Brave New World: The Exhibition

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Mouses – Martina Hozova

Brave New World, the poster announced. An exhibition based on three dystopian novels: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. More than twenty artists from around the world present their interpretation of themes such as surveillance, consumerism, and social engineering. The location was listed as the Dox Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague.

I was instantly intrigued, but not completely sold on going. Contemporary art usually leaves me feeling insulted. I’m not impressed by abstract geometric designs, paint splotches, gratuitous vulgarity, and random scrawls. My capacity for artistic contemplation has its limits.

Then I saw the motto posted on Dox’s website:

“In an age when growing numbers of people tend to think dangerously alike, art´s capacity to suspend, even for a moment, our habitual ways of seeing may well prove to be of its greatest value.”

Even if it was only to support this idea, I wanted to go.

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Ordinary Man – Zarko Baseski

Part One: Life in a Cage

In the beginning was Orwell’s vision. A grim, gray world of total oppression. A large video screen played vintage scenes from totalitarian regimes. Swarms of uniform drones. Collective cheers filled the silence. Voices of fervor and desperation. Massive statues of past dictators loomed over a statue depicting a man struggling to break free. On the wall behind him, the totals of those murdered by their own governments.

A small television transmitted a much abridged version of 1984. The Surveillance Camera Players are a theater group that performs solely in front of surveillance cameras. In an ironic twist, the players are dispersed by the police just as the play comes to an end.

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A plastic web was suspended from the ceiling. At first I thought that the ensnared bodies were mannequins, but then one began to wave at me. The entrance to the installation awaited visitors. The gaping, yet claustrophobic vortex reminded me of the webs that funnel web spiders build. When I was a child, I used to look for these webs. I’d tease the spider out by gently tapping the web with a tiny stick, imitating the vibration of trapped prey. When the spider lunged out, I’d jump back with a squeal. This was back in the days before computer games held children captive. Those splendid, lost days of singular imagination.

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For Use (detail) – Numen

Lining the walls were photos and actual diagrams of buildings constructed for the sole purpose of controlling the most people in the smallest space possible. Haunting paintings of a world of perpetual fear.

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Louis on a Walk – Jaroslav Rona

“You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised.” – George Orwell, 1984

Part Two: Freedom in a Bubble

In Orwell’s world, people were imprisoned against their will. Both Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury warned of voluntary enslavement through manipulation. Indeed, we have given away our privacy for the sake of convenience and trendiness. Revealing has become “sharing”. If you’ve got nothing to hide, why should you be afraid?

Rows of television sets stretched from floor to ceiling. A simultaneous, silent broadcast of the same scenes. Over and over. Smiling faces. Consuming. Behind a shimmering gold shopping cart, a colorful diagram entitled The Illusion of Choice depicted the ten mega corporations that control almost everything you buy.

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Image Source: Business Insider

Stranger Visions by Heather Dewey-Hagborg was the most disquieting work, for me, in the entire exhibition.  It consisted of 3D portraits created from DNA recovered from cigarette butts, hair, chewing gum, and other discarded items. From these items, the artist could determine gender, ethnicity, and enough information to compile a realistic portrait using face-generating software and a 3D printer.

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Stranger Visions – Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Burn, a short film by Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolley, is a chilling look at how many people prefer the comfort of living in denial as opposed to acknowledging the painful truth of reality.

Burn from Artstudio Reynolds on Vimeo.

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Part Three: Disconnected

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Detachment (detail) – Farm in the Cave Theatre Group & Lucia Skandikova

“If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Welcome to Detachment. Three identical booths. Three young men in the grip of apathy. These were the hikikomori, as they’re called in Japan. The “failures”. Those who close in on themselves because they cannot conform to society’s demands. Two of the young men faced the wall. I had the urge to try to provoke a reaction from the third one. Make him smile or something. However, by this time the museum staff that patrolled the floor had created an uncomfortable atmosphere. From the moment we had entered the exhibition, they had followed my husband and I around. When one reached the end of his or her area, another would take over. Crossed arms and steely glares. We were under suspicion. “Maybe they are part of the exhibition,” I whispered to my husband.

Part Four: Absolute Happiness

The young lady guarding the first floor of the three-level installation stood up and smiled at us. “Dobry Den,” she said. My husband and I returned the greeting and then exchanged a look. Did she break character? Were the other staff simply unpleasant? If so, this could be even more unsettling: young people who already have the habit of making people feel like they’re doing something wrong just because they exist. The same behavior found in many security guards and police officers. A zest for intimidation. This is exactly the type of personality that thrives in a dystopian society.

