Journal

Journal

Mending Wellington In Times of Techno-Utopianism

Mending Wellington In Times of Techno-Utopianism

chris berthelsen
Adam Ben-Dror
chris be...
Adam Ben...
This is the second in our series of written responses to works as apart of PAWA 2021.

Our city is broken. Everywhere we look there are things that need mending. The implicit order of our urban environment is in disrepair. But fortunately we have the “Nudnik Maintenance System”, and with it, on a cloudy morning outside Thistle Hall, we were to “mend Wellington” by exploring the fractures of our city - both physically and digitally, in an attempt to regain order through collaborative repairs. 

Mounted on a backpack, Chris Berthelson appeared to us on multiple video screens, fixed to an apparatus made of recycled materials - bamboo, copper pipe, cardboard, strings, all of which conjured images of a post-apocalyptic world, after industrial collapse, but where the promise of digital technology lingers on. A fantasy in which society, in a quest for digital transcendence, had undone itself.

 

We were to mend a broken city together, but firstly it was imperative to prepare our mindsets through prayer and meditation, because it was not Chris, nor anyone else that would tell us what was broken about the city, we were to use our senses and our “natural intelligence” to de
termine this ourselves.


As we hovered around the streets, we were Chris’ senses, seeing, listening, smelling the things which we so readily ignore in our usual procedures, relaying information to the screens, so that Chris could enter it into a digital catalogue - in this case the street view of google maps. He was our robot, and we his servants, enriching a perception limited to two small cell-phone cameras. The incalculable experience of the physical world, and the failings of digital technology to replicate such, soon became apparent. But we persisted in pursuit of digital transcendence

.
We wandered the streets looking for things that ‘needed fixing’ and using found objects in our environment to mend them. A sign toppled in the wind was secured with a discarded shelf. A vandalized mural was cleaned with a cutting of a plastic sack. We were restoring function to the parts of the city which had been ignored, returning them to a feeling of order. Our process was slow, and our results partial. As the design of the robot had foreshadowed, we were now scavenging the scraps of our industrialized society.


To say that something needs fixing, is to imply that there is a correct way to be - an idea which the postmodernist in us instinctively tries to reject, instead insisting on subjectivity and individual meaning. But within our exploring of public space, we found unanimity in the objects we decided to mend. These were usually objects simple enough in their concept that their dysfunction was clear. Such as a sign knocked over in the wind. It was in the process of collectively identifying disorder, we were discovering that there exists an objective understanding in some of the functions of public space. By showing us that such objectivity does exist, we were also shown that we have the ability to take communal responsibility towards our public spaces too. By stopping to notice disorder we were reminded that we often ignore responsibility for our public spaces.

Throughout our journey there were several circumstances which required us to engage with other people, and the private spaces they held, which almost always led to us being rejected. The road workers who were digging up the road wanted little to do with us, a motel concierge denied our requests to use the bathroom, and two people at a religious community center told us to come back after email approval. These were indeed private spaces, looked after by individuals responsible for them, who perhaps would have been more open to our plight had their interaction not included a virtual human as a central character. Again it was reminding of the limitations of digital interactions, and how a physical presence carries with it a sense of conviction.

                                     


We live in an age of techno-utopian thinking, where many of us believe technological advancements, instead of behavioural change, will liberate humanity from its ailments. Where Facebook is developing some 3D versions of the internet to “enhance human connection” while a hotel concierge wouldn’t let us wash our hands. And if the process of wandering around a city with a virtual human attempting to restore order taught me anything, it’s that if we want to hold our urban environments in a healthy and sustainable state, the first step would be to create the social conditions which foster collective responsibility toward them, and additionally avert our attention away from digital representations, and instead attempt to connect with the reality of our immediate world.

Written by Dylan Pyle. 

You can check out more of his work on his blog: Marginal Buoyancy

www.marginalbuoyancy.wordpress.com

Mending Wellington In Times of Techno-Utopianism

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