“It may be that we have already dreamed our dream of the future…”, J.G. Ballard mused in 1993.
With Alphaville e outros (2011), internationally renowned visual artist Antonio Muntadas would seem to be echoing this sentiment. With his adroit re-telling of the iconically dystopic 1965 film Alphaville by Jean Luc Godard, Muntadas offers a futuristic cautionary tale of urban living drawn from the not-future of almost 50 years ago.
Briefly: Godard’s original film tells the story of a secret agent assigned to go to Alphaville where he encounters a technocratic dictatorship under the control of super-computer Alpha 60 and where no free thought is tolerated (no art, music, love). His mission is to destroy Prof. Von Braun, creator of Alpha 60 and, ultimately Alpha 60 itself. In the process he meets Von Braun’s daughter, falls in love with her and rescues her from this non-life, exiting the snow-covered highway of the northern region in his trusty Ford Mustang (a New Wave nod to all things American from this era).
With a deft hand, Muntadas mixes scenes from the original 1965 film with contemporary drive-by shots featuring heavily guarded compounds in and around Sao Paulo, Brazil, complete with razor wire barriers and bleak concrete facades. He then adds footage from promotional videos touting the ultra-secure facilities available to those who seek high security and have the money to pay for it. Set in the volatile cauldron of the ultra-rich vs. the rest, Brazil is, after all, one of the fastest growing economies in the world today and – along with India and China – seeks economic recognition on the international stage.
The gated community of Alphaville being documented by Muntadas is just outside of Sao Paulo. Developed by the Alphaville Urbanismo Corporation in the 1970s, not long after Godard’s film appeared, this is the original that presaged a phenomenon. There are now over 30 other Alphavilles in Brazil and Portugal, all gated communities that promise physical security to the buyers.
Muntadas’ treatment of this short work is visceral and incisive. Throughout, he uses each clip strategically: set in the future, the Godard film tells the story of a society gone mad through a loss of agency; the contemporary scenes of the gated communities speak to enclosure, paranoia and suspicion; the animated “fly-throughs” produced by realtors, speak to the insecurities of the potential buyers, soothing their anxieties about safety. Finally, the images of the jack-booted bully boys suiting up in defense of their (seemingly) helpless charges, fenced in by concrete and wire, speak to the way in which security, surveillance and the mechanisms of overseeing have been foisted onto a modern world where economic disparity has created tensions that need resolution through political and social change – not fences.
The deep irony, of course, is that the original Alphaville is also the story of a love crime, where the chaste lovers Lemme Caution (arguably one of the great names in cinema) and Natacha Von Braun (with her undeniable heritage linked to the atomic fate – and fears – of the 20th century) recite Paul Eluard poetry to each other as the super computer Alpha 60 intones lugubrious orders and aphorisms. Muntadas is not so arch as to leave the last line of the film intact. Instead, on-screen text “Alphaville: the dream, the era, the triumph” appears. The ultimate sales slogan soberly draws the curtain on this contemporary work of intense scrutiny.
– Lisa Steele, Vtape Creative Director
Opening reception: April 14, 12:00pm to 5:00pm.
Artist’s talk: 3:30pm.
Antonio Muntadas was born in Barcelona and has lived in New York since 1971. Through his works he addresses social, political and communications issues such as the relationship between public and private space within social frameworks, and investigates channels of information and the ways they may be used to censor or promulgate ideas. His projects are presented in different media such as photography, video, publications, the Internet, installations and urban interventions.
Muntadas has taught and directed seminars at diverse institutions throughout Europe and the United States, including the National School of Fine Arts in Paris, the Fine Arts Schools in Bordeaux and Grenoble, the University of California in San Diego, the San Francisco Art Institute, the Cooper Union in New York, the University of São Paulo, and the University of Buenos Aires. He is currently Visiting Professor at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Instituto Universitario de Arquitectura del Veneto in Venice.
Vtape presents this projection of Antonio Muntadas’ Alphaville e outros as part of the Images Festival 2012 Off Screen. For a complete listing of the Images Festival programming, see www.imagesfestival.com
Still credit: Alphaville e outros, Antonio Muntadas.