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The Hatchery (detail) – Jens Hikel & Leos Valka

We stepped into Huxley’s realm of genetic and social engineering. The Conditioning Room. The Hatchery. The Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Room/The Nurseries. Identical baby dolls ascended and descended the levels in clear plastic tubes. The vintage contraptions hummed and percolated. Plastic fetuses cooled in jars commonly used for canning food.

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The Hatchery (detail) – Jens Hikel & Leos Valka

In the deepest recesses of the installation, rows of empty baby cribs lined the walls. Here, the babies learn to equate flowers and books with pain. Clear plastic masks covered the walls, all of them the same blank, malleable expression.

An aloof voiced droned, in Czech and English, a passage from Brave New World:

“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”

Up and down went the baby dolls. The pneumatic whoosh of the plastic tubes accompanied the voice. Sinister percussion. I lingered in that vacant, sterile, climate-controlled chamber. Nauseous and transfixed.

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Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Room/Infant Nurseries – Jens Hikel & Leos Valka

“One believes things, because one has been conditioned to believe them.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

 

Brave New World continues until January 25, 2016
Dox Centre for Contemporary Art
Prague, Czech Republic

69 thoughts on “Brave New World: The Exhibition

  1. Whoa…what a fascinating take on these brilliant, forward-thinking novels. I especially like the “Disconnected” feature. We are living their vision, sadly. Thanks, Julie. 💕

    • It was really a superb exhibition. Even my husband was impressed. And he’s rarely impressed by anything. We are absolutely living their visions – a blend of all three. Sadly, I think it’s too late to break free.

  2. Thanks for the great – if chilling – description. Sounds like a remarkably well done exhibition, sorry I won’t get to see it. Interesting to be reminded of Brave New World, we hear so much more about 1984, but both are relevant.

    • I tried to capture the ambiance, but there’s no substitution for being there in person, totally immersed.
      Brave New World is possibly more relevant than 1984. The conditioning, the preference for superficial pleasures over intellectual stimulation, the idea that wanting privacy is “odd”, the consumerism. So much easier to control people when they’re brainwashed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Hm. The saddest thing is – how many of the population even see that this where we are, or where we are headed; how controlled our lives are by powerful people we rarely hear of. A thought-provoking exhibition indeed. The question is: can we change things?

    • Hi Tish – It wouldn’t be so hard to change things if people simply stopped participating – turned off the TV and video games, shook off the slumber and observed the world around them. And, stopped participating in consumer orgies like Black Friday, for crying out loud. I’ve kind of lost my patience with the masses. The information is there, in plain sight, if they choose to see it. But it’s either too distressing or too daunting. It’s so much easier to live in denial.

  4. Sadly, I think it’s too late to break free.” The first thing ‘they’ want us to think is that there is no man behind the curtain. For those of us who realize that hiding behind the curtain is an eager puppet master, with many strings for his many fingers, the next thing ‘they’ want us to think is that we can’t break free from him. Either of those lines of thought make it easier for ‘them’ than it needs to be. People once thought that the rule of kings was absolute … where are those kings now? Be of good cheer, Julie: nothing in Nature is permanent, not even the puppet master who currently enjoys his day 🙂

    If I’m ever in Prague, I would very much like to see this exhibition … in most of the museums I’ve visited, the focus is on history that has already occurred – this looks like it could be something different, focused instead on what in the future will most certainly be regarded as a dark age of human history, an age of shadows moving behind the lights. Thank you very much for posting this – as always, your subject is as compelling as your writing!

    • I can see how that comment could come across as me being depressed about the situation. I’ve been aware of this issue for many years, and was gloomy about it for quite a while. Then I made the decision to enjoy my life. Now. We live in very dark times, but I refuse to let it get to me anymore. Psychopaths always lose in the end. Will the rest of humanity be around to witness it? Who knows. I guess the “sadly” part comes from resignation about the masses who are mesmerized beyond hope, and a serious annoyance with the Pollyannas who refuse to acknowledge that most politicians, tech companies, bankers, billionaire “philanthropists” (talk about an oxymoron) and other dubious people do not have our best interests at heart.

