Heck, baby, I shoulda seen it comin…

The Very Near Future, Alex Davies
Carriageworks, 8–15 June

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What do a femme fatale with a smoking gun, a fake Hokusai ‘waves’ print with tumbling bunnies drawn into the whitecaps, and a bank of monochrome CCTV monitors have in common? You may well ask.

There’s an answer, but I’m not going to tell you. To find out you’ll have to sign in at Track 8, Carriageworks, where these and a range of other tricks and props await, along with a ‘virtual reality’ experience that’s probably unique at ISEA13.

But first, potted palms and locked doors. No, surveillance. Surveillance, disorientation and parallel realities. All are themes of Alex Davies’ previous work, and The Very Near Future continues the thread. It’s a sort of ‘choose your own adventure’, a flexing narrative that might be yours to control, or might not; where the characters you encounter might be real or illusory. Where someone is always watching (often that someone is you), and where the the room you most want to visit is almost sure to elude you. Almost.

From film noir to fairytales, humans seem to love narrative uncertainty – it can be fearful or pleasurable, and in The Very Near Future the pleasure is visceral. A smile in the gut as you wonder where to go next, or size up your companions; the ‘ah’ moment when you think you’ve won the game. The use of CCTV – a fuzzy grey peep-around-corners on the one hand, and insidious tool of surveillance on the other – both gives us insight and highlights our lack of insight. It raises questions: how do we know what’s real, honest? Is deception necessarily a bad thing? Is fun and confusion – for this is the classic fun-fair setup – devoid of content? We love this feeling in our bodies of not knowing, and Davies plays on this deftly. It’s a risky work, demanding the visitor’s naïvety and sleuthing in equal parts. It capitalises on curiosity and, oddly but tellingly, reflects a digital world where we accept both constant surveillance and continuous psychological manipulation – as players, consumers, citizens. A box of handguns or a box of wigs – what’s more fun, what’s more real, what would you choose?

 

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