CRITICS

Title: A Future That is Already Here
Author: Roberto Terrosi
Year: 2014

The main characteristic of cyberpunk was it talked about a near, realistic future, opposed to a rather fanciful future and far from removed from preceding science fiction. Science fiction had established itself as a new literary genre relative to the progressive optimism of the positivist ideology. This happened in a Europe that was believed to have finally a superior intellect, able to defeat disease, creating unimaginable machines, to crown ancestral man’s dreams of how to fly, and to offer the people of Europe the sceptre of power over the whole world, through an economic reasoning that was joined to its technological counterpart, in an invincible pairing of wealth and power. The science fiction stories along with the unnecessary, but monumental buildings of international trade fairs (such as the Eiffel Tower or the giant Crystal Palace in London), had to celebrate this triumph of the Promethean human mind, to create what Hans Jonas called the “Prometheus unleashed. Jules Verne celebrated with the visionary power of a modern Leonardo da Vinci the extraordinary opportunities were opened up to the human experience. This enthusiastic line will be pursued still by futurism, going beyond the imaginary bolted and puffing steampunk machines and approaching, for the first time, the electrical and electromagnetic revolution.

They began to imagine great technological metropolises illuminated by electric light and connected by a most intricate network of cables for communication. The city and the metropolis in particular, with their recently built skyscrapers, were imagined as the “natural” place of the artificial. We are still in the early decades of the twentieth century.  But it’s precisely this optimistic and “electrifying” vision that begins to fall down, especially when it comes to cinema and theatre, and especially the intervention of a new element, the robot. The robot is actually not so new. Automated beings had already been built in various European courts as a means of entertainment and wonder for the aristocrat public. But no one imagined that robots could one day become dangerous. The idea of ​​a potential danger is sensed only by the pace of technological advancement so great that it made plausible the idea that the robot could become a kind of autonomous mechanical creature, endowed with a kind of life of their own. So it is natural to think of the tradition of Golem, that this machine could fatally escape the control of its master, perhaps even becoming an oppressor. This is what emerges from such films as Metropolis or the inhuman woman or dramas like RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots) from which the word “robot” comes.

But Metropolis also evokes other problems, namely the already well-known problems of industrial civilization and the “satanic mills” that oppressed the working-class life. In Metropolis for the first time the presence of this large class of slaves, who had been remained untouched by technological propaganda, came on the scene like a shadow of progress, for fear that technological development also constituted a systematic aggravation of the conditions of such exploitation to encourage workers to revolt. The message of Metropolis is a warning and at the same time an invitation to mediate between social classes expressed using sometimes even obscure esoteric symbolism.
Science fiction thus ceased to be a place of just wonder and the celebration of human progress, becoming also a place of representation of uncertainties and anxieties due to the industrial and technological development, of which the conjugation of systems of totalitarian power is feared. Hiroshima is the first time when the future becomes reality, and in which a weapon that seemed only imaginary makes instead its entry into the historical reality with its devastating power. Up until a couple of years before the bomb, to speak of the atomic age would have seemed futuristic, science fiction and very far from reality.

