/the wire has been plugged
/in my body there is life
/digits are both like and unlike biological organisms
/the blood is streaming
/routine tasks become automated sharing imaginary participation with the embodied
/this is a primitive type of operation
/the performance stripped of all extraneous artifice
/biological science is now information technology
/the intrusion of fictious into the real
/order into coincidence
Duration: 50 minutes
concept & direction: Jan Rozman
performers: Simone Gisela Weber, Michiyasu Furutani, Juan Felipe Amaya Gonzalez
dramaturgy & mentoring: Mila Pavićević
outside eye: Julia Keren Turbahn
costume: Judith Förster
video: Yoann Trellu
light: Miloš Vujković
music: Georgi Tomov Georgiev
production: Jan Rozman with HZT and Uferstudios
partners: Kimberly Kaviar
special thanks to: Nicola van Straaten, Litó Walkey, SODA colleagues & staff
ƒ(being) is a reimagining of the early sci-fi stage play R.U.R. written by the Czech Writer Karl Čapek in 1920. The epilogue of the original play is taken as the structural frame, transformed into a score, placed into a video environment and executed by three performers. The piece aims to re-examine one of the main themes of the play: the idea of artificially engineered life and the consequent question of delimination between artificial and natural in a contemporary context, nearly 100 years after this influential text was written.
R.U.R. first introduced the word robot to the English language and to the genre of science fiction. In Czech, robota means ‘forced labour’ and is derived from rab, meaning ‘slave’. The robots described in Čapek's play are not humanoid mechanical devices; rather they are artificial biological organisms, living beings that may be mistaken for humans. R.U.R.’s robots resemble more modern conceptions of man-made life forms, such as the hosts in the Westworld TV series or the replicants in Blade Runner.
In the time R.U.R. was written, Darwin’s idea of evolution was already known to the public but there was no conception of DNA and its function. Today it is not only common knowledge; recent technology like CRISPR/Cas9 theoretically already enables the alteration of genomes on scale that could move human kind past the limitations of its hereditary body. Even though genetic engineering is not new and selective breeding of plants and animals has been around for millennia, CRISPR not only speeds up this process but it also introduces incredible accuracy to procedures that before were by a large degree left to chance.
In ƒ(being) the term robot is understood as a recombinant organism – a living organism built from various DNA sequences borrowed from different species, adapted and aligned through the process of genetic engineering. It is playing with the idea of a biological process being a sort of computation and treating organisms (performers) as a kind of biological computer.
The piece aims to bring this topic into a space of public awareness, stimulate questions related to genome modification and the technology behind it as well as addressing the potential issues that a construction of a recombinant ‘robot’ human could bring. Just like in R.U.R. it is not so hard to imagine a corporation or a government using this technology for economic and military advantage. The question of eugenics could return with a nasty twist where science fiction is suddenly not fiction any more.
The play is set in a factory on an island that makes robots, artificial people, from synthetic organic matter. The robots can think for themselves but do not have emotions or desire and are totally obedient. The corporation manufacturing the robots is making huge profits selling their product to other companies and governments. Robots seem content (or unaware) to work for humans at first, but start to rebel later in the play due to a change in a formula that was used to make them. This ultimately leads to robot domination and the extinction of the human race. Robots however cannot reproduce sexually and need to rediscover the formula for their creation; otherwise they will also be extinct themselves.
In the epilogue of the play, all humans had already been killed by the robot revolution except for Alquist. He was ordered to recreate the formula but because he is an engineer and not a chemist he has not made any progress. He has begged the robot government to search for surviving humans, and they have done so; there are none left. Officials from the robot government approach Alquist and first order and then beg him to complete the formula, even if it means he will have to kill and dissect other Robots to do so. Alquist yields, agreeing to dissect and kill the robots, although he is disgusted by it. The final events of the epilogue show the robots Primus and Helena developing human feelings, discussing about dreams and beauty, and ultimately falling in love. Alquist threatens to dissect Primus and then Helena; each begs him to take her- or him- self and spare the other. Alquist realizes that they are the new Adam and Eve, and gives charge of the world to them.
ƒ(being) was developed in the frame of MA SODA at HZT.