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?