Scripted Reality is the smartest and most intelligent German performance group out there, period. In the general climate of anti-intellectualism that the European performance scenes are not entirely immune to, this statement might be read as close to an insult, but if anything it goes to suggest that the group that is currently composed of the trio Tilman Aumüller, Ruth aka Ina Schmidt, and Arne Salasse is a project of resistance (what else, you might ask, but honestly, how often do we talk about resistance and how seldom is the term really well deserved, as in this case). What defines Scripted Reality is a methodical, idiosyncratic, and utterly stubborn display of a relentless mind or multiple minds always at work to deliver shows, lecture performances, films, which chart large-scale essays in the tradition of German thinkers and Bildstellern, image composers, such as Kluge, Seeßlen, and others, with Brecht of course being the great influence in the background (Seeßlen used to be one of their guest professors at the Institut für Angewandte Theaterwissenschaft in Gießen, where they did their studies and first met, and where I happened to be a student at the same time who got to witness their efforts from early on, hence the somewhat personal atmosphere of this text).
Yesterday, on 23 April 2021, Scripted Reality presented their most recent work, Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten (Version 2021), an online video essay that comprises five Spaziergänge, five walks from their long-term artistic research project Psychoarchitekturen which started in 2018. I am not going to entertain an at-length description or performance analysis of this 120 minute online event, but use it as a launching pad for the improvisation of some thoughts around what I find to be perhaps the most defining characteristic of the group’s aesthetics, and how it relates to a few diverse philosophic and political traits of the present. I deliberately chose not to give myself much time to think about any of this, in fact it is now less than 12 hours after the ending of last night’s screening, which is why the following will not unfold into some elaborate argument, but only and ideally some test bubbles for thought. The motivation for this exercise in quick thinking comes from at least two aspects of Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten, one being that one of the five walks that we were presented with dives deep into the speed of computerised and automated low frequency trading between the stock exchanges of Frankfurt (where parts of Scripted Reality are based) and London (coincidentally where I am writing these lines) which takes advantage of the unparalleled velocity of air-borne data transfer and beats the other exchange business that is routed via glass fibre cables in the ground by a just few milliseconds, enough time to buy and sell equity before they are actually being traded by humans, if I understood correctly. It would be entirely futile to even try to imitate this non-human rapidity in writing, but it does beg the reconsideration of the value of speed in the process of manufacturing thought, a question that of course has a long tradition from the Surrealists to the Accelerationists. But more importantly, I want to try to think fast in order to confront Scripted Reality’s own thought process with an alien pace, after all, as Ruth Schmidt confirmed in the after-talk to their new creation, they typically develop their work over a long period of time which contributes to their style of staging vast amounts of diverse theoretical, media, and social materials and putting them together in an analytically as well as poetically driven overall narrative and assembly that is as impressive as it can be challenging and at times overburdening for the viewer.
This brings me straight to the point: Scripted Reality’s passion is that of making connections. Their primary material is not whatever they connect, but the matter of connections themselves, how things, concepts, data or the city ground that we walk on may connect beyond their most obvious relations and especially if there is no visible relation between them at all. In the second walk from Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten, Tilman Aumüller for instance takes us to the heart of Frankfurt where in recent years parts of the Altstadt, the historical city centre, has been rebuilt from scratch: on the basis of a promotional video from the responsible city authority, Aumüller carries out an investigation into the complex epistemological structures and apparatuses that are at play in the digital visualisation of the historical buildings and their reconstruction or reinvention in the form of actual walls and rooftops. I cannot possibly recreate all the many layers of meaning and significance that he invoked in perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes of him talking to us and showing us, apart from the video, photo slides and copies of historical documents, but it started out from the curious detail that the promo video included the staging of a VR rendering of the future historical city as it is presented to a public on a cubic floor in one of the buildings even before this or any other building was fully assembled——such that on the inside of the new old city (in this building) there is contained its soon to be outside (the city landscape), which again houses this inside (the building), creating, as Aumüller suggested, effectively a circular feedback loop or wormhole. From there, we were introduced to renaissance diagrams that sought to explain the perceptive and cognitive mechanisms of human eyes and brain, which we were told oddly resembled the working principles of the VR glasses and their use in the Frankfurt city reconstruction from the video material, namely in that those VR glasses or rather their users co-created, by engaging in the act of looking on the little screens mounted in front of they eyes, the reality that would not exist were it not for their gazes adding, in the cited renaissance speech, the chemical of love that is necessary for the visual perception of reality and the visual reality as such to come into existence in the first place; the loving gaze makes and consummates what it sees. Among many other analytical and rather imaginative correlations we were not least given a comparison of the not so historically apt details of the city reconstruction and various images drawn from the infinite archive of the internet, for example how the grainy texture of certain walls, for the lack of any historical reference, may have been inspired by the icing of a cake.
