PRINT November 2017


FROM MUSEUMS TO HOLLYWOOD, visionary artists and filmmakers—Paul McCarthy, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Jeff Koons, and Marina Abramović, to name a few—are taking on ambitious virtual-reality projects. Writer and artist DOUGLAS COUPLAND—who has prognosticated some of the most critical generational shifts of our time—and curator DANIEL BIRNBAUM met to discuss these endeavors and the future of technology and desire.

Internal hardware of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, 2017.

DANIEL BIRNBAUM: Have you seen anything memorable in VR?

DOUGLAS COUPLAND: Yes . . . it was a beautiful summer evening three years ago. I’d invited a few friends over, and one of them arrived with the most recent Oculus Rift headset. I had two VR experiences. First, I flew over a Cajun swamp in pursuit of purple lights in the distance. Then I collected asteroids in the rings of Saturn. No sound.

The twist was that when I removed the goggles, I looked at my favorite room in the world, filled with good friends on that beautiful summer evening, and I thought, Man, what a dump.

The thing about VR is that it’s so much better than the real world. Reality doesn’t even come close—and that shocks me. Assuming the screen quality is good, even a banal VR experience is better than real life.

It also turns out that my alienation is a common reaction: “post-VR sadness,” a sense of derealization and depersonalization.

One problem, which is being worked on very hard—and which will soon be solved—is that of dexterity. How do you allow people to make full use of their hands inside their chosen realities? Once that issue is fixed, the rest of the body will similarly be addressed. VR’s haptic progression will continue on to Wii-like levels of engagement. This makes me suspect that soon VR and robotics will have to be married, a union that will take us all into scenarios of multilevel creepiness—anything from a Disney princess who dispenses hugs to “Don’t worry, online shoppers: It’s 100 percent legal to skull-fuck your VR slave!” If people in the real world can get off on a jockstrap or a 1977 magazine ad for Playtex bras, imagine what will happen when your $6,999 Life Scale FleshjackPLUS with Improved Pulse Function arrives on the Thursday morning Amazon drone.

I don’t think I can overstate the grimness of the real world compared to VR. Reality is toast.

DB: I’m reading your book on Marshall McLuhan [Extraordinary Canadians: Marshall McLuhan (2009)] at the moment, and of course I ask myself what he would have had to say about the new medium. For instance, is virtual reality “hot” or “cold”? Hot media, according to McLuhan, engage one sense completely and require minimal participation from the user. Radio and film, for example, are hot. They command the whole sensory field, with no gaps, as it were; when you listen to the radio you hear nothing else, and when you watch a movie you see nothing else. You don’t have to work as hard at immersing yourself. By contrast, TV and comics are cold media. The audience is asked to fill in the gaps themselves, which demands not only more concentration but also heavier reliance on prior understanding of the medium’s conventions. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever totally understood the distinction, but my question to you, the McLuhan aficionado, is whether VR as it has developed so far is a hot or cold medium.

DC: It’s the ultimate hot medium. It hijacks both your reptile brain and your frontal cortex as well as your vestibular system. Once you’re in it, you’re really in it. It’s not like you can check your email or get a snack or answer the doorbell while you’re inside VR. You become it; it becomes you.

VR seems like it’s the logical end point of a data-bombardment process that started with Gutenberg and accelerated with radio, then TV, then the internet. And now I’ve come to believe that data is addictive, and our need for it grows the way addicts need bigger and bigger fixes to get high. Our days are largely spent behind screens—with greatly reduced somatic experience—and our memories of the day come from those screens that are fire-hosing data into our brains. We now calibrate our sense of time passing by how much information we absorbed that day. Data is the new time and, by extension, the cloud is the new infinity. And VR is a kind of temporal accelerator. I think VR is as much data as the human brain can handle; we finally know the limit. VR is your brain flying straight up the y asymptote.

To put this in perspective, imagine time-traveling back to 1992. There’d be nothing data-rich enough to engage you. Books? Movies? No. TV? No—you’d be a time hostage to broadcasting schedules. And of course, there’d be no internet, so you’d sit in a chair feeling queasy and decompressed, like that creepy feeling you get when you have no Wi-Fi.

DB: Some people seem to think that VR, when fully established, will change the way we inhabit this planet—the way we live, work, and communicate with one another.

DC: Utterly.

DB: Do you think it is a bit like the introduction of TV? Or more like the invention of electricity?