      • It’s the resignation in your tone that prompted me to try to ‘cheer you up’ a bit 🙂 Things change, this is the law that created our Universe, and it is the law that propels it forward – I am very glad (though hardly surprised) to read that you live in the Now … it is really the only time that exists 🙂

        • Thank you for your kind intentions. 🙂
          Regarding the exhibition: it really deserves to go on tour. Hopefully it gets a lot of attention and ends up passing through a city closer to you.

  5. Thank you, merci, Julie for this trip into organized nothingness.
    The exhibit “Death by government” impressed me. I have lived in many countries that, later on went Amok, berserk, what have you: Cambodia? Former French Guinea, where many of our friends were jailed and executed, Lebanon, Ethiopia. Death by government on it’s own people has been too real.
    The illusion of choice? Funny, more than half those multinationals have been my best clients…
    If there is any conclusion, let me go back to “même pas peur”. Fear is what enslaves us.
    Again thank you.
    (And I hope the winter will be mild in your neck of the woods)
    Take care
    Brian

  6. And PS. No it’s never too late to break free. 🙂
    Look at Praga now. and set your mind’s eye to 1967.
    When I went to Praga, around 2002, I was standing at the Jan Hus monument, looking at the lively, clourful buildings around the square, and I had a flashback of the same spot in 1967, all dark, black & white, and now “gaily” painted anew. The Prague invasion was terrible, but the fall of the Berlin wall? hardly a drop of blood shed. It can be done. 🙂

    • Well, let’s hope so. But for people to want to break free, they first need to realize that there’s a problem. And most people don’t. Technology has changed since 1967…almost 50 years ago, and since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 26 years ago. Facial recognition and omnipresent surveillance via Smart technology is in the process of being perfected. The arrival of artificial intelligence and militarized robotics is on the horizon. It’s going to be a little more difficult to fight against that.

      • And add to that the fact that everything you do on your smart phone is sent somewhere for analysis. Those few words we exchange are already stored. And will be held against us… 😦
        Hey. Too bad. Meantime? Have a great week-end. 😉
        Brian

  7. Your highly challenging post about the exhibition concerning the great books about continuous surveillance, totalitarism, or big brother is really puting me into temptetation to go off to Prague. The poster with the big companies which manipulate us today also gives me goose pimples! I’ m also very touched by Aldous Huxley’s sentence: ‘If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely’ Thank you very much, dear Julie, for this thought inspiring article.🌺

  8. It is heartwarming to see Huxley, Bradbury, and Orwell inspiring a new generation of artists to tell the story. Hoping this exhibit decides to go on tour…what giant conglomerate do I have to tweet at for that to happen?

        • Thanks very much for the link. Interesting, but phrases such as “disobedience training”, “Action Consensus”, and “affinity group”, along with their militant techniques, make me very uneasy. It is conditioning and group think at it finest. I know some activists and they are probably the most conditioned people I’ve ever met, and much more hopeless because of their idealism and absolute belief in their “individualism”. It’s good to be passionate about a cause, but when you close yourself off to all but what the mother organization wants you to believe and give yourself up to a collective, you become just as much of a drone as the Walmart masses.

          • I found the conversations between the writer and those he interacted with in the article to be the most intriguing. Idealism in any human has its pitfalls. It’s the questions that are most important.

  9. I loved this exhibition. Thought-provoking indeed! I was just discussing 1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 with my daughter and planned to mention Bradbury’s book in my next post regarding our attachment to screens and artificial experiences and comparing that to walking through a rainforest. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  10. This is powerful and fascinating art, with more than a sense of despair to it. The 3D art rendered from thrown away DNA is particularly disturbing for obvious reasons. I wonder how you felt when you walked out of the exhibit?

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the guards were in character, but not having been to that part of the world, I can’t be sure of that. But you’ve seen several secret police buildings before, so you would have been used to it. 🙂

    PS Line 2 typo – Fahrenheit.

    • I was actually quite uplifted by the time I left. I was so inspired to see the passion, pure imagination, and love that went into these creations. It was so good to know that others are paying attention and being defiant. None of the subject matter was new to me, so I didn’t find it so shocking, except for the DNA portraits. As for the guards…clinging to any sort of perceived power is a remnant of the Communist era. It is very tenacious over in this part of Europe, not just with the secret police. If they were actually in character, I’m wondering if drab uniforms wouldn’t have magnified the effect….or maybe the fact that they were dressed normally is even more sinister.
      Thanks for the typo alert.

