The Pig is one of the festival's many attractions
TWO years ago at the Tory Party conference, Theresa May gave a speech containing a line many thought extraordinary.
“If you believe you are a citizen of the world,” the PM said, “you are a citizen of nowhere — you don’t understand what citizenship means.”
“It was kind of jaw-dropping,” says artist and curator William Galinsky. “I don’t know if she realised the degree to which it could be perceived as such an attack on the Enlightenment, on education and on the globalist world that has meant a lot of things like cheap foreign travel and being able to work in whatever country you want to.”
Galinsky, alongside National Theatre of Scotland artistic director Jackie Wylie, is co-curator of Citizen Of Nowhere, a festival running in venues across Dundee from November 7-11. Presented as part of digital arts festival NeoN, it asks how theatre and technology can respond to an increasingly fragmented civil society.
With many events free or around £5, Citizen Of Nowhere includes Unknown Cloud, “an immersive virtual reality experience/social experiment”, Hello Hi There, a play starring two Macbooks, Jeremy Goldstein’s participatory Truth To Power Cafe, and Pig, a large transparent sculpture of a pig.
To be situated somewhere in Dundee city centre, artist Seth Honnor’s giant piggybank encourages passers-by to contribute to a community fund.
“Once you’ve agreed how to spend it,” the sign inside reads, “you can open me and spend it. #ThePig.”
Galinsky says values such as diversity, unity and empathy are coming under sustained attack as populism creeps across the globe, most recently evidenced by the victory of right-wing extremist Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
“Apparently WhatsApp groups had a massive influence on that,” notes Galinsky of Bolsonaro’s win. “A couple of years ago, when I was coming to realise the influence that social media and Google algorithms were having on upsetting civic discourse, I had an idea to start working with artists and theatre-makers to influence the direction that disruptive technology was going.”
One of these artists is New Yorker Annie Dorsen whose new piece Hello Hi There will have its UK premiere in a venue to be confirmed in Dundee.
Citizen Of Nowhere will take place across the city in places including outdoor public spaces, Dundee Rep Theatre, the new V&A Dundee and Dundee Court, which will host the Justice Syndicate, a “playable theatre” piece where a top surgeon is accused of a serious crime.
A collaboration with neuroscientist Dr Kris De Meyer and computational artist Joe McAlister, the Justice Syndicate asks how preconceptions and group-think influence decision-making.
There’s a strong virtual reality element to Citizens Of Nowhere. In addition to Unknown Cloud, artist Brendan Walker’s VR Playground will see participants experience the roles of both performer and spectator while Limina Immersive’s VR Theatre will give audiences the chance to encounter a “relaxed, fun and thoughtful way to experience VR”.
Alongside the public performances, Citizen Of Nowhere is hosting a Collider, a two-day intensive workshop with Scottish theatre-makers and creative technologists led by Lizzie Hodgson of ThinkNation, an organisation which works towards “humanising the impact of technology on young people”.
“Our kids are going to have lives which are completely different to ours,” says Galinsky. Previously the artistic-director of Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Galinsky says that one of the prices England and other Western democracies have paid for globalisation is the “loss of a national story”.
“You have that in Scotland, I think, but in England there is a real crisis of identity,” he says, after describing his own current artistic project, a virtual reality kung fu movie “all about English nationalism, Brexit and the longing for community identity”.
“I’m working at the bit where gaming meets theatre to try to bring audiences from two different walks of life to have a common experience,” says Galinsky. “That’s a big part of Citizen Of Nowhere too – it’s using art and technology to try to bring people together.”
Galinsky says that the role of the artist changes in tumultuous times.
“There are massive respons-ibilities for artists just now,” he says. “It’s not enough just to stand there and observe. You have to be involved in trying to help people answer the questions that are going to affect their lives. That’s why we’re partnering with people like the BBC, the big universities, with Creative Scotland.”
Galinsky continues: “This brave new world demands we ask what the role of the artist is, the role
of publicly funded media corporations. Are we telling stories that reflect the present, are we telling stories that we want to try to influence the future direction of travel?”
Some say artists should leave the politics to the activists, representatives and lobby groups. Others disagree.
“What’s the alternative?” Galinsky asks. “Do I leave it to some libertarian ideologue in Silicone Valley to decide what the future of my child is going to look like? I think that’s the reality if we don’t.”