Fiction precedes Reality

We have often heard that the truth is stranger than fiction; in fact we are reminded often that the series of unlikely events that happen in real life would not make a good story, because they do not follow any internal logic. Real life is infinitely stranger than fictions. It is, however, still the case that the stories we tell ourselves, whether late at night as we fall asleep, as we apply for jobs or funding, the narratives we tell over drinks or the stories we read, shape the way our world works. Over several years of projects with our friends and colleagues at FoAM, we decided together to make sure that the stories we were creating together and sperately needed to be more positive, after the strangenesses we were creating in storyworlds for generating immersive Transient Realities were creating echoes in what was happening in real life. Perhaps the last one was the back story to Twixtville, a larger storyworld that was planned for the Linz Capital of Culture 2009. With a core story of a film project that mysteriously stalled, leaving the crew in a filmset that they gradually took over, the project itself stalled and failed in a similar way.

Had we jinxed ourselves with the telling of a story of blockage and failure?

When we created the backstory to the installation Mind the Map, we took several extant elements of the situation for migrants crossing the Mediterranean, added a layer of European privilege and developed a story that was plausible but had not happened. The narrative follows a lone female sailor, enjoying her life as a trust fund sailor, running into a sinking ship of refugees from north Africa. The repercussions of the rescue action would have, based upon the histories of Tunisian fishers who had done the right thing and saved refugees in maritime distress, was then followed by her being confronted with an appraisal of whether she could take on the implications and responsibility of her privilege and remain a trust fund kid whilst continuing to maintain the European barricade against migrants and refugees. In 2018 the story of a British solo female sailor who was plunged into the first part of out fictitious character’s story became public, while Wolfgang Fischer told a similar story in the film Styx. The fact that we all continue to live as trust fund kids behind a barricade built of our unearned wealth around Europe, needs hardly be followed.

It was perhaps these and similar incidents that encouraged us to avoid following the attractive and “interesting” routes of apocalyptic and dystopian futures as we began to investigate experiential futuring as an artistic practice. While such narratives give a great backdrop to an action thriller, they are not the worlds in which we would choose to live. So we concentrate upon the creation of imaginations of preferable futures, somewhere between probable and possible. These scenarios and the resulting storyworlds are mergings of utopic and dystopic threads and drivers, developments and desires. We know that, even in the midst of the greatest horrors, daily life carries on, with its trials and tribulations, the falling in and out of love, moments of beauty, joy and personal insight. Given that the future will likely not be entirely grim, we maintain out optimism that we will be able to look forward to livable lives and want to tell the stories about the possible and preferable future everyday.

The Ever Given jammed into the Suez Canal, as displayed by Vessel Finder

In the ongoing process of creating the storyworld for Turnton, we imagine some monologues from characters you might meet in a harbourside bar. They were carrying on about people they had met, in the way that a drunken sailor will ramble on with sailing yarns that maintain their coherence in spite of the tangents. Based upon our explorations and investigations of ongoing developments in ocean science, new modes of business and activity, leavened with understandings of the way that people have, do and will continue to act, we created a collection of storylines together with the writers Dominika Meindl and Stefan Roiss. One of them was a monologue around the last time our narrator’s wife was first officer on a freighter towards the Suez Canal. In this story, the collapsing ocean ecosystem drives the Rise of The Slime, the Mediterranean is slowly filling with not much else other than jellyfish of all sizes. In our narrative, a massive swarm of jellyfish blocked the cooling water intakes of an aircraft carrier that then swung out of control and crashed into the borders of the Suez Canal, blocking it and the connections of modern transport. These days seem to indicate we were prescient indirectly: today we receive the news that a massive container ship has been blown sideways across the Suez Canal and is blocking one of the arteries of world trade. At 400m length, the container ship Ever Given is 67 meters longer than the longest aircraft carrier in the world, the USS Gerald R Ford and has about double the displacement. We did not imagine that the largest vessels in the world would not be the military antics of superpowers, but the incessant drive for cheaper container transport.

Truth is surely stranger than fiction.

Monologue 05 – Jellyfish blockade

This place had has a bunch of names over the years, Poseidon, Tony’s Tuna Temple, it was always a bit run down until whatsername took over. Just when it stopped being able to be a fish restaurant of any repute.

My ex wife was there, you know, when the Medusa’s revenge took place. That’s what we called it, anyway. Which is sort of why I like this place. That’s the event we like to think of, but opinions differ on the matter, as you know. She was one of the first officers on a container ship, nothing much, some foreign flagged rust bucket filled with empty containers heading back to the Bay of Bengal or the Pearl River delta to pick up more cheap crap for the chains in Europe. Nothing important, but they were waiting to traverse the Suez, waiting and waiting, it was too long. I mean, she had done this dozens of times, like it was the one standard trip for her, did it more often than entering her home port. She didn’t like coming home. I would have to visit her on board or in some strange harbour. I think we even had a dirty weekend in Oslo once, snowed in so much that the weekend became a week and my duty free whisky ran out. But yeah, as I was saying, she knew that something was different. Even the pilot was playing up. Usually he was some big chubby guy who they had to take on board for the transversal, he would head for the mess first thing on board and get plates of food sent up to the bridge. Totally against Captain’s orders on most ships, but he was the pilot. He could do what he wanted. Would open his carry on bag, if he could easily close it there were not enough cartons of Marlboroughs in there. These pilots were all the same, some taller, some shorter, but always stuffing themselves and then almost falling asleep for the passage through the canal. But it was part of the game.

So this wasn’t happening. Well, he had headed to the galley and was digesting half a plate of steak and had his bag filled with fags, but he wasn’t just sitting there slumbering like normal, he was on his phone. Slowly the frequency of the calls raised. She says he was yabbering into his phone, hanging up with a brutal flourish and calling another number, listening with sweat on his brow in the constant air conditioning.

Finally he stopped, called the captain over with wild eyes, stammering broken words. “Blocked, Stopped. Brama, Méduse, Dirkya, .. ah… Jellyfish!” His eyes bulged out of his face as he stated this. “Aircraft carrier, blocked. Stopped by a swarm. Soft and useless.”

I had already heard the story a hundred times, but each time it still got me. The most complacent of men. The mightiest of military vessels. The main artery of world commerce. Completely fucked up by a swarm of translucent nothing, jelly fish that swarmed in the warm still water and bred, multiplied and blocked everything. The aircraft carrier’s cooling vents. The tugs’. Freighters stopped. The whole thing collapsed like a house of cards. As she swung around, that great freaking beacon of military might, two bad decisions drove the carrier into the walls of the channel.

You know the story. Blocked for months. Massive poisoning to kill the jellies that went wrong too. Jane called it the last gasp of globalisation. I called in the harbinger of hope.

Curiouser and Curiouser, cried Alice: Rebuilding Janus from Cassandra and Pollyanna (CCA) is an artbased research project from Design Investigations (ID2) at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and Time’s Up. It is supported by the Programme for Arts-based Research (PEEK) from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR561. Also supported by: BMKOES, Linz Kultur, Kulturland OÖ, LinzAG

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