  11. Thanks for taking us inside this exhibit. It is apropos of the Republican primary here in the USA, where each candidate is trying to be more outrageously repressive than the other. It ‘s ironic how appealing that is to a segment of our population.

  12. A fascinating exhibition Julie. I share your views on contemporary art much of which has more than a hint of ’emperor’s new clothes’ about it. But this looks different – many thanks for the virtual tour. We have a fantastic exhibition space in the Baltic Mill at Newcastle ( http://www.balticmill.com/ ) but the content rarely lives up to the exterior. Perhaps/hopefully Brave New World may find its way there.

    • My expectations were far exceeded. It was meticulously arranged for maximum effect and the variety of the art had a very wide appeal. Definitely worthy of any museum. I felt as one should feel after seeing art – inspired.

  13. Thank you, Julie for this excellent report.
    Wonderful photos and a fascinating review to great visionaries.
    Have a wonderful Sunday,
    Ulli

  14. Oh, this is an absolutely marvelous synopsis. It was as if I was there with you! I remember the first time I read these books. I was quite young, so the ideas were firmly entrenched into my sub-conscious. Rather than being distressed by the disturbing futuristic possibilities, I found that they served as a wake-up call on how easy it is to accept mediocrity, to follow “group-think.” A few weeks ago, I picked up “Fahrenheit 451″ and read these words: “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” In the end, we will remember and be remembered for the connections that we made, the love that we gave and received. Thank you for another amazing post.

    • I just finished reading Fahrenheit 451 (it was the only one of the three I hadn’t read) and that quote stuck with me as well, especially this part: “Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” So beautiful. If there’s one thing that is already firmly entrenched, it’s “group-think”.

  15. What a brilliant exhibition combining the dystopian visions of Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury that makes for really compelling viewing as reflected in the intent and incisiveness of Dox Center’s value statement. Much as one would have desired to be an actual visitor to the venue, your powerful narration, Julie, blended with visuals of Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s hatching and conditioning, and Bradbury’s mechanical hound and firemen, creates a virtual experience for the reader.

  16. Such aan amazing exhibition… which reminds us og how accurate Huxley was in his book 1984…
    The pieces are eloquent and TRULY meaningful…
    Thanks for sharing, dear Julie… Sending love and best wishes. Aquileana 💫💫💫

  17. I know it was not your intention to depress the shit out of your readers, but … Wow, that was intense! It frightens me how braindead many people are about the realities of our world today and their role in it. How do we turn this around? I try to do my small part but like any act of rebellion against the status quo, it feels so small and ineffective sometimes. We need to shake awake such an enormous slumbering beast, and our feeble attempts against rampant consumerism, the dumbing down of society in general, and a vast media juggernaut feel like poking a little stick at a sleeping, oblivious behemoth! (And I still consider myself a pretty positive person!)

    • Aw, sorry to depress you. I’ve been following this issue for many years and it used to depress me, too. That changed when I stopped trying to change the world and began to focus on my own freedom. I supppose I’m selfish, but if people are okay with the way things are, then I’m not going to beat myself up trying to help. I’ve become a spectator rather than a participant in the freakshow. Funny thing is, people who scoffed at me years ago are now asking me how they can disentangle themselves. It just comes down to changing habits. Using alternatives to Google and Amazon. Staying off social media. (WordPress is my only indulgence.) Paying for things in cash as often as possible. Using encrypted email services like Protonmail and cookie blockers in your browser. Of course, we can never totally be off the grid, but I’m not going to make it easy for these data mining companies. I also stopped reading any “news” websites almost 2 years ago. That makes a HUGE difference in perception. No effort is feeble if it makes us feel better.

      • I pretty much do the same. Most of the time I’m happy enough with my own choices but every once in a while, I do feel frustration about the clueless masses!

  18. Is it too late to break free ? Julie , your experience brought me into some deep pondering , I wish I could be there in Prague …your writing speaks to my soul ….always love my dear ( deer ) friend , megxxx

  19. The first image of the “Mouses” is brilliant… of course scary, as it is supposed to be. But being plugged in can work both ways… it’s up to the individual to use it for the good. I like the quote about art changing the way we see things. This is why I embrace all kinds of art… even that which I don’t personally care for… as it opens my mind to other possibilities.

    • Exactly. Much good can come from technology, if used wisely. I love your comment about art. So important to give people the freedom to express themselves, even if their method doesn’t appeal to us. Thank you.

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