Erewhon

Pierre Cassou-Noguès, Stéphane Degoutin et Gwenola Wagon

Série de textes et de films

2019

Erewhon emerges from images circulating on the Internet. It is a loose adaptation of a philosophical fable published in 1872 by the British writer Samuel Butler. This utopian satire, which is set in the fictitious city of Erewhon, proposes that we consider technological progress and automation as the evolution of the “machine” species, comparable to the evolution of biological species, but much faster. This hypothesis governs the habits and mores of its inhabitants, down to the smallest aspects of their lives.

The eleven chapters, each accompanied by a text, come together in a 52-minute film. They can be seen on the platform Welcome to Erewhon.

Like Butler’s narrative, Welcome to Erewhon depicts a city located in a parallel present. Factories produce everything that is needed for life. Warehousing and handling are outsourced to hangars outside the city, devoid of humans. Farms raise and process plants and animals. Vehicles deliver them. Software optimizes the system. Inhabitants are freed of all chores, and devote themselves to leisurely activities. Robots massage inhabitants, or cook for them. Cats equipped with GPS map out the territory. Robot vacuums awaken to sensuality. Pigs have their brains networked and enlarged.

Humans, animals, and plants are linked by a data center interconnect system that processes mental matter, thus conserving the city’s memory. Algorithms can give voice to the dead. This is how the spirit of Samuel Butler can still circulate through images of the city.

A secret kinship has always connected machines and cats. In Erewhon, the two species have established a strange kind of sympathy. Humans, who have been left out, are content with exchanging images of cats riding robot vacuums.

Erewhon has many eyes, which monitor the different aspects of industrial processes and urban life. Yet there is nothing panoptic about the city. It preserves blind spots, which represent spans of non-existence for its inhabitants.

In Erewhon, advanced age and end-of-life are periods full of gentleness; robots shaped like baby seals care for patients, sparing them any human contact. The robot’s snort is a concentration of all the beings one has ever loved.

Do the inhabitants of Erewhon still raise children? Or do they instead adopt robots that don’t yell or cry, and eventually learn to love? Is time forever frozen at the suckling stage of capitalism? Do its inhabitants live in spas? Are they skilled in inter-species love? Do they come to resemble plants? Is Samuel Butler reincarnated as a sow connected to the city’s brain?

Presentation of the project at the Jeu de Paume museum, Paris, january 2019
Erewhon by Samuel Butler, 1851 edition.
Samuel Butler

Diffusion

Screening and debate, National Library François Mitterrand, petit auditorium, March 6, 2020. Free entrance.

La nuit des idées 2020, Etre vivant : devenir machinique, Musée des Arts et Métiers, january 30, 2020

Contemporary American Fiction in the Face of Technical Innovation, Cinémathèque, Sorbonne Nouvelle University, 13 rue Santeuil, Paris, January 23, 2020

Forum Ouvert Oeuvres et Recherches, Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing, November 28, 2019

Les vitrines Eur-ArTec, Centre des arts d'Enghien-les-Bains November 5, 2019

Festival DokumentArt films & futures, Neubrandenburg, Germany October 15-20, 2019

Lecture, screening “Welcome to Erewhon”, Georgia Tech Center for the Arts, France Atlanta, Atlanta September 29, 2019

Lecture, screening, Festival Perspectives, Matrice. Paris. July 2019

Screening of the last episodes followed by performance Erewhyna - 3 morts brutales" d'Olivier Bosson. Jeu de Paume, Paris, may 7, 2019

Movie-concert “Erewhon” with Méryll Ampe, Mirage Festival, Lyon, April 6, 2019

Screening, presentation of the project, followed by a lecture by philosopher and writer Bruce Bégout and a movie-concert by composer Méryll Ampe, Jeu de Paume, Paris. January 22, 2019

Credits

Visit the project's website: Welcome to Erewhon

Production: Lissandra Haulica, Irrévérence films

Directors : Pierre Cassou-Noguès, Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

Scenario : Pierre Cassou-Noguès, Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

Original music: Méryll Ampe

Voices: Jean-Luc Vincent, Pauline Belle, Marie-Bénédicte Cazeneuve

Assistant editor: Cécile Bicler and Alice de Lima

Graphic design and development: Raphaël Bastide and Louise Drulhe

Voice recording: Joaquim Peirera

Sound mixing: Joaquim Peirera

Film rights research: Alban Leveau-Vallier

Acknowledgments: Daphné Bengoa, Olivier Bosson, Cantor Bourdeaux, Frédéric Danos, Doris Erelljisé-Lanzmann, Sydney Levy, Olivier Perriquet, Geoffroy Wagon

Co-production: Dispositif pour la création multimédia, CNC - Dicréam

Jeu de Paume espace virtuel

With support from: Artec, Agence Nationale de la Recherche, Laboratoire TEAMeD, Université Paris 8