Wednesday, August 18, 2010

0K – A Play in Five Acts

This text was the first of three connected texts published in Nowiswere 7, 8 and 9. You can download your own copy here.


On Sunday May 16, 2010, artist Per Huttner and critic and curator Fatos Ustek presented a project that oscillated between a traditional talk and a performance at the Flat Time House, Peckham, London. The location is the former residence of conceptual artist John Latham, who has devised the idea of flat-time based on the theoretical physics of Event Structure. The house functions as an archive and research centre and hosts exhibitions and events.

Ustek and Huttner have been investigating the conditions of knowledge in non-ordinary realities, taking ab- solute boundaries of time, space and temperature into account. The play merged into investigations of notions such as travel, movement, time, volume while imagining zero Kelvin (absolute zero) as a point of reference and referring it back to their respective creative practices. This text, carrying the same title as the event, is an out- come of the discussions the two have undertaken over a year on theorems of abstract mathematics, quantum mechanics, subjectivity, temporality, timelessness and knowledge.
This piece is the first of a three-part contribution, and is composed at 122K. In October Huttner and Üstek will take a trip to Minnesota, U.S., to visit Robert Ettinger, the father of cryogenics and founder of Cryogenics Institute, Michigan. This trip will form the core of the two following ‘cold’ texts.

Act 1 -At the Flat-Time House 2
The door everyone has been staring at with anticipation opens and a small hurricane of cold air hits the audience. Two figures in space suits covered by layers of strange ice crystals enter. The high-tech space suits emit strange white smoke and as the two figures move, tiny chips of ice come off their suits and burn small holes in the carpet with a low ‘pffissching’ noise. Everyone in the audience is so still that you can reach out and poke at the silence. The strange astronauts take off their helmets revealing the head of a man and a woman. They both look tired. But more than anything, they smile with great satisfaction and joy. The room is filled with applause and they hug.

But their ultra-cold space suits stick to each other. They are asked to put their helmets back on and the suits are sprayed with a special liquid that make them return to room temperature. The two become unstuck. As soon as they get out of their suits they are given warm blankets to wrap their bodies in. People from the press ask questions and cameras flash.
“What do you have to say to the young students at home in Turkey?” a man with a big moustache asks.
“Well, they have to find their own way, keep reflecting on the present and continue to learn from art as well as from science,” she says.
“We from Berlin,” another moustache-clad man says, “would like to extend a special thank to you both.” The two heroes bow their heads stiffly as if the man was Japanese rather than German.
“What does Berlin have to do with anything?” a fat middle-aged woman in the audience hollers, waving her cigarette.
“They both lived in Berlin, everyone knows that,” the German moustache says.

Act 2 – At His Flat Paris/Stockholm
“How was your trip?”
“Terrible, the train caught on fire,” she says. “Look, now the whole station’s on fire!”
They both look out the window and plumes of greyish red smoke come out of Gare du Nord and a lot of Charles Ray fire trucks stop in front of the station. An army of toy fire fighters get out their Lego hoses.
“This is horrible, let’s go to Stockholm,” he says as the smell of burning plastic enters the room. They grab her luggage and go into the bathroom. They both exit from the bathroom in Stockholm.
“I seem to have a lotus flower growing in my right lung. Can you help me to pull it out?” she asks.
She unbuttons her shirt. The plant is protruding from her chest right under her right collarbone. The root is sticking out five inches and is covered in smelly mud. He pushes her against the wall, grabs the plant with both hands. He puts his right foot on her belly and pulls violently. She breathes loudly and pants like a dog and after a few minutes’ struggle, the flower comes out of her lung with a loud popping sound. He falls backwards and hits his back on the corner of the stove. He gets back up again and complains loudly.
“Are you OK, dear?” she says.
“Sure, are you?”
“Never been better, I will get a 0K bag for you.” She grabs a fist-sized white sack from the freezer and hits it hard against the dinner table. It makes a fizzing sound and she holds it against his aching back. “Do you think that the way that thought travels is similar to travelling at the speed of light?” she sits down at the table.
“I guess so. That is why the mind can be free,” he says as the pain subsides. He turns around to serve her salad.
“But are we free when we travel?” she asks.
“It is up to you decide if you are free or not.I do not think there is such thing as objective freedom. That is an invention of desperate politicians and their ad executives.”
“What do you mean by freedom being an invention?”
“It is all about how you see yourself. Thinking that you can conquer the world, is the first step achieving some- thing,” he says.
“Wow, how does that affect our idea about democracy?”
“Don’t even get me started. It suffices to say that most of us think that we are free on a conscious level, but unconsciously we create unsurpassable thresholds for ourselves. This is what elite schools do, they grind down these thresholds to create successful and visionary people.”
“Yes, I am with you,” she says dipping a piece of carrot in the humus. “What if you fall into a black hole when you are on your travels? Maybe we can call that a freedom since you can have no dependants of your movement? It is all a continuous oscillation that resonates as high as your initial speed of entry,” she smiles.
“Associating movement with thinking, the physical becoming the mental?” he asks, not knowing where the words come from.
“You could say that and you cannot at the same time,” she looks at him. “One does not compensate one another or replace differences, nor can they claim independence.”
“I am not sure I understand, but I know the place to go to find out.” He leads her back into the bathroom.

