A Grain of Tech

The human heart is one of the last body parts that cannot be replaced with a prosthetic. For scientists, it opens questions of design, size, durability, synchronising. For the artists – it’s an invitation to reimagining humanity.

From Ray Kurzweil predicting 2045 to be the year of technological singularity through US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency working to integrate machines with the bodies of soldiers, to amputees with glamorous prosthetics appearing on the cover of fashion magazines – this brave new bionic world needs its enthusiasts, archivists, sceptics and prophets. Would fully organic humans feel, dream and solve moral conundrums differently than those with pacemakers, lasered eyes, cochlear implants, dentures, prosthesis, bionic legs, and eventually as well: with a shiny, plastic pump for a heart? What are the social and legal consequences of technological progress?

Stacey Gregg’s play Override presented by the Dublin-based collective White Label at Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival imagines the world where access to enhancements, augmentations and genetic engineering created a new division within societies, families and lovers. It’s a fantasy about a loving couple’s domestic dispute in the times of bio-hacking, embryo-shopping and dreams of flawless life.

The characters, Violet and Mark, are young people looking to settle down and start a family in the countryside having moved away from the city while dealing with the surprises that the previous generation left them.

Collaboration with Dr Barry Lyons, Lecturer in Bioethics in the School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, gave us a better understanding of how deep technology can already reach into our bodies. We’ve studied cases of amputees who’ve established very particular partnerships with prosthetic concerns and of pioneers of voluntary body enhancements who identify as cyborgs.

We’ve worked with a team of amazing designers to construct the future from scratch. Sarah Jane Shiels, our set and lighting designer, distanced herself from the futuristic visions we know from the Hollywood sci-fi movies and designed a space in which technology affects everything (down to our molecular level) and still – is hardly visible.

Clean, wooden surfaces, organic materials, pots of dirt, soil and natural flowers delay the realisation that nothing in this world is actually “real”. Everything is only engineered to live and grow by human whims.

One of the biggest questions in this process was: what will the future sound like? Will we still hear nature? What will machines sound like? Peter Power (composer and designer with the Eat my Noise group from Cork) looked carefully at our daily habits and the ways we interact with objects. He composed new, misleadingly familiar “software noises” while smuggling relics from the “long gone early 21st century” – modern tunes, which against the music critics’ wildest dreams became classics.

The play represents a new wave of tech-concerned, trans-medial art, reflecting current ethical debates and discoveries. However, it asks the same concerned questions about the future that Chekhov posed over 100 years ago. No matter how advanced our gadgets are, we always stumble upon Uncle Vanya’s question “will those who live a century or two after us despise us for leading lives so stupid and tasteless?”

White Label’s OVERRIDE by Stacey Gregg runs at Project Arts Centre, Sep 9 – 17 as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016