An electric visual I coded quickly before this picture was taken. I typed math formulas which are continuously augmenting human silhouette with this subtle digital smoke of etheric charge. Unfortunately we encountered one obstacle while testing it — the costume was too shiny, so it was bouncing off all the infrared rays emitted by the digital eye of my camera. Sophie designed this costume and now she is helping with the coat by applying patches of paper on Iris. The red eye of the machine measures only the distance, not the color nor texture, therefore this double wrapping of human body will deceive the system. In this very moment two humans are looking at the monitor projection which is reflecting what the machine sees, to verify that the spiritual body is not fragmented anymore. I made this “mirror” for Iris, so that she can see her own movement in this special generative space. I surrounded the scene with a red mask indicating the edge of our big round display which will float over the actors on the real stage. Iris is focused, she is not only designing all the stage for this show. In this moment she is both — the performer and the director of this digital narrative. Soon Sophie will also put a wig and a hat on Iris, to complete her transformation into a Jewish woman from New York. Iris will perform as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. Ethel singing a lullaby in Yiddish. Singing for Roy who is dying of AIDS on hospital bed, still in denial of his homosexuality. Roy who sat Ethel in the electric chair.
I was writing before about my work on visuals for the Angels in America opera. On the day we were shooting this visual I didn’t know much about Ethel. I could see the rehearsal before, where the actress impersonating Ethel was singing:
Shteit a bocher
Shteit un tracht,
Tracht un tracht
A gantze nacht:
Vemen tzu nemen
Um nit farshemen,
Um nit farshemen,
Tum-ba-la, Tum-bala, Tum-balalaike,
A young lad stands, and he thinks
Thinks and thinks the whole night through
Whom to take and not to shame,
and not to shame
I felt very strong emotions while hearing this lullaby. The tenderness of a message being passed from mother to the child, through generations, where the message doesn’t matter at all. Only the context, the contact and the code yet to be deciphered and mapped onto meanings. It is the language which had been used by citizens of my home country — Yiddish, with it’s own beautiful melody. But I couldn’t hear it being spoken, as bodies of people who were replicating these sounds and symbols were stigmatized, separated from the rest of the society and disposed like objects. The holocaust was not a chaotic genocide, but a highly rationally planned and optimized one, supported by industrial complex focused on one goal — to eradicate part of the culture completely by wiping the “virus” of it’s replicators. I will never visit Auschwitz museum — the tourist attraction of Poland. I wouldn’t survive it emotionally. Once I read how the gas chamber looked after nazi “procedures” were finished. There was a new creature inside, just next to the entry. One conglomerate of human body parts who died while trying to open the door, as desperately as irrationally.
Still I didn’t know much about Ethel though — I actually though she’s a fictional character, maybe a holocaust survivor. Until I started the post-processing of this visual depicting her ghost, trying to understand what happened in her life and what it meant for the culture she was living in. I started reading about real Ethel in the early morning, about her being a soviet spy in America, but also being a mother and a wife and an aspiring actress before. But it was already too hot in this bright summer day. Our giant ozone chamber is getting warmer and warmer—with all this energy released to power our civilization, to pump even more electrons to all of our systems and machines, like the one which is now just below my fingertips when I type this sentence.
When my son Alan woke up, we went out together to be surrounded by warm Berlin which is now booming with nature everywhere. We went to see Das Kunstfestival 48 Stunden Neukölln. During the festival, for the whole weekend, all the galleries in Neukölln district are accessible almost all the time. Paloma, my friend from the German class, invited me for her performance. When we got there, it turned out that it was happening inside the building which had been always puzzling me. Very weird modernist architecture — vertical regularities of countless red bricks.
I learned that it was called Kathedralen der Elektrizität and was used to pump the blood of electric power into arteries of this neighborhood. We went inside, but we were too late for the performance. We checked all the installations though, spread across the labyrinth of rooms. At the end we entered a chamber, which was so dark inside, that we couldn’t see at all. Usually Alan is afraid of darkness so I thought that he doesn’t want to stay inside. But his curiosity was stronger.
I love observing how Alan’s autistic mind is interacting with art. When he enjoys it, it’s the most honest reaction one can imagine. Alan is the artist himself, unconstrained by the norms of our culture. For whom the “new media” are not new at all. They are part of the reality he is living in. His own tools of creation, circling around completely different logosphere — symbiotic world of humans and machines. And he creates a lot, all the time, from himself, and he is not even slightly interested in sharing it with others.
The installation inside the chamber had just a very subtle projection on the wall — a string of light. But all of it was enough to make Alan feel ecstatic. He was carefully trying to navigate around and even run a bit, but in the same time he was always orbiting around me, looking for the warmth of my body in the darkness. He said that we are in the galaxy and we are traveling through infinitive space. Like the Sackboy, a rag doll, character from the video game called LittleBigPlanet, on his quest to save this beautiful Craftworld from the evil Negativitron. Sackboy is a perfect puppet one can empathize with, but also a voodoo phantom of our intentions. When Sackboy is accidentally electrocuted, the whole controller starts vibrating in one’s hands — very weird sensation. Sometimes Alan is evoking this feeling on purpose. But Sackboy is always reborn.
Ethel’s execution did not go smoothly. After she was given the normal course of three electric shocks, attendants removed the strapping and other equipment only to have doctors determine that Ethel’s heart was still beating. Two more electric shocks were applied, and at the conclusion, eyewitnesses reported that smoke rose from her head.