Act 3 – All Over the African Continent
We see the man and the woman next to a sand desert bathroom. She is about 11 years old and goes over to him. He is old and immobile as if he were some age-old mummy. She gets up on the toilet seat and puts her hand in his mouth. He remains immobile while her hand and arm is in his mouth and she is searching for something in his guts. She pulls out a little lizard and throws it up in the air.

It dashes behind a rock. The scenery has changed. They are in green jungle. He comes alive and smiles. He becomes a teenager and she old and bent over a Zimmer frame. He makes her fall by placing his foot in front of her. She looks shocked and surprised (did she break her hip bone?). He leans down and looks into her open mouth. The lizard he pulls out of her is slightly bigger and louder. It hides behind the same rock. The two sit down next to a campfire each rolling a cigarette. Everything is calm and they both look young and healthy. The rocks around the fire appear to be cheap props made of painted Styrofoam, but the jungle in the background is all the more real. As they smoke, enjoying the open sky, the two lizards have merged into one. That lizard peers out from behind that same rock.
“I’m Raimundas, but you can call me The Wonderful Lizard of Oz”.
“Wow,” the two say at the same time.
“What did you put in this!”
“No way, I see it too” she says stubbing out the cigarette butt.
“Look,” the lizard says, “The agency sent me. I am here to set up a séance with you.”
“A séance?” she snaps. (As the words are uttered they find themselves in a market place full of crocodile and panther skins, selling water.)
“Yeah,” He becomes 68-years-old with long curly hair wearing bottle-bottom glasses. “That is ridiculous,” he adds. They are both now playing with toy cars and glass balls in a street in Izmir among other kids.
“Irratio-,” as she speaks out, is interrupted by Raimundas.
“If you just acknowledge that both you and your surroundings change without interruption, you would be less inclined to speak about stupidity and irrationality. I am on tough schedule,” the lizard adds with evident boredom. “So we need to get the séance going. You have ordered a session with Mae Junod Ettinger.”
“Who? And whom do you say ordered the séance?” she asks.
“Mae Junod Ettinger,” the lizard looks annoyed.
“Strangely enough it does ring a bell. I see an image of Lake Michigan in the snow.”
“Yes it is a future memory,” the lizard says. “Or it could be a memory transmitted by Mae. You need to be silent,” Raimundas says looking at him.
“I am communicating with Mae.”
“Huh, that cold bites with an attitude,” the voice of Mae rings out with an icy reverberation. “But it is better to be here than on the other side,” Mae goes on with her antiquated American accent. “How’s Robert? I miss him.” Raimundas looks at the two of them and nods.
“He says that he misses you too,” he says. “Liar,” Mae snaps. “He never said that to you.” “Sorry,” he sulks.
“But it is true that he misses me a lot,” her voice is warm and motherly. “Don’t take my remark personally.”
“I wish that it could be colder here. The closer I get to 0K, the calmer I feel,” Mae says.
“So you go back to the origin of the universe?” Raimundas says.
“You really are stuck in the stupid idea that you call science,” Mae replies with contempt.
“And what would you suggest takes its place?” the lizard asks.
“That is for you to figure out,” Mae replies frostily.
“Well,” says the lizard, “we are working on a premise where 0K, travelling at the speed of light is a source for counter-intuitive thinking that will help us to get unstuck in the intellectual void that we are in.”
“That is beautiful!” she says.
“It should be, you came up with it,” Mae says.
“I did?” she asks in awe.
“You are ruining everything Mae,” the lizard says. “How do you want to continue this?”
“Time to get some flavours,” Mae says. Africa and the Bromley foothills are sucked into a black hole and Istanbul takes its place. You can smell diesel in the air and a muezzin calls a prayer.

