(Techno)dispositifs in Contemporary Art Practice: Fifty-year Theater Performance Noordung 1995-2045 by Dragan Živadinov

Critical Writing
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Noordung, a 50-year theatre projectile, created by Dragan Živadinov and his collaborators, is a complex, long-term research project which saw its official start on April 20, 1995 at 10 pm with its first performance which is to have been followed by five more, performed every 10 years (2005 - 2015 – 2025 – 2035 - ) on the same day at the same time with the same actors by the year 2045. The essential part of the performance is that it includes the process of replacing the bodies of those actors who shall die in the meantime with remote-controlled technological abstracts. In the first phase of the 50-year process, the bodies of dead actors shall be replaced with remote-controlled sign which shall substitute an actor in their mise-en-scéne and shall also contain software for translating their speech into music – when an actress dies, her speech shall be translated into melody, whereas actors’ speech shall be translated into rhythm. Eventually, at the very end of all the processual and conceptual phases in the 50-year theatre project – when all the actors are dead but the director still alive (as the scenario suggests) – these technological substitutes of actors will supposedly be placed on a geostationary orbit as 14 communication satellites, floating, arranged in 14 capsules in two tube lines of geostationary space station. Živadinov’s scenario further predicting that these artistic satellites, called umbots (“um”, in Slovenian language meaning intellect and the deeper capacity for understanding and also short for “umetnost” (art) + bot for “robot”), shall inside them also carry a software programme, called syntapiens (synthetic homo sapiens), composed of three carrier programmes with the following actors’ data: their micronic face depiction, a collection of their mimes and their genetic textture, which shall together with their bio-bibliographical data be tele-mitted onto the Earth and into outer space. Umbot is also likely to possess some kind of consciousness and intelligence and should in this way be able to develop consciousness about itself. These post-gravitational forms, as Živadinov put it, “will no longer have any direct connection with Earth, and it will be possible to observe and explore them as any other planet or even planetary system.” The scenario also predicts its author, Dragan Živadinov, to commit a suicide after the project will have finished, on May 1, 2045. At least three elementary reasons may be detected as for why project Noordung is established as a 50-year process: Firstly, due to theatrical demonstration of break with traditional model of theatre, which depends upon dramatic text, in particular through its processual suspension (dead actors’ speech shall be replaced by music). Secondly, due to theatrical representation of an instable relationship between contemporary subject/body and technology, in particular through processual substitution of dead actors’ bodies with technological substitutes. Thirdly, and most importantly for this reason represents the essential meaning of the work, due to theatrical representation of time itself. It is not about a simple representation of linear time, passing from the past into the future (the actors die – time passes) but is in some way a theatrical representation of Nietzsche's idea of eternal return (the actors die, but nonetheless, we are performing the very same theatrical piece again and again – the time thus stands still, or to be more precise, the time returns). This mysterious idea of Nietzsche – as shown by Deleuze in his most significant work – is based on the notions of difference and repetition; in other words and more precisely, on repetition which is the only means of creating a difference and can thus contribute to the creation of something new. This is also the principal starting point of project Noordung and its concept. This is rendered possible for, as Žižek puts it, »what repetition repeats is not the way the past ‘effectively was’ but the virtuality inherent to the past and betrayed by its past actualization. In this precise sense, the emergence of the New changes not the actual past – we are not in science fiction – but the balance between actuality and virtuality of the past.« Despite the fact that numerous theoretical conceptualizations of the Noordung project do not mention neither Foucault nor Deleuze (we don’t know is Živadinov actually familiar with the notion of dispositif), art, sociopolitical and technoscietific structures and strategies therein are understood precisely as dispositifes or force fields, mechanisms of knowledge and power, which enable some and disable other processes of subjectivation. This is already evident from the idea of the project as well as from several interviews with Živadinov, and moreover, from his paper written in 2010 and entitled "50 Coordinates of Postgravity Art" which defines and discusses 50 topics offering the key to understanding the entire course of the project. Among other definitions, one reads that art is »machine of all machines, the machine, which fabricates other machines” whereas technology represents »the continuation of biological evolution« which can help create different kinds of beings, “electronic and made up of non-organic materials instead of biological cells« - the notions that could easily be related to those by Deleuze and Guattari. To sum up, art and science are herein understood as fields of knowledge, where new and different forms of life can arise as well as different possibilities of subjectivation. . Dispositifes in the frame of the Noordung project may conditionally be grouped as political, artistic and technological; the word »conditionally« being used for one cannot draw a clear line between them: the notion of postgravity art is inseparable either from science or from politics. To put it another way, lines of force of a particular dispositif, which primarily belongs to one field, always intertwine with lines of dispositifes from the other two fields. With Deleuze's words, »in each dispositif, the lines cross thresholds that make them either aesthetic, scientific, political, etc.«, those lines »all intertwine and mix together and where some augment the others or elicit others through variations and even mutations of the assemblage.« Thus, to be more precise, we shall argue that dispositifes of Noordung “assemblage” may be grouped as primarily political, primarily artistic and primarily technological, though technology here plays central role.

Biomehanika Noordung, 1999




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Eric Dean Rasmussen