A human sacrifice on the alter of statolatry, ritual kill for this most transparent but also the most powerful and omnipresent deity of our times called the nation or the state. It always surprises me how much of a stigma is associated with the imagery of historical fascism, when in the same time memetic influence of the “patriotic” Hollywood made the idols of it’s own State completely transparent to the world. I was in New York when Trump was elected. I observed the city in grief, which gave me lots of hope, because many young people living there want a change. But I will also never forget that on the Washington Square Arch one can find depiction of fasces — the original symbol adopted by Italian fascism out of sentiment for the symbols of power from the time of the Roman Empire. Bundled birch twigs symbolize corporal punishment, and if there is also an axe sticking out, it indicates that the state’s judicial powers include capital punishment.
When we went out of the cathedral of electricity back to the unbearable lightness of the day, Alan was still mostly in his private world. This time, after the coziness of infinite dark space, suddenly in the daylight he was experiencing an infinite fall. He was orbiting around me again, but this time shouting out slightly different solipsistic impressions. Still enjoying it, but like in this reality his body was in a constant uncontrolled spin.
We were surrounded by small buildings of the Richardkiez, near Comenius- Garten. I like being here because this neighborhood feels like a small village inside the big city. Like we were actually dropped into some other reality — of the past, of less modernity. Original Neukölln use to be called Rixdorf and this street use to be the central artery of a village funded by protestant refugees escaping repressions in rechristianized Bohemia. They found peace in this tolerant society back then in 1737, when different ethnic groups, languages and believes could coexist in one place. And somehow Neukölln is still this kind of place, more than any other in Berlin. And in this space and time suddenly Jungian synchronicity stroke again in my life, with new powers of postintelectual gnostic experience. I saw Ethel.
During the festival different kinds of cathedrals and churches are open wide. Churches of the minorities, with very own cults and rituals. There is a small second-hand bookstore on the same Richardstraße, selling only biographies, and it was opened this Sunday as well.
Ethel was looking at me from the window of this store. Only few books were exposed there, and the one about Ethel Rosenberg was the first in the row of them, suspended in the air, on a system of tiny ropes and clips. I bought it immediately, destroying the harmony of this interesting composition. It’s in German. The language I am learning now.
Sometimes I am thinking about possibilities of finishing own life. Not that I am suicidal. I just think there are circumstances when it is better to kill oneself, especially when the quality of our lives gets impossibly low. But would I really be able to overcome this animal instinct of survival? This imperative of keeping integrity of own body for as long as possible. And the future is so unpredictable at the moment, in our ozone chamber. I brought another conscious creature into existence underneath this dome which is a responsibility of a different kind. I have this deep dystopian fear, that some major degradation of social structures, associated with raise of global hate without precedence, might be ahead of us. Biological supremacy of our specie reshaped the planet. There is no return and the system is so complex, that no one can predict the consequences. I tend to be utilitarian and I believe that there is no good and evil. There is only better and worse depending on the context. It would be better if this essentialism in moral philosophy, obviously of religious provenience, was exorcismed out of the culture. But the context is what matters the most. Can we even reduce the suffering in the future, or is it inevitable that sentient creatures will suffer even more? Maybe it’s not about making things better, maybe we can only make them less worse?
I met Iris Christidi for the first time in the legendary Spektrum — the art and science community, soon before Spektrum died an ugly death. We were talking about using new media in artistic expression, and Iris told me about her project. The old typewriter coming out of the industrial complex of nazi mechanics. A system which her Jewish grandfather was able to escape from. When this machine is being watched, it will start typing continuously only one word in German: “jude” — “a Jew”.
The typewriter predates digital means of replicating and reproducing symbols. But this invention already gave unprecedented flexibility in doing so, which works very efficiently when hate is institutionalized and bureaucratized. Also today, with contemporary machines, these mechanics remain, it reached a new level though. Each of us have such a “typewriter” now. With unlimited possibilities to type and publish on the vast internet. Now we can use modern technology to classify and tell them from us and then we can stigmatize them with symbols representing our hate.
I am thinking about preparing another project using new media. I want to build an installation visualizing occurrences of hate speech all over the world. The stream of phrases in all the human languages analyzed by AI, because massive classification and symbolization of groups can be automatically detected — the first two stages in development of genocides are always reflected in the language.
Æthel, the Old English word which means noble. I will read the book about Ethel Rosenberg in German now. In the language I was taught to hate, because of the epigenetics of my own culture. The memory of my grandparents for whom it was a language of institutionalized violence justified by weird self grandiosity reflected in the fascist statolatry. But now, after years I have spent in Berlin, this republic of freaks, I feel German as a beautiful language of openness and appreciation for the other. And I cannot stop thinking how this transition was possible here, how did it happen?
Our beautiful bodies of hairless running apes are always owned and governed by multidimensional systems of power. Oppression of the state, religious taboos, cultural conventions, symbols and codes, memetic viruses, aesthetic standards of digital reproduction and replication. And it will last for a while, and even intensify. Until consciousness emancipates itself from human bodies and surrounds the Earth with own layer below the ozone — Teilhard’s noosphere. Indeed, with my whole involvement in animal rights movement, humans remain my favorite animals.
I cannot stop thinking if I am writing this story, or if it is just using me to write itself?