DC: Electricity. Life without VR will be intolerable. Especially on a sexual level, and on the level of providing dense fight-or-flight experiences. Porn and gaming, basically. Those two categories are where technologists expect the financial Klondike to begin, just as it did with the internet.

DB: Do you think the medium will give rise to a new kind of art?

DC: I hope so. Also, remember that when a new technology triumphs, it allows the technology it’s rendered obsolete to become an art form. That’s what happened with the internet. It allowed TV to finally make art. Therefore the next step is for the rise of VR to allow a golden age of internet art, like the golden age of television that started in the early 2000s.

When TV first came out, everyone’s first idea was to use it for puppet shows. So I think at first there’ll be a lot of echoing of other art forms until the medium finds its legs.

DB: Will all disciplines reappear as simulations in virtual space and double everything we have ever considered art, regardless of genre?

DC: That would be exciting, and I think it’s a large part of what will evolve. Also, remember that VR is really harsh on the vestibular system and the reptile cortex. Many people puke during or after VR. So it has intrinsic somatic properties just waiting to be overcome—but also fleshed out and exploited.

DB: The question of intrinsic properties is an interesting one—VR might seem like the ultimate post-medium medium, and yet the effects you’re referring to are unique, insofar as they act directly on kinesthesis and equilibrium in a way that no other medium does. And VR is immersive, whereas all the medium-specific definitions of media associate one medium with one sense—music with hearing, painting with vision. We could think about these issues in terms of a longue durée: The idea that a work of art must adhere to the specific characteristics of its own medium is much older than Clement Greenberg’s emphasis on painterly flatness—it is already present in the writings of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in the late eighteenth century. Obviously, art produced in VR will be totally different from literary, painterly, or sculptural work in the traditional sense, but there are already attempts to define the transcendental conditions of possibility for works unfolding in the spaces opened up by the new technology.

DC: Yes, and it’s also terra incognita, and everyone wants to get there first. At the moment there are people doing 3-D VR paintings, but they seem to be somewhat sentimental rehashings of nineteenth-century notions of what painting is. It’s like art you buy at the art store in a Las Vegas casino mall.

DB: All phenomena emerging in VR are immersive, interactive, and digitally generated, says David J. Chalmers in his essay “The Virtual and the Real.” Does that already delineate a critical framework for a future theorist with Greenbergian ambitions?

DC: We’re discussing a new technology that has no ontological precedent, the way search had no precedent. I think VR maybe needs to be alive for a little while before we begin limiting it in advance, and then getting angry or defensive if it defies initial predictions. Ultimately, VR may not be able to become an art form until some new technology obsolesces it in 2034.

DB: Do you find VR unappealing because people wearing the goggles look so unsexy?

DC: Google glasses made people look like assholes. VR goggles make people look like they’ve been cocooned by a superior species. It’s hard to look at people experiencing VR without thinking their soul has been stolen by someone else. Whoever figures out how to make sets that look like sexy 1970s ski goggles is going to win the 2019 Nobel Prize for product design. What interests me here is that people are viscerally turned off by the sight of Oculus sets being worn and used—“I can’t let myself become . . . one of those.” And yet, once they’re hooked, it doesn’t matter what they look like: Users will demand the experience.

DB: Do you think the headsets can ever be reduced to something as discreet as Ray-Bans or even contact lenses?

DC: That’s a good question. I doubt immersion is possible with mere glasses. Glasses are much better with augmented reality (that is, integrating text and digital imagery into the user’s field of vision), which is, according to my tech friends, much closer to mass explosion than VR. But Google Glass really spooked people. They won’t be rereleasing them until they’re perfect.

Let me ask you something. Conrad wrote that “We live as we dream––alone,” which I have always thought to be one of the most hauntingly lovely sentences ever written. Do you think VR is returning us to an almost amniotic dream state?

DB: One of the limitations of VR as a medium for art, it seems to me, is exactly this solipsistic quality, the fact that you go into a state of fundamental solitude. This masturbatory aspect really doesn’t appeal to me, since I like to share the experience of art with others. Isn’t that actually the charm of the art world and of exhibitions especially—their intersubjective and communal qualities?

DC: Literature is intensely private as well. I don’t see anything wrong with creating universes for people to get lost in. But would you go to a museum to read a book on a wall along with dozens of other people? Or would you phone a friend and say, “Let’s go online together”? It’s almost as if we need to invent some form of spectrum along which mediums can be calibrated against their tendencies to isolate.

