Introduction “Spy on Me #2. Artistic Manoeuvres for the Digital Present – Online Programme”

by Annemie Vanackere, Artistic & Managing Director of HAU Hebbel am Ufer, 19.3.2020

Dear audience – online, 

This was supposed to be the festive opening of our festival “Spy on Me #2 – Artistic Manoeuvres for the Digital Present”. But as anyone else in Berlin, Germany, Europe and many other countries in the world, in order to prevent a rapid spread of the coronavirus, we are suspending our programme until April 19 – for the time being. As you can see, I am alone here in the HAU Hebbel Ufer, apart from a small technical and supporting staff.

But even if cultural events can no longer take place physically in these times, we try not to shut down our joie de vivre and our lust for reflection, which both are so connected to our work in the theatre. Even under these new circumstances, we at HAU don’t want to abandon the idea of ‘the public’, the idea of the theatre as a meeting place. We can’t just let the virus separate us. Let’s use our existing potential to create viral solidarity for art and life.

As we were putting together the programme for “Spy on me #2” over the past year, we still had no idea what new relevance the introductory text for our festival would have today: “We have arrived in the reality of digital transformation. Life with screens, apps and algorithms influences our behaviour, our attention and our desires. Meanwhile the idea of the public space and of democracy is being reorganized by digital means.” Taking a closer look at the political and ethical dimensions of technology, a feeling of powerlessness and excessive demands could easily arise: How do we (as a society) deal with the fact that individual and social empowerment over data seems unrealistic? Or that data protection and genuine digital competence is still a privilege? An important question for the whole festival programme was: How can we initiate a discussion that takes away our feeling of helplessness, and – even more important – shows us possible actions and ways out?

But then we had to change our plans. Over the past 9 days – unbelievable that it is only 9 days! – we have been thrashing out new artistic manoeuvres for the digital present with our festival artists whose contribution could be adapted to an online version only. Unfortunately, the theatre and dance stuff never really works without the physical presence of the performers, staff and audiences – and that’s precisely why we love it, of course! But as this festival was also about thinking about the theatre in the digital future, we are proud and happy that we can offer different online formats which will – in a transformed way – take you on a journey on the artists’ artistic manoeuvres: thank you dgtl fmnsmNewFrontears & Oozing GloopJames BridleJonas Staal & Jan Fermon for having put so much effort in thinking and rethinking again and again as the situation changed every day your project in an ‘online version only’! 

Kick-off is the lecture of James Bridle, specially prepared for “Spy on Me #2”. Instead of travelling to Berlin, he recorded his lecture at his home in Greece, which gives it a very specific quality, you’ll see. 

Why are we so obsessed with a technology that could control or destroy us? And what about the hype around Artificial Intelligence? In the first part of his lecture James Bridle analyses this question starting from his book “New Dark Age. Technology and the End of the Future”, a central inspiration for our festival and published last year also in German. Then he proposes some manoeuvres for the future, with which we can start immediately, here and now, especially now – as we are extremely dependent now on our digital tools: What type of technology do we use, do we want to use? What might we learn from ‘other intelligences’, from animals, plants and ecological systems? 

So no, he doesn’t talk against technology. Instead, he pleads for a “more thoughtful engagement with technology, coupled with a radically different understanding of what can be thought and known about the world.” I think that the research on other intelligences like James Bridle does, is able to show us very interesting ways of thinking, and new ways of seeing if you wish. We need new accomplices. This rethinking of our relations between us and our environment is one big manoeuvre out of the digital darkness.

We invite you to visit our free “Spy on Me #2” online programme, have a look at our website for the specific screening times. For every programme we have a kick-off, so we can still gather together in front of our screens at the same time. To keep the idea of conviviality alive! All videos will remain however available on the HAU Youtube channel unless otherwise stated. Unfortunately, we will not be able to see or hear each other’s direct reactions in these times. But we and the artists would be pleased if you send us something back, whether by mail, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. 

For now I wish you an inspiring hour with James Bridle! After his Lecture, you can see his most recent film “Se Ti Sabir”, also part of “Spy on Me #2”. Stay tuned, and take care!