2018, HD video, sound, 13 minutes
1953 - The Outlawed centers on the last part of Alan Turing’s life, traveling to Greece to study morphological regularity in nature while his body is being altered by an enforced hormonal treatment. The agonizing surgical incision that is a narrative hinge in the film, slashes into the convulsed boundary between laws and transgressions, natural and technological becomings: a cut that does not separate politics and bodies but complicates the forms in which they crossbreed.
1953 – The Outlawed (2018) is the third episode in The Unmanned, a history of computation in eight parts that Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni have been working on since 2014. Each episode revolves around a particular date, real or fictional, marking the timeline of an emerging episteme. The Unmanned interweaves the technologies, forms of prediction, and simulation that progressively abstract the human from what it had imagined to be its place in the universe. In their sequence, the episodes compose the extended genealogy of the ways in which humans have been imagining and conjuring, averting and deploring their own absence: the moment when the unmanned ceases to be a negation and describes impersonal subjects circulating worlds from which opacity and doubt have been eliminated.
In the series, this anxious flirtation with unperturbed efficiency acts like an interplay between thinking models and rituals that delay or hold in check, ramifying into past and future to encounter their anachronistic precedents and outcomes. The contradictory affects, phobias, and reverie that gravitate around the event of the singularity are both untangled to suggest that the technological sublimation of the human is all we have left by way of transcendence and messianic resolution, and examined as historical currents that zigzag between old machines and new abysses. They appear as cogs in the system of tools that carve out, throughout modernity, the distinction between the uncomputable and the meaningless, between a Promethean nihilism and the sense that the world is full of purpose and analogy.
The conceptual armature of the project is bound with its temporal trajectories, as much as with the specific cinematic operations that structure the episodes and their pairings: timelines extend in opposite directions, reciprocities eddy between fictional futures and prophetic pasts. The individual or collective protagonists of the episodes seem to rehearse different ways of being in time, to coalesce out of their distinct temporal avatars. Alan Turing is emblematic in this respect: described by the artists as a deracinated, “raft figure,” he seems marooned from the future in a time whose ideas of code—an obfuscation of information (in encrypted military communication) and as a limitless production thereof (its infinite plasticity in computing)—he irreversibly transforms, while simultaneously being subjected to a physically and psychologically devastating rectification of sexual behavior and the re-scripting of an identitary code.
The first half of the film sees Turing, played by actress Aurore Broutin donning a silicone mask, afloat on a simulator for the swell of ocean waves, surrounded by objects that indicate the breadth of his morphological project, extending from adaptive characteristics in organisms to processes of mineral crystallization. His actions are inscrutable in the first half of the film: he oscillates between listlessness, humming the theme song of The Unmanned (which is thus lodged in vocal chords and thoracic cavity, dislocated from the cinematic apparatus of the film series), and alertness; he emits strident sounds, emphatically directed to the camera. He is surrounded by multiple cylindrical implements whose to-and-fro rotations reproduce the heaving of abstract waves, spinning tangents between the ersatz naturalness of motion in the simulator and the grid that serves as backdrop for oceanic and filmic calculations.
In the second half, those spiraling motions decelerate into a single anguished spot and burrow into the body. The hormonal implant that drips estrogen into Turing’s thigh to mend his supposedly deviant sexual preferences is excised and discarded in a small aquarium, its contents infesting the water and ingested by the fish, who are then preyed upon by the seagulls whose croak we now understand Turing had been imitating. The contagion propagates in nature, corroding chemically (and denaturing) figure-ground distinctions, realigned in an equation where the figure creates its environment by the concentric dispersal of that which infects it and impairs its vitality. Turing is a character-as-transition, engaged in a mimicry of what is to come, in an imitation game where a beginning apes an end and the new arrives in the form of destruction.
His is a body on whose surface the readjustments of the mechanisms that legislate and sanction, that naturalize or make heterodox, register as lacerations: cuts, inside-out forms co-produced by figures and that which confines them, wounds that embody a toxic co-implication. The incision registers in flesh and film, a perforation through which a delineated figure of the protagonist is pulled inside-out, its amorphous remnants, contaminated matter, and scars disseminate as poisoned milieu. Around the point where blade touches skin, the point of antagonism between outlawed person, left only with the agency to destroy itself, and the locus of its exclusion, where polluted body spills into hostile place and vice-versa, the film pivots from the reenactment of a historical scene to the generation of new codes for political and natural environments. 1953 – The Outlawed reflects on hybrid figures and grounds, enmeshed in what they do not have in common, making worlds from the negative tissue that binds them.
This is the first of two works from The Unmanned presented on Vdrome. The forthcoming installment will introduce its companion piece, 1834 – La Mémoire de Masse, which engages the Jacquard loom as the mechanical womb from which an endless stream of digital bodies issues forth: digital stand-ins for the Canuts, revolting against a machine that had made their labor dispensable. Commissioned by the 13th Lyon Biennial in 2015, the fifth episode in the series preceded and modeled the third: its editing points have been imported into the structure of The Outlawed as a shared temporal protocol that tangles the eversion of place narrated in 1953 and the reproducibility of bodies in 1834 into a single, contorted timeline.