Critics’ Picks

Anna Witt, Unboxing the Future, 2019, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 29 minutes 9 seconds.

Anna Witt, Unboxing the Future, 2019, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 29 minutes 9 seconds.


Anna Witt

Christine König Galerie
Schleifmühlgasse 1A
October 24–December 21, 2019

Speculation around the Singularity maintains that as man makes machines, soon, machines will unmake man, stripping humanity of the functions that have bolstered class structures and social standing: that is, our jobs. This fantasy of forced obsolescence is one part Matrix, one part Jetsons, and, increasingly, one part reality. Of course, machines aren’t coming for our jobs so much as for our tasks, relegating humans to the role of assistant, the stopgap between automated operations. (Yes, George Jetson may have outsourced childcare to a sentient vacuum, but he still had to put in time mindlessly pushing buttons as a “digital index operator.”)

In Anna Witt’s three-channel HD video Unboxing the Future, 2019, a group of workers in Toyota’s Japanese homeplant in Aichi prefecture ruminates on the prospect of a world in which robots have replaced them. Some worry about the potential devaluation of free time, while others lament that their tasks have already been oversimplified to a demotivating degree. They pantomime their work routines for Witt’s camera, the gestures decontextualized from their usual functions on the assembly line. As the video progresses, Witt swaps in footage of machines, their automated arms twirling and swooping, to effectively supplant the humans.

After a worker wistfully contemplates taking up the guitar (“I like music”), one channel of the video breaks out into an improvised koto jam session. In another channel, the movements combine into a collective choreography, which the employees perform en masse, like elderly Tai Chi practitioners in the park. In the third, the participants cut apart their uniforms, only to recombine them in new ways, unhampered by utility. The future of humanity, it would seem, is pinned to our ability to imagine alternatives.