On July 07th, 2017 Double Agent was presented in the form of a performance as part of the exhibition and public program “Tales of Incompleteness.” During the performance, two characters sustained a dialogue. The dialogue takes place in the imagination of an absent third character – the “mad-historian.” As the exchange develops, tin is melted, then poured into cold water and “read” in a fortune-telling mimicry
*the following text is not the text that was performed on July 7th
There is a shiny trace of a powerful yet inconspicuous metal that connects us all. It links us with our close and more distant contemporaries, as well as with our earliest and latest ancestors. It forms a largely unconscious connection as it travels in time whispering into our ears. With this project we will pursue that trace in an ongoing investigation. In our search we are double agents, working on behalf of unknown powers. One of these powers may be represented by humanity, the other may manifest itself in a certain raw material and the technics of its production, distribution, and consumption.
Our initial suspicion was sparked by a startling observation: tin (also known as stannum, Sn, 50) appears to play an important role wherever human civilization mediates between sedentism and mobility. Humans have used it to create tools, weapons, and artifacts from the prehistoric stages onwards, and up until our current Information Age. The copper-tin alloy bronze gave the name to an entire time period, enabling humanity to emerge from the Stone Age, to develop agriculture, and to become sedentary. Tin became one of the horses pulling the plow of civilization through the prehistoric soil right into historical times. Later, in antiquity, Greeks and Romans used the same tin alloy to render cult objects independent from a given site, thereby making them reproducible and mobile. It also appears that Napoleon started supplying his army with tin can food to have his forces with more staying power export the universal ideas of la grande nation out into the rest of the world. And the same tin cans reappear under the label Campbell Soup in Warhol’s pop art, reflecting the commodity fetish of modern culture. Today, the shiny stuff is contained in virtually every computer, tablet, and mobile device – our black mirrors –, accounting for the joints between the electronic components and the all-connecting copper tracks. Tin is what grants the unobstructed flow of information between me and you, as we write.
Just like any technology, tin has served humanity to enrich some and to enslave others. But hasn’t the material, along the way, developed a life of its own? Doesn’t the glorious history of human sedentism, expansion, and cultivation in fact have its non-human, anti-human reverse? Isn’t there a suppressed flipside to the shiny narrative of sedentary culture, where human subjects are forced to stay mobile on behalf of a shiny but inconspicuous metal? And in the back of our heads remains the probing question: how is the wealth that is created in one group, in one place, entangled with the genesis of ideologies in another?
We know full well that our investigation shall lead us through dangerous waters. We will need a way-wise guide, an informer, yet to be determined, let’s call them Character X, who will help us finding our way around in the terrain and between the shores. Also, we decided to seek guidance in two works of wisdom that will be our arms and tools of investigation. The first is Sergei Tretyakov’s short essay “Biography of the Object,” which will sure prove indispensable in tracking down the life of a raw material, not yet an object. As such a shiny, reflecting, and malleable non-object (a black mirror, in fact), tin melts and blurs the lines between agents and patients, subjects and objects, as well as between information and seduction. Therefore, the second text we rely upon is Franz Kafka’s “Silence of the Sirens.” It shall warn us of hazardous seductions, but it will also provide us with “proof that inadequate, even childish means can serve to save us from peril.”
The goal of our investigation, then, is to dig up that hidden, raw-material side of history – the past and the contemporary one – and to shine light on it in an extended cross-media performance. In the end, we may in fact be triple agents, with our very own agenda, whose actual mission is to unravel the hidden power play taking place within the zone of entanglements – between humans and the raw material. The performance will tell.