Sprung A Leak’ Revisited. In an era of leaks and media spin, we reflect on Cecile.B.Evans Robotic hysteria

Hi-tech provocation by Cécile B. Evans shows that robots beat humans when it comes to playing Shakespeare, a humanoid drama describes emotions and new technology.

We are told ad nauseam that robots are close to replacing human beings in almost every aspect of our schizophrenic daily life. There are worker robots instructed to build all what we need, hoover-robots projected to clean up our kitchen, prepare coffee and raise our lazy mood in other infinite tasks. But, seriously, have you ever imagined a robot playing Shakespeare? 

British artist Cécile B. Evans has spent her artistic career investigating the human relation with technologies and now she promises to break every cliché of the robotic narrative. Her project, Sprung a leak, was showcased in 2016, on display at the Liverpool Tate gallery and provided a taste of humanoid future through a hysteric drama. Five years on we can appreciate even more her understanding of digital  ways of being.

Her  rare example of technological debate in the contemporary art scene. In this pioneering work, Evans stages those dilemmas anticipating a necessary reflection over the emotional affinity between humans and machines. The 3-act play is indeed performed by humanoid actors that interact with a digitalized beauty blogger appearing on a video screen. The artist herself gave her own voice to the artificial intelligence, leading the scene and convoying the two robots around the space as a kind of futuristic Pied Pier. 

Dialogues are adapted from the 1634 tragicomedy Two Noble Kinsmen, attributed to John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. In this scenario, the “outsourced” plastic-stars replicate the famous scene of the Jailer’s Daughter who breaks down in tears when describing a ship that crashed into the rocks: “a leak is sprung”. The use of metaphors in Evan’s work is subtle but clear. The concept of leak is repeated through the representation of the hysteric breakdown, which in this sense describes an explosion of feelings:  The latest hi-tech provocation by Cécile B. Evans shows that robots beat humans when it comes to playing Shakespeare.

In the era of social media platforms, a humanoid drama describes emotions and new technology. emotional leak, but also as a rupture of the boundaries between private life and social sphere. The London-based artist also made sure to communicate this idea by introducing a fountain: the symbolic outcry of her inanimate robots. In the age of computer archives and secret files, where the “leaks” are becoming a non-negligible part of the media debate, the political meaning is clear as well. The suffix “-leaks” has indeed rapidly replaced the old fashioned “-gate” when it comes to describe a scandal. Leaks of secret files have embarrassed governments, VIPs and even the Pope (Vati-leaks), revealing inconvenient information and national secrets, unmasking the false picture of a genuine democracy. “I really much wanted to deal with the way that information and emotion as an information travels through space, through us, through the channels that we are given to use” the artist said in the trailer edited by Tate Liverpool. 

The ambition of Sprung a leak’s narrative loop is an exploration of human emotions and vulnerabilities in a fast evolving digital world. “ Did something happen? What are the facts? Check your screens… Oh! There is a leak sprung!” Evans is not new to themes like artificial intelligence, developing technology and their relation with contemporary society, but this project shows her ability to combine them together. Her previous experiences of being a digital artist, as well as a former actor, are mixed and improved by featuring humanoid robots in the scene and introducing new substance to her vision. The relation between man and robot, as highlighted by Evan’s work, is not a dangerous challenge in which technology will soon take control over humans or destroy them according to the Hollywood tradition, but it’s anyway an issue that we are called to face. 

The interconnection between human and technology goes deeply, and it brings them to a mutual collaboration against external forces. The robots’ hysteria, after all, is a clear sign that they are fragile and emotional too, making them incredibly closer to us. Despite the eerie and distressing music that accompanies the theatrical representation, the portrait of the next future as painted by a digital artist does not seem that negative and dystopic as you might think. 

What is even more surprising is how Evan’s robots have easily crossed the boundaries of contemporary art, adapting themselves to the habitat of the Tate Gallery. The installation, which covers the whole exposition area at the ground floor, has been realized with the support of the University of Liverpool that has also provided its robot specialists to program the humanoid actors. The generation who used to play with Furby and Tamagochi dreaming of a future of robot-pets and friends, can now taste a piece of robotic future, or at least a hysteric one. “Did something happen? What are the facts? Check your screens…Oh! There is a leak sprung!”  

by Kerb Magazine.

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