Anthropologies of the Black Box - UA Flight 93 Data Recorder

Anthropologies of the Black Box

The starting point of this project is the consideration of the black box concept as a philosophical machine. The black box is not only an instrument for recording flight signals that helping determine the causes of a fatal incident. Since the first uses of this device in civil aviation in the mid-20th century, and due to its prominence in the scenes of catastrophe, the black box has culturally functioned as a metaphor for encrypted memory — a persistent, indestructible, and concentrated testimony of the destroyed.

But the black box or flight recorder also coincides in its history with other developments, such as those of encryption technologies, ubiquitous nowadays in any transmission/translation; or the default film and video projection setup that proliferates, in the form of a “black box”, as a typology for exhibition making in the sphere of global contemporary art; or yet, the empty theatrical box, a zero-degree of dramatic spatiality after the dismantling of the classical theater apparatus. In this sense, more than a mere spectacular infrastructure, the black box is a place of apparitions, where blackness serves as a transitional platform for the unexpected to emerge as that which cannot manifest in the obvious world. The black box would thus be the spatial stratagem with which we become susceptible, that is, we expose ourselves to a certain type of manifestation.

Both a hallucinatory capsule and a security deposit for what-really-happened, the black box is a recorder of compromising signals and mental flights. As a resource and a remainder, of and therefore after the catastrophe, the black box is the sign of a strange survival, a script; it thus prompts a contemporary version of the message in a bottle. This hidden “safe box” of reality is a historically dark matter, trauma’s savings account, the ballot box for votes turned ashes. Place of transit for amnesia or smuggled memory. Burnt chest of evidence and traces. When the current civilization collapses, we will have to look for its black boxes. 

Under the format of a lecture-performance, and as part of the Teatre Lliure's KATHARSIS program, Anthropologies of the Black Box uses the stage as a site of resonance, collage, and collision. The narrative, made up of verbal, visual, tactile, and sonic elements, journeys through the work of contemporary artists and authors such as Victor Costales, Frida Escobedo, Amie Siegel, Sara Nadal-Melsió, Gaika, Paloma Polo, and Jalal Toufic, among others, whose practice will be discussed alongside rare and unpublished documentation as well as some special contributions. Meanwhile, a wearable device called B·LACKASHA will emerge during the play. This brutalist-like lamp allows its bearer to tune into the return of the repressed, transforming their head into a source of black light. Deceptively crude, witty rather than smart, this domestic accessory is also a primitive registration instrument for our collective research.

Co-creation of Mercè Boncompte, Daniel Cardona, Manuel Cirauqui, Ana Habash, Berner Maynés, Elisabet Pahissa and Alexandre Viladrich for Eina Idea.


Dates: January 24th and 29th, 2021
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