Inversely August 6, 1945, has now all become history. Technology had kept one of its most incredible promises, but perhaps one of its most feared. So the problem was to figure out if the “future” told by science fiction was a dream or a nightmare, whether it was fear or beauty. Cinema began to be populated by extra-terrestrial invasions and intergalactic travel. This had two purposes: on the one hand there was the need to dispel the fears that had come to populate this realm, but on the other hand, the feeling was to raise the attack of science fiction, which had become too close, further from the historical reality of the moment, moving geographically “elsewhere” within the boundaries of the universe or further away in a “post” millennial. In this view it can also be considered the genre of after bomb. In fact, if in a sense the “after bomb” sanctioned a link with the very current problems of the arms race, in another sense, nuclear destruction marked a clean break with the present that allowed us to imagine a future totally different from the reality of the time. Compared to this science-fiction, which therefore had sought a break from reality and an escape into the imaginary, which was represented cinematically by the apotheosis of the investments and the special effects of Star Wars, the emergence of cyberpunk in the late 70s marked an inversion to “u”. It ended up as the rhetoric of wonder, of distant worlds, utopia and dystopia (also related to the imaginary policy). It began to think, no longer based on an approach by futurists, but by futurologists and wondering what reasonably could have been the progression of the current situation. That meant no more thinking about the development of the science of white coats and surgical gloves, which took place in a neat and sterilized environment. Science fiction was no longer the realm of the optimal rationality of the machinic principle. Science fiction was now conceived as the development of many different lines operating in society, both official and illegal, institutional and linked to the mafia, of labour and of exploitation, international trade and the black market. All things already existing, but exposed in an enlarged dimension where all realities contaminate each other in a more or less evident way. The result was a “dirty” science fiction, full of dark sides, of plots, of deviant uses of technology. Indeed the idea of ​​the deviant use and the distortion of technology is just one of the fundamental components of cyberpunk. Gibson tells us that when we see a new technology we have think of the use it can have for a cop, a criminal, a guerrilla, etc. The other idea is that an excess of instrumental rationality that leads to the structuring of layered games, in which you try to use those who use you and a third party tries to use your game for its own purposes unless it is exploited in turn by a another in a castle of strategies, the complexity of which eventually flows into unpredictable and uncontrollable chaos. This has already been seen with the runaway of the dynamics of control, which trigger reactive processes, which complicate the system all together to make it that impenetrable maze already glimpsed by Debord in the last years of his life before his suicide. If, then, the science fiction of the 60s gave shape even to utopian ideas of a modern society that believed it could rationally plan its future and govern itself perfectly well, cyberpunk science fiction is instead one that introduces the principle of chaos. In fact until the 70s Marxists and liberals had shared the idea that it was possible for opposing factions to reach a rational order of society that governs itself internally, on the one hand through its head, according to the ideal Marxist programmed economy and, on the other hand through the stomach, according to the ideal of the free market, which is able to self-regulate and to reach a state of equilibrium only through the principle of optimization of profit followed by economic actors.

This was in fact the myth of homo economicus still theorized by Gary Becker and the school of Chicago. The idea that instead brings cyberpunk which was easy to prophesise that, differently, irrational dynamics would have prevailed, where dirty tricks and opaque criteria would have prevailed or in any case would have been unstoppable. Cyberpunk has so intuition, not only the crisis of planned economies, but also that of the rationalism of the market, which would be reduced to masked mafia logic, in which the facts would be decided according to the logic of ill repute. Cyberpunk had also realized that, in this context, globalization was in things, especially with regard to the claim of the Far East, and Japan had already shown its extraordinary ability to compete for Technology Leadership.

Then William Gibson, without a crystal ball, could easily predict China’s worldwide technological and economic success since the early 90s, when the tallest buildings in Shanghai were still the palaces built by the British and people were riding around on bicycles and nobody except the Cyberpunks could imagine that in the space of twenty years that city would be filled with skyscrapers and that its skyline would become more famous than New York’s. He predicted the illegal trafficking of biotechnology, of organs, etc. You could say that cyberpunks, imagining the worst, have predicted the future and, in doing so, communicated a world in the grip of neo-liberalism in the next three decades that separate us from its appearance. Then, the images that this artist proposes do not belong to distant worlds, even though they are made ​​using the special effects techniques of b-movie science fiction of the 70s, despite the strange characters, between the warrior and the sado-masochistic, which should allude to a post-human or even post-mutant condition, but that would not stun an underground environment frequented by lovers of cosplay. Even myself while I’m writing these lines in Tokyo, in a vaguely futuristic but already a little decadent building, under a leaden sky, as Gibson wrote, it has “the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel”, as I read on the news that Sony has decided to produce less TVs to devote itself to the production of drones, I look around and say, cyberpunk is already here. It is no coincidence Sendai-city is the name of a city in the north of Japan, a rather cold industrial city, where I also lived and which has received global media attention just for being the capital of the region hit by the tsunami disaster and the nuclear disaster of Fukushima. Once again, a cyberpunk writer could not have done better (or worse). However to me this representation of Sendai-city resembles the typical technological megalopolis of the Asian tigers such as Shanghai, Taipei, or Seoul, but certainly Tokyo so often evoked by Gibson as the prototype and still the example to follow.

If the words of the motto cyberpunk, “the future has already begun,” and if it’s already here, then what remains for us to imagine for the future? But this is just one of the challenges of contemporary art.

So while a light rain begins to fall in the evening in Tokyo, illuminated by signs in ideograms and I on my way home, can only invite you to visit the exhibition and to reflect on the questions that only the objectification of this world in the representation allows us to imagine.

Because maybe only today art can do this, and in some cases it is only art that can do it.

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