This latter example of the association of wall and cake illustrates how Scripted Reality——and they explicitly state this throughout the show——are always in search of artistically unearthing the deviant and not least humorous potential that is inscribed in any ever so total construction of reality. Their art of drawing multiple, remote connections through space and time, of working with analytically striking explanations and wild associations, of seeking and finding resemblances simply everywhere is continuously pursued with the declared aim of rebuilding the possible master plans of reality, the script of reality (Scripted Reality——script of reality, you get the point), only to find in it and imaginatively reinforce the missing link, the one or several improper traces of another, non-actualised reality, or perhaps something other that can never become reality without forfeiting its otherness. But, and this is what I think distinguishes their striving for an always otherwise from seemingly similar critical performance endeavours, even these hints at an otherwise are meticulously derived from the business of drawing connections, the same kind and quality of connections that they use to initially outlay the reality that the otherwise is supposed to stand in opposition to; they do not revert to the language and tool box of interruptions, of breaks and caesuras that is genealogically interwoven with artistic deconstructions of reality, but their method posits that the reality and that which undermines it are made of the same stuff, of the same matter of connections, of the same substance of relations, philosophically and metaphysically speaking. They take the prominent philosophical stance of relationism to its extreme and logical conclusion: there is no difference in kind between the relation of VR glasses and concrete walls that manufacture the reality of the artificial historical city centre on the one hand, and relation between city walls and the icing from the image of a cake that evidences the somewhat gratuitous nature of the choices in the city reconstruction or some of its details on the other hand——both participate in one and the same soup of contingency that they also happen to emerge from. Consequentially, there is no difference either between what Scripted Reality detect via their analytical and archaeological studies about the historical strata of knowledge on which reality is built, and what they see and make see with their force of imagination where hard evidence is lacking——both are strictly and entirely equal in terms of their epistemological value; the analysis never claims to be more truthful than the imagination, the output of the imagination never claims to more fictitious than that of the analysis.
The effect of this procedure can be irritating at times precisely because nothing seems to be irritating anymore, but instead anything and everything seems to make sense, anything and everything seems to merge into one connected infinity which only distinguishes the nuances of some connections that seem slightly more and some that seem slightly less far fetched to our conventional minds. But how are we to say that the low frequency trading, to come back to the first mentioned walk, that connects Frankfurt and London with a velocity faster than the speed of light is indeed any more unfathomable than the fact that, in Frankfurt, some important infrastructure of satellite dishes used for the involved data transmission happens to connect two hills that both owe their name to the Elster, the magpie, and that when Scripted Reality took a walk from one hill to the other they actually saw a magpie cross the invisible line that connects the data flow between the satellite dishes on both hills and thus disturb said flow. When everything is connected, then everything is possible, or at least equally conceivable. Hence the pleasure that we the spectators and it seems also the artist trio themselves derive from Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten and previous creations of theirs: it is the pleasure of getting to indulge for a brief moment in the phantasm that contingency and necessity, that reality and fiction, that what we imagine and what we know, if they even exist as separate categories, do feed each other only to create an ever more magical cosmos. Deviance, alternative routings are not primarily celebrated for what they undo, and likewise the contingent constructions that they refer to are not per se critiqued for what they make impossible, but they are all first of all regarded as the material of a world of wonder, a world of wonder that we are not invited to stare at like a sublime event of nature or work of art, but one that we are supposed to have fun with and laugh at for its great madness and ridiculousness.
All of this is not to say that politically Scripted Reality do not commit to a firm and well-thought out position, but quite on the contrary it is because of their interest in discovering the multiplicity of relations and what they produce that they allow themselves and enable us to make a political judgement that does not suffer from premature decisions, prejudice, or the application of always the same set of preconceived convictions. But the more pertinent political question, although it may seem to come out of nowhere, is how their method relates (indeed relates) to the fabrication of relations on a much larger scale of fascist propaganda, namely the fabrication of conspiracies——after all, the undefeatable assumption of the conspiracy is precisely that there are connections everywhere where we do not see them. This is the political context that in my view makes the general work of Scripted Reality even more timely than the explicit inquiry into the manifestations of the power of digital invention, into finance, or the contemporary city from Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten. Of course, with respect to the digital and its great connecting role in trade and elsewhere, the sweet revenge of Scripted Reality is that they overdetermine and flood these utterly meaningless, because asignificant relations of code, of ones and zeros, with a barrage of imaginative, narrative, and otherwise poetic elements of meaning production that the digital machine quite simply cannot process, because it cannot detect semantic contents, ambiguities and the like; yet, in relation to conspiracy theories, Scripted Reality use and fight with the very same weapons, they are meeting them on the very same terrain.
The fascist conspiracy, however, has only one goal in connecting everything with everything, in making it seem that everything is possible (even that the establishment runs a blood-sucking vampire child trafficking ring from the basement of some US pizzeria): to undermine the very category of truth to the extent that no one can judge the matter of reality, and any kind of abuse of truth and power, any kind of violence quite simple because the measure not only for moral, but for what is and what is not the case has been erased. If Scripted Reality do something else, it is not that they defend the infinity of relations where fascism builds a totality——because the logic of fascism is much more fascinated with infinity than we may want to accept——neither is their crucial move that they expose the production of relations, which they do indeed, whereas fascism indeed does not. To be honest, and this might come as somewhat of a disappointment, I have to say that I am not quite sure how to describe what it is that they do differently, which certainly is not to suggest that they really don’t do anything differently, not at all, but it only serves as a reminder, mainly to myself, that I did not intend to present any final argument in this text. For now, I would just like to suggest that the difference may have something to do with the laughter that their playing with the wonderful and wonderfully mad realities, possibilities and potentials of relation tends to induce. A laughter that does not laugh at the belief in truth or reality, but that opens up a relation to truth and reality which is not guided by fanaticism, a desire for terror, and other- as well as self-destruction.