A playlist-driven account of Cecile B. Evans’ “What the Heart wants”
[Quotes from “What the Heart Wants” are italicised]
What if Samantha hadn’t broken up with Theodore Twombly at the end of Spike Jonze’s movie HER? Would he have kept her in his breast pocket close to his heart – her voice having turned defective and frail, suffering from the growing incongruity between her aging software and the latest hardware requirements? Or would Theodore have surrendered his love, at some point, to the appeal of the latest OS on the market? With regard to the impossible romance between a man and an OS the bitter truth is: Eventually love grows old – and even if it doesn’t, computer operating systems do. Will you still love me tomorrow?1 This trembling question, sung as the refrain of a languorous pop song, is what lingers as you leave the screening room of Cecile B. Evans’ latest video piece.
WHAT THE HEART WANTS premiered at the 9th Berlin Biennale – one of last summer’s most hotly discussed art events. However, Cécile B. Evans’ remarkable contribution has remained relatively untouched by criticism. The artist’s 40-minute video piece is probably the most prestigious exhibition participation of her career to date (the installation took up the entire space of KW’s central gallery and included a spectacular pier surrounded by water).
Evans, an ‘actor-turned-artist’ based in London and Berlin, first appeared on the art world’s radar around 2014 and ever since has developed a very distinct voice within the discourse around Internet inspired art. To those who followed her practice over the past few years, some of the protagonists starring in WHAT THE HEART WANTS may seem familiar: There is HAKU (who had already featured in HYPERLINKS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN, 2014), a failed holographic pop star Evans found online2. There is AGNES, a teenage spambot created by the artist, which in 2014 went online on the website of Serpentine Gallery. And there is, again, the face of Phillip Seymour Hoffman – another strange story of obsolescence: His CGI animation had been commissioned by the makers of “Hungergames” in a desperate attempt to finish the movie despite the sudden death of the actor. Faced with a public outcry, however, the company had to backtrack and the animation was never released. These and other characters have been recurring in Evans’ videos, almost as if they had nowhere else to go. Digital personas are the protagonists of WHAT THE HEART WANTS – and it is they who reflect upon their ultimate fate of becoming obsolescent, tomorrow…
WHAT THE HEART WANTS is set in an enigmatic future when the Internet will already once have been destroyed and rebuilt from scratch. Our guide through this digitally rendered shadow world is HYPER. Introducing herself as an OS designed as a solution to a problem, which created more problems, she takes shape as a woman dressed in black. Reminiscent of an unfinished CGI model, her facial features are only indicated and her lips never move (in Evans’ second-order digital world trueness to life, apparently, is not an issue anymore). The narrative of WHAT THE HEART WANTS erratically shifts between places and ideas. In a dizzying conflation of temporal perspectives, we are presented with Sci-fi accounts on bioengineering and the evolution of Artificial Intelligence, as well as with reminiscences on the prehistory of the digital era.3
Among the sites of WHAT THE HEART WANTS, which demarcate a grey zone between dream mansion, post-apocalyptic noman’s land, and heterotopia (a ship, a server centre), there is a ruinous flooded shopping mall4, which turns out to be haunted by a swarm of disembodied, digitally distorted, craggy voices: ‘Bad copies’, as they themselves admit. Like poor 1990s precursors of Siri, they talk across each other, awkwardly trying to charm us with corny quotes: Every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars – Sounds familiar? Buggy as they are, they contradict each other when asked for the quote’s source.5
This is not the only instance, in which Evans reveals her protagonists as unreliable storytellers. The film’s narrative perspective is one of fragmentary reminiscences, unfolding in meandering dialogues between on- and off-screen AI interlocutors. WHAT THE HEART WANTS is haunted by a past (= our present) that seems to be forever lost in a maze of misleading hyperlinks and corrupted data dead ends.
1 Evan’s song is a reinterpretation of The Shirelles “Will you still love me tomorrow” (1961). URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnPlJxet_ac
2 A vocaloid fanpage charakterizes Haku as follows: “Haku came to represent an aspect of failure within the Vocaloids, illustrator Caffein portrays her as a DTMer, a person who uses the Vocaloid program but has not mastered it and is thus stricken with grief and disappointment at their lack of talent. The fandom displays her personality mainly as a depressed introvert, and at times lonely.” URL: http://fanloid.wikia.com/wiki/Yowane_Haku
3 Remember the revealing green Versace gown Jennifer Lopez paraded on the red carpet at the 2000 Grammy Awards? That same dress, we learn, actually triggered the implementation of Google’s image search engine. Scarlett Kilcooley-O’Halloran: J Lo Responsible For Google Images. 08 APRIL 2015. URL: http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2015/04/08/j-lo-green-versace-dress-responsible-for-google-image-search
4 An Abandoned Shopping Mall in Bangkok Hides a Fishy Secret. 11 JULY 2014. URL: http://amazingincredible.blogspot.no/2014/07/an-abandoned-shopping-mall-in-bangkok.html
5 A quote by Carl Sagan, which the voices wrongly attribute to Steven Hwakins.
Image source: https://twitter.com/cecilebevans