Act 4 - At Her House London/Istanbul.
“I have brought you a present,” he says and smiles.
“Thanks,” she takes the prettily wrapped box. She removes the red ribbon and opens the golden cube. She thinks about Swiss chocolate. He looks at her in anticipation.
“It is incomplete,” she looks inside the books with disappointment.
“That is the whole point,” he replies.
“Why would you like to give me such a present?” she looks at him with contempt.
“It is the only present that we can share,” he smiles sadistically at her. “So, you create your own presents and your life is an infinite set of indistinguishable moments or presents.”
“That can only be defined in retrospect,” she retorts dryly.
“Sure, but they still remain impossible to grasp. They are incoplete by default.”
“Why do you say ‘Incoplete’, you mean ‘Incomplete’ right?”
“No, I mean ‘incoplete’ because when it lacks the ‘m’ it proves its own ‘incompleteness’. The moment ‘incoplete’ without the ‘m’ becomes socially acceptable, written in all dictionaries it loses its functionality,” he says with great pride.
“Though incomplete is not a condition of lacking, it is a condition of the without, without knowing what is what you are with or without!” she argues passionately.
“So, as long an art expression remains ‘incomplete’ it is alive?” she is full of doubt.
“Yes and it vibrates in its incompleteness in the present – that is why I gave you the present.” “Thank you, this is very kind. However, I would argue differently. I would say that its incompleteness allows itself to resonate differently. If I was to example art as incomplete. And your present eludes my reception of the present(s)”.
“Maybe?” he has no idea what she says.
“So what would presence at 0K, travelling at the speed of light or in black matter be?” she asks. “They are all beautiful fantasies, since all of these states are impossible for the human body to survive in. But on a theoretical level, it would be possible for us to actually live the present in any of these states,” he says (or was that her?). “And I suspect that that moment would last an eternity,”
“So, inside the box I can find a ticket to visit 0K?” she asks.
“You might and you might well not.”

Act 5 - At the Flat House # 1
“Let’s just calm down” he says
“It doesn’t matter that you left your plug somewhere, we can still show the film on your computer.”
“Yeah, sure” she replies nervously.
“This is not how I imagined it to be.”
“It is good to be here before travelling to 0K, and I am expecting some friends to show up. Anyway, do not worry, this is a potentiality of the present, something you could not prove it to be there, but now it is here.”
“Yes to achieve ‘incopleteness’ in real time,” she adds sarcastically (or was it him?).
“What happened?”
“I received the images of our space suits, they look great and puffy.”
“You were expecting this, weren’t you?”
“Yes, but chances are that it will be gone when you step out of your space suit,” she sounds disappointed.
“I can live with that,” he smiles.
“Now, we have to dance.”
He puts on the music and they dance their way into their respective space suits. An army of people from NASA appear all around them. Peckham looks like Houston and Cape Canaveral rolled into one glorious wet dream of technology and the New Cross Mountains have never looked more majestic. “Let’s take a picture,” she says.

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