Dumb Type's 2022: remix

ICC, Tokyo

for The Wire, London, but unpublished, 2023

As the capacity audience waits in silence inside a theatre space at ICC in Tokyo, sound becomes weighted with presence. A background aircon hum? No, the soft patter of rain, somewhere outside. That momentary perceptual shift of being aware of one’s space can be regarded as slight and insubstantial. But that is precisely the kind of pregnant moment which has been the focus of Kyoto’s Dumb Type across three decades of multi-media/audio-visual presentations. Tonight, it’s a ‘film’—let’s tag it that for now. 2022: remix is a screen version of the installation produced for the 52nd Venice Biennale (concurrently reconfigured for the Artizon Museum in Tokyo).

Its content derives from James Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1856), drafted to introduce readers to the new world of America during its frontier and goldrush epochs. It abounds with charming yet foreboding rhetorical questions like “What is the Earth?” and “Who governs an empire?”. For 2022, Dumb Type voiced the text by directing the questions to a contemporary audience. 2022 is thus a meta-text on world-building, suggesting that the progressivist boosterism espoused by Monteith ultimately led to extractive and exploitative situations which now govern globalism.

Dumb Type has always floated definitions of a medium (on stage, in the round, on-screen, in surround-sound) through combinatory logistics of hybrid staging. Tonight’s ‘film’ is a 4k projection on a large screen, in front of which is stationed a massive, ultra-HD LED screen. Picture a widescreen rectangle of white framing an ominous, obsidian square: the former captures light projected onto it; the latter beams light into the audience. The imagery is a bounty of time-lapse footage of quotidian ‘non-spaces’ from around the world. Life is presented as passages, phases, periods. The footage (all black and white, mostly produced by Shiro Takatani) is presented in a polytych grid of four squares. Occasionally it is time-sliced vertically (to create ghostly transformations of liquefied figures in a landscape), or horizontally (to generate stretched swathes of lines akin to a Bridget Riley painting). Atop this, stark laser-outlined quotes from Montieth’s text scroll left-to-right. The result is an ‘over-writing’ that critically reframes the unassuming, innocent imagery. The dual-screen interpolation highlights multiple resolutions, manifold textures, and pastoral florescence. Captured footage meets captioned forensics, implicating all documented spaces to be bound by globalist acceleration.

And there’s a soundtrack. The core ‘bed’ of sonics is a suite of tracks provided by new member of Dumb Type, Ryuichi Sakamoto. These have been edited and enhanced by other members to orchestrate a richly dynamic sequence of ethereal textures, majestic choruses, Morse Code gabba-pounding, and erotic whispers of questioning voices (played through special hyper-directional speakers). Past tonalities of previous composers like Simon Fisher-Turner and Ryoji Ikeda are evoked (as well as Takatani’s previous collaborations with Sakamoto). Yet tonight’s soundtrack remains distinctive and compelling in its conjoin with the cascading and tessellated imagery. Dumb Type are originators of this aesthetic, transitioning fey, ambient electronica into decisive soundscaping. 2022 is neither achingly impressionistic nor turgidly expressive. It deploys impressive technological effects to erase the viewer/auditor in a world that will always be greater than you or I. Collected together for this unique event, the audience becomes defigured in its worldised landscapes.

Text © Philip Brophy. Image © Dumb Type.