When Even Death Adapts to the Times

Fresh off a couple of nights of artistic hobnobbing and occasional puzzlement, I’m going to attempt with this post to shake off the last lingering hangers-on from yesterday evening’s production of Mememtos Mori, a live rendering of what may have been intended to be an exploration of death from a variety of angles. A combo of paper puppets and human actors projected using transparencies, we see Death going around with her iPhone, being alerted when to knock someone off, and doing so with an easy swipe of the finger. Connecting all of these people being felled by an app is a little girl apparently being made aware of life’s end.

A pretty strange New Year's greeting, by 16th-centurian Johann Kurtz (Wikimedia Commons)

A pretty strange New Year’s greeting, by 16th-century artist Johann Kurtz (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll not go into the execution or, for the most part, plot; it makes me happy to see people trying something new and different. But here’s the tangle in this whole scheme: in the midst of a project intentionally and assertively analogue (the troupe’s name is Manual Cinema), everything revolves around the reality of virtual command. The first character to be offed, Marie, finds herself as a ghost walking through walls and people, invisible to everyone except Death and unable to grab or to hold anything tangible– with the sole and inexplicable exception of her iPhone, which she grabs off her own corpse and manipulates with ease.

On the one hand, the whole scenario is like a transhumanist’s dream; essentially, we’re only forgotten when our social networking– or the battery on the smartphone– goes. No need to be bound by a body, as long as we’re still networked to the ether. But that consideration was also depressing for the fact that what it additionally conveys is that, in such a situation, we’ve really been invested in nothing other than virtual life. If apps and notifications are what keep us in the existential loop, we might as well have been dead all along.

My other complaint: even Death is seemingly so unimpressed with and lazy about her job that only cigarettes and wine can compete with the glowing rectangle she keeps checking, afflicted, like so many of her human victims, with the fear of missing out. Odd, too, that the universe, after eons of bringing people over to the other side just fine, and in all-too-efficient fashion for most of us, has also bought into Silicon Valley’s design for optimal living.

Well; it’s no secret that I’m wary at best, where constant connection is concerned. But I don’t think I’m being harsh in declaring that this L.A.-based troupe revealed that their fetish for cute analogue projects may be little more than nostalgia for something, considering the age of the cast, they may never have experienced. There’s a conversation in there about the validity of keeping long-dead crafts alive, and/or of master weavers, etc., etc., being more than a nice sideshow at Renaissance fairs– but I’m not certain at this point why I’m much more favorable to those latter exemplars than to the work Manual Cinema is doing. Maybe– and this is a premature maybe– it’s because the projected puppet people so far don’t seem to have taken seriously the connection that interactions with old-fashioned tangible things, including people, both make possible and require– that, to put it badly, you can’t have your analogue cake and eat it digitally, too.

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