Blade Runner

Trauma Technology
Science Fiction and Melancholia, 1968-1983

December 1, 2016 to January 5, 2017

The Club of Rome, an organization advocating radical change in the global consumption of limited resources, is as old as Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001 – A Space Odyssey. The key date is 1968. Four years later, the CoR published the groundbreaking study "The Limits of Growth" on the alarming consequences of the industrialized nations' need for energy and raw materials. The report made use of highly innovative methods of simulating escalating processes, thus initiating a new wave of public awareness about matters of ecology running parallel with the formation of "New Hollywood". It is in this triangle of political ecology, new melancholic mentalities and new aesthetic developments in cinema that the film series Trauma Technology situates itself.

Between the milestones of 2001 and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, the "extended 1970s" gave rise to the notion of an irredeemably negative trajectory of Western science and technology – in the wake of the oil crisis, international terrorism, exploding sex and drug cultures and new social movements (feminism, alternative life styles, gay and lesbian movements, but also a new thrust of consumerism, soon to become the leading social currency). Whereas 2001 still maintained an allegorical ambivalence between serene space waltzes and sinister computer voices (its chewing astronauts almost celebrating the ominous apathy of the homo technicus), the following years saw a clear bifurcation towards a rather apocalyptic mentality.

This mindset knows many colors. It can breed dreamy elegy about the complete vacancy of the over-civilized brain, as in Jim McBride's post-apocalyptic excursion Glen and Randa (1971). It can wear the conventionally nervous, alarmist mask of moral concern, as in the cautionary tales of U.S. cinema – from Michael Crichton's gloomy Westworld (1973) and The Terminal Man (1974) to the disaster fantasies of a Towering Inferno (1974) or China Syndrome (1979). Yet the dystopian mind can also, sometimes in one and the same film, let go of all humanist hope for the learning capacities of well-informed populations – and set sail for the land of allegory and the sublime, as rehearsed by Kubrick himself.

Here, between inevitable doom and new dawn, dark lessons may be learned about the finitude and fallibility of all life, even the well-organized kind – a bitter pill towards a new ars moriendi (not on the level of the individual but of the whole species). Such lessons are made bearable only by the grandeur of a sovereign and truly original aesthetics, as in George Lucas' early masterpiece THX 1138 (1971), Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) or Blade Runner (1982), a film that also bears the signature of Kubrick's own SFX wizard, Douglas Trumbull.

In Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), armed with a plethora of old religious symbols, the distorted face of humanity reveals itself in the sinister worship of the bomb. In John Carpenter's Dark Star (1974), this perfect allegory of the "techno-skeptical" (but still techno-fetishist) age is restaged as serene philosophical satire. But irreparable desperation can also take on the shape of hard cynicism – human flesh as a final resource in Soylent Green, A Boy and His Dog and Coma (and as already virtual flesh in Videodrome) – or pass over to the grand, post-human elegy of Silent Running (1972), Douglas Trumbull's first and highly unique work as a director.  

In Silent Running the ending belongs to the plants and the robots attending to them. They are bound for a distant world where the short individual life span, the far too complicated habits of procreation, and the latent readiness to violence caused by both – three tedious traits homo sapiens is marked by – no longer restrict the horizons of always wandering and learning life.

"Trauma Technology" has been curated by Katherina T. Zakravsky and is being organized in conjunction with the exhibition "In the End: Architecture. Journeys through Time 1959–2019" at Architekturzentrum Wien (Az W), on view until March 20, 2017.

On the eve of the film series' opening, Katherina T. Zakravsky will hold a lecture at Az W: "Blade Runner Or Dystopia as School of Morals and Taste" (Nov 30).
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