DB: We walk through a museum to look at things together, to agree and disagree. In that sense, museums are part of public life and fundamental to critical dialogue, but also to all kinds of new encounters and interactions—including flirtation. All of this, it seems to me, is missing the moment you get lost in that amniotic dream state behind the VR goggles.

DC: Maybe so, but I’m not sure there’s going to be much room for these kinds of considerations during VR’s first wave. I spent (for reasons too complex to explain here) all of yesterday socializing with a group of hedge-fund people out of New York, and two of them are actively investing in VR that incorporates violence, dexterity, and haptic responses. I think this might spotlight just what we can expect as the technology develops. It’s not going to be a high-road kind of thing. But then, enter Olafur Eliasson. . . .

Olafur Eliasson, Rainbow (work in progress), VR video, color, sound, indefinite duration.

DB: Apparently you can make appointments with friends in virtual space. Eliasson’s new VR piece, Rainbow [all VR videos cited are works in progress], centers around this possibility. You enter an area that contains a rainbow produced by light passing through drops of rain, almost a fine mist. You can interact with this subtle waterfall, and you can share the experience with others who have been invited into the space and who appear as avatars. I’m not sure how many people the work can accommodate; I think about eight. Which, by the way, is also the right number for a great dinner party.

DC: I don’t think people need or want certain experiences to be like a dinner party. People online enjoy playing games with others—Scrabble or first-person fighting, say—but they prefer to do it with people they don’t know. It’s enjoyable and freeing to play a word game with someone who, for all you know, is in Dunedin, New Zealand. I think VR is going to be like that, too. Using VR with people you know will be like having a party when you’re a teenager and your parents come in and dance.

DB: I’m thinking of the philosophy of deep solitude and its limits. From a phenomenological point of view, VR offers some theoretical conundrums. In [Edmund]Husserl’s late work, for instance, the successive reduction of intersubjective experience, the stripping away of otherness, leaves a primordial sphere in which nothing is given except the incarnated subject’s experience of its own living presence.

DC: It’s like the star child hovering over earth at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

DB: But then, according to Husserl, there is some sort of dynamism in this autistic world that pushes the monadic subject beyond itself and permits the appearance of other bodies, which signifies the presence of other living beings.

DC: I guess we’re discussing immanence, and how that would manifest itself within VR environments. I think VR will actually be very good at this—probably too good. Imagine if every moment could feel like Christmas morning. Wouldn’t that be the place you’d want to be? McLuhan had that, by the way—a sense of perpetual immanence. I’m jealous of that.

DB: On the deepest level, subjectivity is not only vision. It is also bodily awareness and kinesthetic experience, a theme that Maurice Merleau-Ponty developed into a phenomenology of finite subjectivity as irreducibly visceral. In VR we can already hear and see and touch. Will we experience smell and taste in the future?

DC: I doubt it—at least not in the next few decades. The underlying science just doesn’t exist.

Rendering from Marina Abramović’s Rising (work in progress), VR video, color, sound, indefinite duration.

DB: AT SOME POINT, the question becomes: Why should we remain human? Why would the prosthetic bodies constructed in virtual space limit themselves to our human parameters? Will we be reborn as star children, as godlike creatures?

DC: Maybe gods like those in the Greek pantheon—beings as driven to seek pleasure and excitement as mortals, but with every source of gratification at their fingertips. Think: porn. Think: violence. Think: flight simulation. Think: extreme sports.

DB: One more comment about the sense of solitude that VR experiences create: Even when you take off the headset, the solipsistic suspicion remains, and all the demons of radical skepticism keep whispering in your ears about maya and butterflies dreaming that they are awake. One night Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher in the late fourth century BCE, dreamed that he was a cheerful butterfly. After he woke up, he pondered how he could resolve whether he was Zhuangzi who had just finished dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who had just started dreaming he was Zhuangzi, the philosopher. Similar forms of doubt can be found in ancient Vedic writings about the concept of maya, or illusion, not to mention innumerable versions of radical skepticism in Western thought, all the way up to the idea of posthuman civilizations that are running ancestor simulations. Are you really sure you’re awake? In fact, VR seems already to have given rise to a new generation of philosophy students who believe they live in a simulation. And they haven’t even read Jean Baudrillard, only Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument.

