2080 A Day in Kuala Lumpur: A Technical Show
Devised by Ali Alasri, Bryan Chang, Izzat Azmi, Syamsul Azhar, Woon Siew Yin & Zak Azrs
7-10 December 2017
Kotak@Five Arts Centre, Taman Tun Dr Ismail
Review by See Tshiung Han
Let me first say that I didn’t hate 2080. But I didn’t love it either. This absence of strong emotional response is no ringing endorsement, but I felt the building blocks were there in the show – a show without any human performers, with only the products of technical wizardry – to make something truly original.
As we were let into the small studio space, the first thing I noticed was a platform in the middle of the room. There were no chairs or other seating areas, aside from the floor. We were encouraged to roam freely as long as we didn’t touch the props. Most of the audience stuck to the platform for the duration of the performance, but I chose to walk around the periphery.
Stacks of white boxes, some as high as the ceiling, and white Lego structures no higher than your knees were scattered around the platform. Taped markings on the floor made the room resemble a circuit board.
The set design played with our sense of scale. We seemed to be inside an electronic device, but the boxes and Lego structures, mimicking skyscrapers or architectural features, made us feel like giants towering over a city. I could move freely around the space, but I didn’t want to move too quickly, for fear of knocking down boxes or stepping on Lego.
One of the draws of the show was to see how the creators would tell a story without actors. The play of projected images, sound and lights was the show’s modus operandi. Sometimes sound took precedence, like when a human started to speak. But our attention was mainly absorbed by the projections. Projectors were rigged around the space and every surface was a potential screen. There was no escaping the image.
The show began with a simulation of sensory overload. What looked like news footage was projected around the space. The space was blanketed in noise, noise that got louder as it went on. I couldn’t pick out anything recognizable or familiar in the noise. It was disorienting, perhaps a little scary.
An impression of ‘woke’-ness pervaded the show, reminding me of the work of documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis. His latest documentary, HyperNormalisation (2016), attempts to explain some of the historical forces that have shaped the world of today, including the birth of the Internet.
It’s no secret that the Internet began as a project by a defense agency run by the US government, but it underwent explosive growth in the hands of civilians who used it as a tool for communication. Technologists came to see the Internet as a vision of utopia, a space where everyone could be truly free. But that vision was an illusion, according to Curtis; the Internet turned out to be just another tool of control. You were no more free online than you were off it.
2080 is also interested in the Internet, but for different reasons. The title is supposed to mark “100 years since the Internet was introduced to mankind,” as if it had been wrested from the Gods. The use of 1980 as a milestone might be disputed, given the Internet’s long gestation period. Planning for what would become the Internet began in 1965. The first .COM domain was registered in 1985, and the first web browser introduced in 1990. 1980 was the year that Usenet was released to the public.
Usenet was the first Internet discussion board. There was a lot of shouting on it, but you could find pockets of civility every now and then, if you looked hard enough. Not that civility was a big draw. Just like today,the most interesting threads were the ones that devolved into absurdity and ad hominem attacks – interesting as long as those attacks weren’t directed at you.
If we consider 2080 as a conversation between the technical elements of a show then it begins to make more sense. It was a polite conversation between sound, lights, props, and projections. The effects were aesthetically pleasing, but, perhaps due to a lack of ferocious argument, they didn’t come together for me.
According to the program, the show “imagines a day in a life in future Kuala Lumpur through the lens of consumerism, mortality, relationships and home.” When the lights came on at the end, I got a sense that I had watched something, but I couldn’t pin down general themes, or a distinct beginning or end.
Perhaps it would have been clearer if I had stayed on the platform, instead of wandering back and forth between the centre and the periphery. Standing at the edges of the space, my eye was caught by projections, but I was also drawn to other spectators moving around the space, in the same way you might look at other people in an art gallery.
But I suspect our experiences were not so different. The same three or four clips kept playing on the screens and every few minutes they would change. After a while, I stopped wondering why I was seeing what I was seeing; I just let the experience wash over me.
SEE Tshiung Han is a writer and editor based in KL.
All photos courtesy of Five Arts Centre.