The end, as always, is nigh. There is a murky spy-versus-spy world of data liberationists and anti-terror absolutists sprouting around us, and a Neo-Cold War on the horizon, so surely the days when the drones finally decide to take over is just a fortnight away. As Justin Jaeckle points out in ‘opti-ME*’ at Auto Italia South East, Dolly Parton once wisely sang: ‘We’ve been living in the last days ever since the first day, since the dawn of man.’ But what’s happening at Auto Italia and simultaneously at Banner Repeater’s group show ‘Snow Crash’ are two shows attempting to find the productive possibilities while we anticipate the supposed digital apocalypse, in what Jaeckle termed the ‘#memewhile’. Maybe, these shows suggest, instead of just being passively and unwillingly co-opted into the incipient networked world, we should be actively co-opting ourselves. Maybe, they suggest, we should be looking for the dawn of something else, a being that can take the cyborg ideology and just vamp with it.
The development of quantum mechanics had reached an intriguing point in 1935 when, to illustrate certain paradoxical tendencies in its theories, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment. Imagine a cat in a sealed, opaque container; an event that had a 50/50 chance of occurring would then, if it did occur, trigger the release of a poison that would kill the cat. His point was that given quantum theory’s development as a way of calculating probabilities of atomic events, it was not possible to verify whether an event had occurred or not. His proposition would, theoretically lead to the patently absurd conclusion that the cat was simultaneously both alive and dead.
Schrödinger’s set-up was playing at the back of Bea McMahon’s mind when she was making her short video Cats, 2011, during her residency at John Latham’s Flat Time House. But the cats in her video restlessly prance back and forth, mewing and twitching their tails, intercut with images of the poised, grandiose statues of lions sitting outside Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, and, perhaps oddly, shots of the brain-like shape of walnuts. The camera capturing the two cats is on floor level, and it is their feline perspective and rhythm we attune to as their paws tap on the black wood-panelled floor. One of the cats makes an unusual rhythm, with a pronounced, deeper step, an accentuated ka-thump, ka-thump – eventually we see it has a tumorous growth on one foot. In these two contrasting rhythms, McMahon found a ‘matrix-like structure’, comparing it to the Syllabic poets and – in the publication accompanying her show at FTH – captured the cats’ beats in medieval musical notation, turning the lighthearted film into a suggestive immersion in non-human rhythms. Continue reading