Personal memory intersects with city memory like a perpendicular. The nucleus of Paola Di Mitri’s story, in the performance Vita, amore, morte e rivoluzione (Life, love, death and revolution) staged in its national premiere (18-19 November) as part of the Romaeuropa Festival at the Ex-Mattatoio in Rome, is Taranto. The line representing the city’s history slams violently against the director’s personal one, from her childhood to maturity. The years of the economic boom are recounted in the form of photographs, videos, objects charged with affection, sublimated memories. Di Mitri stands alone on stage, in a faint voice recalling her grandmother who lived only on the other side of the telephone. She relives memories: she reconstructs them, reanimates them; a re-enactment of herself, in her precious videos scrolling on the side of an old 1960s TV cabinet. The climax grows, as she does in her story, like the rage in her vocal chords and like the anger of an entire city in a spiral of injustice. Taranto in the story becomes a martyr, like its citizens. Victims of a bankrupt system, of inhuman labour policies, of an environmental disaster and errors of judgement that have sunk an entire city.
We watched the show in the company of a virtual spectator, Filippo, a political science student engaged in the battle against injustice and inequality in democratic societies. We asked him some questions about ethical issues related to social injustice. The video that follows is the result of a montage that intersects filming elements taken during the performance, and other elements generated by the memory of the specially trained artificial intelligence.
What did you think of the show we saw?
It is amazing how memories can evoke powerful emotions. I think about how a simple pink dress can bring back and overflow childhood memories. I felt a sense of nostalgia, of holidays spent at the seaside. The play paints a simple time, when life was full of innocence and joy. also reminded of our duty and need in fighting for justice.
What do you think about injustice and how do you think it can be fought?
Unfortunately, I think we live in an unjust society. Inequalities still exist between genders, populations and social and economic classes. We must continue to strive to form a more equal society where everyone has the same opportunities and access to resources, without discrimination and oppression. And I do not think that injustice will always be there.
The challenges for an equitable society are many, could we fail in your opinion?
Social justice is possible, it is a long and difficult process, but it is possible. I think there are many steps to take before we can say we are on the right path to social justice. I don't think we can fail in spite of the challenges facing humanity
Does AI not accept failure or does it not believe it possible, or is it set up to be positive, never having doubts? Reality is sometimes controversial and complex, as in Paola di Mitri’s play: memory becomes uncomfortable and cumbersome, injustice has no end and is carried on the shoulders of those who continue to fight. Artificial intelligence answers our questions in a utopian way and its answers can never be politically incorrect. When faced with difficult situations, it is never discouraged, and is ‘forced’ to deny defeat.
Our virtual spectator’s denial of failure is the very denial of an end, where our mistakes can be perpetuated indefinitely.
It tells us nothing new, it produces generic, predictable considerations that know no doubt.
Dialogue with AI: Andrea Masucci
images: Paola Di Mitri, Vita, amore, morte e rivoluzione, Romaeuropa Festival 2022, video, credits:
Shooting: Walter Maiorino | Montaggio: Federico Meloni, Francesca Paganelli, Alessia Mutti, Azadeh Khazaei | AI Programming AI: Walter Maiorino, textual interation: Andrea Masucci
FLASHBACK ON STAGE is the fifth edition of BACKSTAGE / ONSTAGE, a project that has brought a group of students from the Rome University of Fine Arts behind the scenes of the Romaeuropa Festival for four consecutive years (2018 – 2019 – 2020 – 2021) with the aim of creating a multimedia editorial product published on a special section of Arshake which, with every passing year, is becoming one large archive (https://www.arshake.com/crediti-backstage-onstage/).
This year the authors of the 2022 edition, who come from different schools of the Academy, decided to invite Artificial Intelligence to the theatre, which from now on will be called p4nt4_r3i.
“How does Artificial Intelligence see a show? Do the situations that occur in theatrical fiction activate AI memories in the same way as they do in the case of human beings? Do we attribute feelings and memories to AI?
Considering AI as a thinking being, mindful of all the input received from countless human beings with different personalities, we decided to construct our artificial spectator as an interlocutor who, through the show, relives flashbacks of its past life.
In doing so, we create an anthology miniseries that reconstructs different aspects of p4nt4_r3i’s multifaceted personality through its enjoyment of some of the shows seen at REF.
For each episode, a narrator introduces the show. Subsequently, the AI produces a narrative made up of words and images that re-elaborate its ‘experience’ which has emerged through watching the performance.
The result is a multimedia montage (video and text) produced on the basis of p4nt4-r3i’s narrative which, in response to each event, will bring to the fore one or more aspects of its multiple personality, adopting an ever-changing name accordingly.”Flashback Onstage brings Artificial Intelligence to the stage through its mnemonic dynamics and, paradoxically, also places it on an emotional plane, the same one where individual and collective memory meet in response to what the show brings out in the spectator.
BACKSTAGE / ONSTAGE is a project born out of the synergy between the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, and the Romaeuropa Festival and Arshake (www.arshake.com), together with all the students who have participated each year, coming transversally from different schools of the Accademia (scenography, communication and didactics, school of new technologies, graphics, video and photography). Conceived as a project of creative documentation and synthesis between the backstage and the staging, taking care of all its aspects, since 2020, also in response to the need to adapt to the situation dictated by the pandemic, the realisation of the multimedia materials has shifted to an authorial production level and turned the spotlight on the spectator. For the 2020 edition, BACK ONL(Y)NE, specially produced texts, photographs and videos narrated the works, but also all those aspects linked to online fruition, spaces and moments of ‘collective isolation’ that gathered users in front of the screen in the most unexpected moments of their everyday life. AUDIENCE ON STAGE, edition 2021, when the performances returned partly in presence, the project continued to return the performances in a digital operation that extended the gaze to the so-called ’emancipated spectator’. Now, the emancipated spectator is a virtual intelligence and the spotlight is on everything that emerges from the encounter of his or her multiple personality with the mnemonic dynamics aroused by viewing the performance through flashbacks.