DC: That’s the future of solipsism: In VR, you inhabit a world that was created solely to test and tinker with you, the only person or thing in the universe that actually matters. I think everyone goes through a solipsism phase in their early teens and then, for most of us, it goes away. VR is the new ultimate masturbation, except in VR you can’t tell when your mom or dad enters your bedroom without knocking.

Daniel, I’m curious as to why VR is suddenly on your radar. You’re involved in projects with Marina Abramović and Jeff Koons, in addition to Eliasson.

DB: Yes—the only reason I am aware of these developments is that I was asked to propose artists to work with a VR studio in London called Acute Art. But this past year has been like when you look up the meaning of a word that you had never seen before, and then the following day you see the word again and suddenly it’s everywhere. There are a number of artists involved with this technology. The fact that such a large and diverse group are all curious and more than willing to experiment with VR seems to indicate that this really will be a revolution—as opposed to, say, holograms, which were used to great effect by Simone Forti and a few others, but were essentially a flash in the pan. I am an old-school person; I feel at home in the world of galleries, museums, art academies, not at TED talks. But as you say, VR is happening on a massive scale. And I suspect that it will turn out to be disruptive in a way most people have not yet grasped. It might change how we think about art and its institutions. The moment VR goes mobile and anyone with a smartphone can view works of art not as jpegs but as objects sharing the same (virtual) space with the viewer, the role of the museum will change, and so will the role of the commercial gallery, which might look as obsolete as a record store.

DC: We all have platform fatigue or tech fatigue, and we all know that for the rest of our lives we’re going to have endless new technologies thrown at us every five months, and VR just happens to be the next extinction-causing jumbo asteroid we can see careening toward earth in the very near future. That’s not utopian. It’s a kind of prison.

As far as obsolescence goes, e-books might offer a useful comparison. When they first came out, the entire publishing industry was shitting its pants for eight years. E-books didn’t kill books, and they’re still only truly popular for airporty books—but it was eight years of the same kind of bet-hedging, second-guessing and doomsaying that I’m seeing around VR. I suspect VR will find niches to which it is perfectly suited: sex, gaming, music, fantasy, horror. Gallery art may escape quite easily.

DB: Presuming it does escape, galleries will need to figure out their relationship to the new medium. To present VR works in a gallery and to try to sell them in an edition of five, say, can only be a transitory phase that does not utilize the potential of the medium.

DC: We’re right back to people in 1948 wanting to use TV to put on puppet shows. An “edition of five” experience sold by dealers will miss the point of VR, which is its status as a quintessential mass medium, universally accessible.

DB: The power of the medium really is that it can, and should, reach millions. Art for all, as Gilbert & George would say.

DC: I think that while everyone in the entertainment industry and museum system is trying to create a happy, joyous VR experience, it’s the younger kids who are going to create VR experiences to make you puke not from disequilibrium but from disgust, or to fuck with your mind as badly as it possibly can be fucked with. Imagine a VR slasher film—it’s going to happen. You know it is. When? Where? And how scary will it be? Again, for people just joining this discussion, VR is better than reality.

DB: If Walter Benjamin claimed that that which withered was the aura, what is it that we gain, and what withers, once immersive digital artworks become the standard for aesthetic experience?

Rereading that most cited of essays on art in the age of reproduction, I came across passages that struck me as relevant for what we are talking about. The first is the Paul Valéry epigraph: “We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic innovation itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”

It is not only a question of access and distribution, but the very ontology of the artwork that is being renegotiated.

DC: If Surrealism happened today it would be over in a week. In the twentieth century you only got one major technology shift and maybe two art movements per decade. Now we get ten new technologies a year and fifty memes a day. Culture is moving on a logarithmic curve along with technology. The pace of change is not linear, and it’s foolish to think it is.

DB: Perhaps the entire perceptual apparatus will be altered in the course of this high-speed evolution, and being totally immersed in artificial worlds will feel not only better than real life but more normal, more comfortable.

