An artists series
Pierre Cassou-Noguès, Stéphane Degoutin et Gwenola Wagon
Welcome to Erewhon
Erewhon emerges from images circulating on the Internet. It is a loose adaptation of a philosophical fable published in 1872 by the British writer Samuel Butler. This utopian satire, which is set in the fictitious city of Erewhon, proposes that we consider technological progress and automation as the evolution of the “machine” species, comparable to the evolution of biological species, but much faster. This hypothesis governs the habits and mores of its inhabitants, down to the smallest aspects of their lives.
The eleven chapters, each accompanied by a text, come together in a 52-minute film. They can be seen on the platform Welcome to Erewhon.
Like Butler’s narrative, « Welcome to Erewhon » depicts a city located in a parallel present. Automation has been taken to the extreme. Work as we know it has disappeared.
Lissandra Haulica, Irrévérence films
Avec le soutien de
Artec, Agence Nationale de la Recherche
Laboratoire TEAMeD, Université Paris 8
Chapter 1: Welcome to Erewhon, 2018, 6 min 42
We are exploring a city that produces itself behind screens: in the advertisements for our technological devices, the videos employees record in call centers, the ones we share when we watch cats playing with vacuum cleaners.
We’re not trying to imagine the future. We are exploring a particular form of our imagination. We are documenting early twenty-first century fantasies of automation. This city exists, but it can’t be located at a specific point on the Earth’s surface, whose geographic coordinates can be clearly identified. It is made up of images circulating on the Internet. Its existence consists of being diffracted within the network.
Chapter 2 : Samuel Butler, 2018, 5 min 27
Samuel Butler is trying to understand why machines have multiplied in Erewhon, since machines were forbidden during his first trip to the city one hundred and fifty years ago.
When he discovered Erewhon in 1872, he was struck by the complete absence of machines. Erewhonians were aware of their existence, but didn’t use any. They had destroyed them a few centuries earlier, convinced that machines had a life of their own, life in a broader sense of the term.
Chapter 3 : Vacuum Cats, 2018, 5 min 55
Observe these cats playing with robot vacuums. Calmly sitting on top, they allow themselves to be carried around the apartment at random. They have fun with robots that seem, strangely, to resemble living beings.
What hidden link, what strange kinship connects machines and cats? Perhaps machines and cats have always had a secret life, one that humans do not understand, a kind of autonomy that escapes comprehension?
Chapter 4 : The Eyes, 2018, 3 min 52
Robots permanently patrol the deep forests that surround Erewhon and separate the city from the rest of the world. There are not many of them. Invisibles wait for them, and whenever they hear the faint rumbling of the little machine, they emerge from the thicket where they'd taken refuge, plant themselves in the middle of the path, and wait with pounding heart: will the robot pass by without seeing them, extending their sorrow, or will the city finally recognize their face and outline, and welcome them back into its midst, endowing them once again with a first name, and a seat in the autom that will take them back home among their kin?
Chapter 5 : The Blessed, 2018, 6 min 19
Videos showing employees having nervous breakdowns, yelling and biting their fingers, shattering their computers, or pouncing on colleagues are naturally quite common. Such videos circulate over and over again on platforms. Yet the young woman from « The Blissful Ones » doesn’t lose her self-control. A strange but happy balance, somewhere between destructive force and benevolent fantasy, seems to take hold of her spirit. It was to develop this benevolent fantasy, and the serenity it brings, that the first Institute of Neoteny was created. A doctor who prided himself on letters (but whose Latin was choppy) spoke of a “psychosis machinae.”
Chapter 6 : The Elders, 2018, 3 min 34
The inhabitants of Erewhon cannot care for their grandparents. This would be work, and that is not something they do. So machines take care of the elderly. There are machines to feed them, wash them, move them, as well as machines to make them happy. The latter are of special interest to us. They look like baby seals, covered in thick white fur. And when you put them in your lap and pet them, they emit a delectable snorting. In Erewhon this is enough to make the elderly happy, especially elderly women, it’s always women: all you have to do is view the images.