First confession: when I went to see De Internet Trilogie by Urland last night, I didn’t pay much attention when Ludwig Bindervoet read out the Terms & Conditions. I was mesmerised by a dead cute cat meme. Second confession: I’m a late adapter. I never saw the three constituent parts of the trilogy when they came out originally. I had kids to raise who were all too easily mesmerised by dead cute cat memes. And worse. Still are. I’ve given up, and/or refuse to see the internet solely as the scourge of our times. Or you wouldn’t be reading this. Let’s just hope those kids turn out decent people in the end.
So there we all were inside the main venue at Theater Rotterdam, desperate to click ‘ACCEPT’ and get on with the show. The four Urland members, joined by the Flemish new media artist Eric Joris aka CREW, have made a remix of three shows about the web they made between 2014 and 2016; MSDOS/Prometheus geketend, EXPLORER/Prometheus ontketend, and INTERNET OF THINGS/Prometheus de vuurbrenger. The feel of the thing is epic – the story of digitalisation is after all one of the biggest stories of our time – with a few comic glitches. Cats abound in gratifyingly cute poses.
The performers, all digital natives except for CREW, take us through the history and future of the binary and explore how it has come to rule our world, using electronic music, 3D mapping, a robotic arm, and a monolith. If you are old you will recognise it from Kubrick, if you are young you will recognise it from Kubrick. From the initial zero, one, zero, one, one routine set off by Jimi Zoet to the final plea for euthanasia of the ‘I’, the show is funny, clever, and gets you thinking. Although some of the more ritualistic movement sequences can be a little long.
Not the first one though, a choreography in which the four Urlanders walk rhythmically along a small grid in the floor made up of circles, squares and triangles, without ever stopping or touching. Like pulses of current running through a chip. We see them once in real space, again filmed from the top and projected onto a transparent screen in front of the action, and once or twice more as shadows when the bright lights in the back light up. It could go on forever.
The most irresistible feature is a long sequence in which Marijn Alexander de Jong and Ludwig Bindervoet are 3D mapped and perform the life and times of Bridget and Deacon, two soapy digital characters from the EXPLORER-age, whose problem is that they fall in love but talk about it, in two of Thomas Dudkiewicz’ many convincing voices, like they are plotting murder. Plot aside, and hilarious anatomical glitches aside, their point is that as they advance, as the machines that generate them advance, they become so sophisticated and slick that everything used to crudely dress up and soften their coded existence falls away until they are floating in a vast black nothingness. But with an actual, thinking mind.
Prometheus, the bringer of all this fire, is here in the shape of a computer controlled yellow robotic arm. He is confronted in 2069 by the lonely AI that remains, a moving, talking dot on a screen like one of early computer artist Ben F. Laposky’s Oscillons. Why did Prometheus ever spark these developments? But although the arm responds with what looks like curiosity, tilting its tiny little end joint, it lacks the empathy to perform the AI’s final request, a dying wish. Arm-like as he may be, he never pushes the button. He’s all mechanics and no emotion. Action-oriented Prometheus never considered the possible implications, beyond keeping warm, of stealing fire from the gods.
The existentialist fear of our times is that our human brains have already failed to keep up with our own creation, AI. De Internet Trilogie is a thoroughly watchable compound of ways to stare this fear in the face. No amount of cat memes can truly soothe us.
Seen: September 13, Theater Rotterdam, Art of Performing Week