DC: Yes, and the drive to get back to that immersive world will be relentless. I remember as a child being told not to watch so much TV and go out in the fresh air, but TV was TV and I had to watch it. I couldn’t not watch it. Last night I was having dinner at a friend’s place and the kids were behaving so well, and I complimented my friends and they said, “They have to—otherwise I won’t give them the new Wi-Fi password.” For the first time in history, parents have a fail-safe blackmail tactic—until the kids run away from home and enter the matrix, never to return. People will get what they know they want. It’s the boring capitalist side of things. Friends who work in optical-fiber technology sigh when I ask them how they think their work is changing the world. Only one friend was honest enough to say, “I come to work for forty hours a week so that people can have a satisfying pornographic experience price-pointed at $29.95 or less.”

DB: So is art still going to be something people want? My initial reaction after leaving the studio in London where I first encountered ambitious VR artworks was: We are fucked.

DC: I told you.

Rendering from Jeff Koons’s Phryne (work in progress), VR video, color, sound, indefinite duration.

DB: AT THE SAME TIME, some pretty exciting things are going on. Do you want me to describe Jeff’s and Marina’s works?

DC: Yes.

DB: In Jeff’s work [Phryne] you encounter a shiny metallic ballerina in a lavish garden. And you immediately have the strong feeling that she is aware of you. She dances for you. And if you come close enough to touch her you somehow enter her world, pierce the membrane of her skin, beyond which seems to be yet another garden, inside her. The ballerina is smart and definitely wants to communicate with you. But the piece is still a prototype. That’s the case with Marina’s work, too [Rising]. It centers around—surprise!—Marina herself, or rather, a perfect avatar of her. She’s locked into an aquarium that seems to fill up so rapidly that she will drown any minute, but if you come close and reach out to touch her hands, the glass shatters and you are catapulted to the Arctic, where glaciers are melting and you have to tread on treacherous ice. You are soon given the double task of saving Marina and saving the world from ecological disaster. And the real Marina will use an app to check that you are doing your homework. This is certainly not an escapist piece.

So there’s a lot of potential here for engagement as well as for escapism. And yet I have to wonder about a society in which this kind of immersion is as routine as using social media is to us now. What the hell is going to happen to the minds of kids who grow up with this? I know this sounds ridiculous and reactionary or whatever, but really—what is going to happen to our minds?

DC: It’s pretty reasonable to ask. VR is probably the most cosmic shift to the human psyche since movable type and printing—except you don’t need to know how to read to use VR, and you don’t have to speak a language. It requires no training and melts you into it—and, again, it is better than real life.

I’m unsure whether the leap into VR is catalyzed by the fact that humans have maybe done all they can with the real world and the only way out is in—that sounds like a cheesy movie ad, but do you know what I mean? Asad Raza and Shumon Basar and I are ping-ponging ideas around right now, and I was wondering, What would post-Enlightenment art look like? and I think VR is the answer. It’s not just nonutopian, it’s a negation of progress. It’s like, Fuck it—I’m out of here. Fight religion with drones, but I’m going satellite mining in the rings of Saturn.

DB: I don’t know if you know the Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint, a woman who certainly would have agreed that the only way out is in and who, in the past couple of years, has become a total hit across Europe and definitely comes across as post-Enlightenment, although it’s less about negation than about moving beyond the limitations of rationalism. She’s almost too good to be true. She painted in secret for decades, producing hundreds of esoteric pictures for a temple that was never built but would have looked a bit like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim spiral. The other day I had dinner with af Klint’s grandnephew, who is almost eighty years old, and we started to talk about VR. We agreed that af Klint’s temple paintings don’t need a physical building, and that actually she had anticipated this new medium and was dreaming of new dimensions that now, a century later, are emerging as real technological possibilities. Perhaps we’ll see a new kind of mysticism. Is that what you think?

DC: Mysticism in art is hard to pull off. As time goes by, though, I’m wondering if the core issue surrounding artmaking is finding ways of creating immanence without being corny or naff or a long list of adjectives. It also seems to me, Daniel, that you went from being very skeptical to being very convinced in a very short period of time. What makes you think it will be hard for art-world people to get on the VR train? Will it just be older art-world types sighing and thinking, Fuck. Another paradigm shift, and I’m fifty-five. I just want to move to the desert and chase waterfalls in my Tesla?

DB: It’s definitely to do with a well-established critique of technology. There have been moments of great techno-optimism in art, from Futurism around 1910 to Group Zero and Experiments in Art and Technology in the postwar era, not to mention innovative projects like [Jean-François] Lyotard’s “Les Immatériaux” exhibition [1985] and, of course, Net art.

But I would still say that your remarks about the necessity of obsolescence are closer to the attitude that has dominated artistic practice and critical writing for decades.

