Player Piano: A Subjective Atlas of a Landscape of Labour

“The future Homo Ludens will not have to make art for he shall be creative in the practice of his daily life.”

— Constant Nieuwenhuys

Player Piano is a revisitation of American writer Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 debut novel. Set in a fully automated future, the book is a meditation on the meaning and purpose of life in a work-free environment in which labour has become the domain of machines.

Whereas Vonnegut’s text is a dark parable illustrating the crushing effects of mechanisation on human freedom and culture, this exhibition seeks to reframe the question of a post-labour society in historical terms. It prefigures a future (or maybe remembers a past) society that establishes itself on the island of Abraxa, the future site of Utopia—a landscape-as-collage built on millennia of mythologies, technological breakthroughs, societal conflict and class struggle.

The only thing more ancient than the dream of liberation from work is the dread of automation itself; yet stitching together fragments of this panorama of human endeavour another vision is possible – a civilization simultaneously liberated from the cults of labour, technology and ownership.

The current conditions of our existence are presented to us as inescapable— a political, economic and social order driven by imperatives of expansion and consumption to which, we are told, there is no viable alternative. Torn on a daily basis between the promise of technological salvation and the spectre of systemic collapse, we are led to make sense of an increasingly vast, complex and fragmented reality—in which the spectrum of what is possible to change has, paradoxically, been dramatically reduced.

Player Piano is a reflection on what is at stake as we set about the task of designing the future. Situating visitors in an undefined future landscape (an island, or perhaps the surface of a meteor), viewers are invited to recast themselves as tourists visiting a distant and unfamiliar reality in which ideas and technologies already visible on the horizon have dramatically expanded the boundaries of what is collectively considered possible.

Curator: Space Caviar (Joseph Grima, Simone Niquille, Giulia Finazzi, Sofia Pia Belenky, Jakob Skote, Nicci Yin)

Acoustic Design: Charli Tapp

Production: GISTO (Alessandro Mason, Gabriele Lucchitta)

Book Accompaniment: Notes for travellers to the island of Abraxa by Space Caviar
Appendix to:
Accelerer le Futur. Post-travail & Post-capitalisme : Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams

Exhibitions: 9 March- 9 April 2017
Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne 2017
Cité du Design, Saint-Étienne, France

Subjects & Locations:

Hammer (Kenyathropus platyops, 3.3M BC), Lomekwi3 archeological dig, West Turkana, Kenya

Talos Urn (unknown, 5cBC) Ruvo di Puglia, Italy

Elephant Clock (Ismail Al Jazari, c.1206 AD, Iraq) reproduction in Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai, c. 2005

Uro settlements (15c) Lake Titicaca, Peru

Knitting machine (William Lee, 1589) Calverton, Nottinghamshire, UK

The Admiralty building (Thomas Ripley, 1726) London, UK

Cromford Mills (Richard Arkwright, 1771) Derby, UK

Prosthetic leg (James Potts, c.1815) Chelsea, London UK

Statue of Joseph Marie Jacquard (1840) Lyon, France

Famine follies and roads (unknown, 1845 onwards) Western Ireland

Cragside Manor (Lord William Armstrong, 1863) Rothbury, Northumberland, UK

Dishwasher (Josephine Cochrane, 1887) Chicago, Illinois, USA

Credit Card (Edward Bellamy, 1887) Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, USA

Remote Control Boat (Nikola Tesla, 1898) reproduction Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

Port Arthur Refinery (Texas Company, 1902) Port Arthur, Texas, USA

Motion Studies ( Frank & Lillian Gilbreth, 1908-1924) various locations, USA

Fordlandia (Henry Ford, 1928) Aveiro, Brazil

Hoover Dam (US Reclamation Service, 1931-36) Nevada/Arizona, USA

Rockefeller Center Lobby (Diego Rivera, 1934) New York, NY, USA

Shannon Free Zone (Brendan O’Regan, 1959) Shannon, Ireland

Carousel of Progress (Walt Disney, 1964) Buena Vista, Florida, USA

Post-it Note (Spencer Silver & Art Fry, Cynthiana, Kentucky, USA, 1974) New York, NY, USA

Vitra Test center (1989) Weil am Rhein, Germany

Trojan Room Coffee Machine (Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, 1991)

New York Stock Exchange Data Center (NYSE Euronext, 2010) Mahwah, New Jersey, USA

Ostrich Pillow (Studio Banana, 2012) Lausanne, Switzerland

Joylent, aka Jimmy Joy (Joey van Koningsbrugge, 2014) Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Proposed telecoms mast (Vigilant Global, 2016) Richborough, Kent, UK

After Tools (Leonardo Amicio, Federico Floriani, 2016) Milan, Italy

Mental Modems (Erik van der Veen, 2016) Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Fake News (Town of Veles, 2016) Macedonia

Leaf Cutter Ants (unknown) Brazil

Weekend (unknown) Central, Hong Kong

Archeology of Rose Island

In 1967, Italian engineer Giorgio Rosa designed and funded the construction of a 400 square metre platform in the Adriatic Sea, 11 km off the coast of Rimini, Italy, supported by nine pylons and furnished it with a number of amenities including a restaurant, a bar, a souvenir shop and a post office. He named the platform the Republic of Rose Island (Esperanto: Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj), and proceeded to declare independence from Italy, pointing out that the platform was positioned just outside Italy’s territorial waters and therefore not subject to its sovereignty. The experiment was short-lived: on 11 February 1969, the island was demolished by the Italian state.Rosa copyrighted the invention under the name “System to build artificial islands—in steel and concrete—both for civil and industrial purposes” (#850.987). In his own words, the invention “consists in arranging a structure on the beach and floating it offshore to a predetermined location with a maximum sea depth of 40 metres. The pillars, which are empty, are lowered vertically to the bottom of the sea floor. Then steel tubes are inserted in the pillars and pushed into the sea floor. Later, the pillars are filled with cement to complete the structure, with no risk of corrosion.” The island even incorporated a pole to retrieve fresh water from 280 metres below the sea floor, with the idea of retrieving oil to sell to motor boats at cheap prices, without the Italian tax. To date, Isola delle Rose is one of only two artificial island nations successfully realised as a new territory with a self-declared government.

The essence of Isola delle Rose is in its nature as a political act of critical synthesis through design. Rosa’s project prefigured the collapse of faith in representative democracy at the dawn of the 21st century, preemptively responding to this crisis through the deployment of a mix of political activism, architecture and technology. Archaeology of Rose Island revisits the remains of the platform on the seabed of the Adriatic, re-examining its relevance in the context of the contemporary surge of interest in libertarianism and technological emancipation from State control.

Project team: Joseph Grima, Tamar Shafrir
Graphic design by Folder
Exhibition Dates:
6 December 2013 — 28 February 2014, Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, Shenzhen, China
24 May — 2 August 2014, Part of Coming Soon, Bureau Europa, Maastricht, Netherlands