are taken into account: in this context, The Rise (2017) by Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani shows the – both symbolic and literal – climbing of an ambitious young manager up to the top of a skyscraper in Zuidas, a newly developed district south of Amsterdam due to be completed by 2030. Drawing from philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a chapter is focused on the “social contract” and its contradiction in contemporary society.

Furthermore, the exhibition explores the changes in the field of communication. This topic is addressed not only through social media – and their human content moderators, who are the main characters of Praying for my haters (2019) by Lauren Huret–, but also through the lens of advertising communication, which often induces consumer need. This is the case of Sieben bis Zehn Millionen (2005) by Stefan Panhans, in which we are hypnotized by the vacuous gaze of this young man, who stares at the camera while anxiously wrapping his head around all the countless purchase options.

Cao Fei, Asia One, 2018 Film still © Cao Fei. Courtesy of the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers

Finally, last chapter delves into the radical and often permanent modification on nature and entire ecosystems: from the radioactive contamination in Fukushima, Japan, shown in Contaminated Home (2021) by Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani, to the disruption of the Amazon rainforest documented in the monumental immersive installation Broken Spectre (2022) by Richard Mosse.

In conclusion, this exhibition is able to show a complete picture of the changes that have involved – and are still involving – our society. Because of the duration of each video, it is an intense exhibition that requires more than an in-depth vision. But it manages to be revolutionary: this is, above all, a show that requires the viewer to spend time observing and reflecting, in an equation where time is all we have left.

Laura Cocciolillo
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