DC: All technologies are transitional technologies. We joke about CD-ROMs and 8-track, but even something like the printing press was just a transitional technology to get us to peak digitality—and VR is this thing that renders absolutely everything obsolete. It’s spooky that way.

DB: There are of course exceptions, but, generally, naively utilized digital technologies appear to be too closely linked to commercialism and the entertainment industry.

DC: Yes and no. The commercial gallery system seems to love glitch art, but entertainment technology has driven animation to profoundly complex levels. It turns out that the depiction of convincing-looking hair—so banal—is what drove the ongoing push for lifelike digital clarity.

DB: The artist Ed Atkins makes a point of unconvincing-looking hair, among other tactics geared toward undercutting the lifelike quality of digital animation. That’s one way of resisting or protesting the march of technological innovation.

Rosalind Krauss famously proposed the deployment of obsolete devices amid the most developed forms of visual and spatial domination, in the hopes of creating something Benjamin H. D. Buchloh refers to as “allegorical counterforce.”

DC: Aura. Dirt. Puerility. The smell of lube and the scent of decaying flesh. I’m thinking of everyone in LA wanting to be Thomas Houseago’s best friend while daydreaming of pilfering pieces of filthy leftover chunks of wood and steel from the studio floor when he’s not looking. And that’s actually a healthy thing.

DB: In “Control, by Design,” an essay in the September 2001 issue of Artforum, Buchloh talks about an “invincible spell and hermetic closure” that the language of media technology established in the service of spectacle and commodity production.

DC: For me, the ultimate embodiment of that is Disney animation, in which every frame is constructed within the Disney regime, and where every single experience generated is ruthlessly efficient and based on extracting the greatest amount of affect from the greatest number of people. It’s Nutella. I think the “invincible spell and hermetic closure” is killing most film, too. Film now has to compete with long-form TV. Every film frame, as in Disney animation, has to be ruthlessly efficient.

DB: Art’s role, Buchloh would insist, is not to join the forces of ruthless efficiency and four-quadrant marketing but to create zones of resistance, and I would agree that obsolescence has offered more than affirmative techno-optimism. So I guess that even if we agree that VR is happening and is indeed inevitable, the question still is: Will we see a critical mass of important art that takes advantage of the possibilities, a meaningful counterweight to monetized escapism?

What interests me most is whether there is something necessarily unrealized in the designs and visions of today’s most interesting artists that needs the new technological possibilities to crystallize.

DC: Absolutely. But what if they make something uninteresting? Or maybe the real issue is that we all know what it’s like to get home at the end of the day and need a drink. Is VR the permanent answer to this?

DB: A drink, yes. But it has more to offer, no? A more extreme form of distraction. Perhaps like Surrealism, science fiction, or LSD. In his 1938 book The Theater and Its Double, Antonin Artaud speaks of the theater as “la réalite virtuelle,” something that is always mentioned when the prehistory of VR is discussed. But there are even more relevant precursors. Mark Leckey, when I asked him if he could imagine creating something for the medium, reminded me of Argentinian novelist Adolfo Bioy Casares, Jorge Luis Borges’s friend, who wrote The Invention of Morel [1940]. It’s a kind of science-fiction novel in which a fugitive is hiding out alone on an island. He discovers that the island is miraculously filled with glamorous people who swim in a pool and dance, as if they were visiting a summer resort like Marienbad.

It turns out that a mad scientist, Morel, has created a diabolical holographic recording machine that captures all of the senses in three dimensions. It’s a satanic device because it destroys its subjects in the recording process, rotting the skin and flesh off their bones. The fact that Marienbad is mentioned has been taken as proof that Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad [1961] is actually based on this Argentinian fantasy, and that one must understand that the protagonists in Resnais’s classic are actually holographs inhabiting a virtual maze, otherwise the film’s plot remains incomprehensible.

DC: I love that movie. I’ve seen it maybe ten times. I laid out my Japanese garden based on the still of the actors standing in the plaza before the hotel. And now the (non)narrative suddenly makes total sense.

Olafur Eliasson’s Rainbow will debut on Acute Art this month, followed by Marina Abramović’s Rising in December and Jeff Koons’s Phryne in February 2018.

Daniel Birnbaum is a contributing editor of Artforum and the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Douglas Coupland is a writer and artist based in Canada.