Patricia Portela and Christophe de Boeck designed Hortus, a wonderful installation for the enclosed garden of the Erasmus house. Included in their Burning Ice presentation was a series of Hortus Salons, conversations about the future with people from different walks of life – from a politician and an architect to an economist and of course including several people from the cultural sector. Maja Kuzmanovic was invited to participate in one of the Salons as well. She read a speech written by Patricia, a 'State of the Union of New Babylon' for the year 2084. Afterwards, instead of having a debate about a fictional scenario, Maja decided to design a small prehearsal – a 'pre-enactment' of a reception following the reading of the speech. She asked the members of the audience to imagine what they were doing there and how they went from being who they were in 2012 to being the VIPs of New Babylon in 2084, invited to a special reception by the Union's president.
To help people decide what their jobs and societal roles were in New Babylon, Maja distilled several challenges and principles from the speech, as well as various 'job opportunities' – such as being a member of the extinction committee, the person in charge of lunar tourism, an expert in human photosynthesis, etc.
After a few minutes of self-design, the audience was asked to proceed to the reception hall and schmooze to their heart's desire. This went on for about fifteen minutes, after which we came together and recounted who we met. It turned out to be quite a colourful collection of individuals, including a woman dealing in composting dead bodies, a religious renegade from Eurabia, and a company rep exporting culture for space exploration.
This concluded the role-playing part of the prehearsal. Maja asked the audience to give two or three keywords about how they felt during the exercise. We came up with an interesting description of the character traits for a New Babylon citizen, based on real feelings of the participants – an insecure though adventurous, aggressive and expansive, awkward and extrovert personality.
The point of this exercise was to demonstrate that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, it is always easy to attack something we see as an opposing point of view, but when we ask ourselves how we would behave in such situations, we might be able to see the world in more shades of grey…
It was interesting to do such a short prehearsal exercise and notice that people had realisations similar to when we did our day-long exercises: they became aware of their own affinities, thinking about 'what if' they ended up in such a future, and how this related to their position in the present.
Another realisation for us was that it is such a pleasure to work with people comfortable with storytelling (those who have some experience in performing arts) and to see how quickly and easily they improvise, even in a very awkward situation that they can't identify with.