THE REPORT is a future fiction that confronts the technology driven Smart City Vienna with the hard work of Viennese citizens and social movements throughout history. It challenges many of the assumptions about why Vienna is different and brings the 2049 Vienna Biennale artist Ergün Demir to a crucial dilemma – should Vienna’s smart city operating system be restarted at all?
When artist Ergün Demir stumbles upon an outdated, corrupted hard drive during his research for the 2049 Vienna Biennale, an entire chain of events starts turning his life upside-down. He has been commissioned to investigate the history of the Smart City Vienna, one of the most ambitious urban agendas set by a city to date. In 2014, the city embarked upon a framework strategy that would make Vienna “the smartest of all smart cities” by 2050. But a hack of the cities’ operating system in 2046 has brought almost all the smart city operations abruptly on hold and has consequently brought the emergence of many self-organised communities. Ergun’s research takes him to the City Archives, which leads him to a devastating find: not even much is left of the original archives. In desperation, he turns to his only source: an old hard drive, emerging from a battered black box. It is a leftover from a decommissioned work for the first, 2015 Vienna Biennale. Ergün is still not sure why that work had never seen the light.
Ergün is a character in the future-fiction publication The Report, publication released in September 2015 by STEALTH.unlimited, Stefan Gruber and Paul Currion. The narrative has been triggered by a meeting in the Kaminzimmer of the MAK (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art), where in October 2013, on an invitation of curator Maria Lind, a select group of artists has evaluated the implication of the emerging commons debate for the upcoming 2015 Vienna Biennale: Ideas for Change. Not much evidence of that meeting remains, apart from the question: Why would we discuss the perspective of of the commons as a “new enlightment” in such a zombie-like institution?
Not yet completely aware of the occasional ‘explosiveness’ considering the political side of unsolicited citizens initiatives in Vienna, we started work on this commission by investigating one of the earliest ‘commoners’ groups in Vienna: the Settlers movement. Settlers emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of Austro-Hungarian Empire, and pulled us into an exploration of Vienna’s last hundred years of citizen’s movements. Like Planquadrat (the self-managed publicly accessible garden created through an intense and media followed process in the mid 1970s), Sargfabrik (Austria’s largest self-managed housing and cultural project, open since 1996) or places like VinzRast Mittendrin (student and homeless social housing, triggered by the student protest in 2009). Some of the encounters with this history emerged from archives and books, but most from meetings with those people pushing for out-of-the-official horizons for the city. However, soon we gained the feeling that the nearly uninterrupted 100-years long rule of social democracy in Vienna has produced a milieu in which alternatives to the existing power relations seem difficult to imagine.
The research for The Report has been accompanied with a series of MAK Nites. These started with a discussion on the threat and possible impact on Vienna’s future of a crisis of the welfare state. The topic awakened deep powers from within the institution, suggesting us to “stick to the substance and leave out the more polemical passages.” The discussion on the relationship between utopias and social change ‘from below’, as well as the visit to Vienna’s urban development site Seestadt Aspern, with the Zurich based writer p.m (best know from his blueprint for a future called bolo’bolo) would make us confident in bringing across these tensions as the core of our contribution to the 2015 Biennale.
Throughout the research we encountered many initiatives that act from a variety of (different) beliefs, which in The Report got featured in close proximity or in support of each other, to confront the trust in a (closed-) technology driven Smart City Vienna. We gradually became aware that the work being developed for the Biennale produces a cultural currency of sorts – not uncontroversial, as we did not explicitly reach out to verify if the groups, initiatives and individuals appreciate for their documents, their photo’s, and details now being used by us to reveal the tension between the ambitions of citizens and the City of Vienna, between movements and their historization, or between past and present.
At the 2015 Biennale opening, The Report emerged as a trailer of the upcoming publication to be launched few months later. This undated video message shows an exhausted researcher, bewildered, and somewhat puzzled of how to bring his message on. Although fictional artist Ergün Demir has made every effort to accurately represent the movements, organisations and public figures featured in the story, his work is based on reconstruction and speculation, resulting from a conversation with Abraxas – the artificial intelligence program that helps interpret information provided by the research into the 2015 archives.
“I have never forced you do anything. […] You have made your own decisions, and that is all I want. For people to be able to make their own decisions.”
By the end of the narrative, one final question stays lingering in the air: whether the smart city operating system is to get restarted at all…
- [download ] The Report (ENG, pdf)
- [hardcopy ] ISBN: 978-0-9563078-2-8
- [team ] THE REPORT: Vienna Biennale 2049 is a project by STEALTH.unlimited (Ana Džokić, Marc Neelen, Belgrade/Rotterdam) and Stefan Gruber (STUDIOGRUBER, Vienna), in collaboration with Paul Currion (Belgrade/London).
- [text ] Paul Currion
- [original photos ] Stefan Gruber, Zara Pfeifer, STEALTH.unlimited
- [image alteration algorithm ] The glitch experiment by Georg Fischer
- [print ] STANDARD 2, Belgrade
- [contributors ] Conversations with following individuals provided the context for The Report, however they have not been involved or consulted on the textual or visual elements, and they do not represent their views: Katharina Bayer, Gerda Ehs, Andreas Exner, Angelika Fitz, Robert Foltin, Rainald Franz, Ernst Gruber, Esad Hajdarević, Willi Hejda, Elke Krasny, Christoph Laimer, Carsten Leonhardi, p.m., Elke Rauth, Andreas Rumpfhuber, Ula Schneider, Patrik Simić, Helmut Voitl, Markus Zilker, and members of the research group “Spaces of Commoning” (Anette Baldauf, Moira Hille, Annette Krauss, Vladimir Miller, Mara Verlic, Hong-Kai Wang and Julia Wieger). Additional thanks go to: Peter Chaffey, Helen Chang, Barbara Gruber, Elsa König, Christoph von Thun-Hohenstein and Marlies Wirth.
- [background ] The Report is an off-site commission for the Future Light exhibition, guest-curated by Maria Lind as part of the Vienna Biennale 2015: Ideas for Change at the Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art (MAK), Vienna. Three MAK Nite Lab events have been organised as a part of the project: Do You Hear Me When You Sleep? (9 December 2014), Since The Machine Will Not Simply Watch Us As We Organize Our ‘Alternatives’ (24 March 2015), The Report, launch (15 September 2015).
- [timeline ] October 2014 – September 2015