Art & Photography

Welcome to Happy Redoubt: A Post-Apocalyptic Marketplace

Betty Wood finds an alternative vision of the end of the world at a new immersive installation at the King’s Cultural Institute
Imagine a future where technology has imploded: everyday objects like mobile phones, iPads and computers have become obsolete, re-appropriated or made redundant in a post-apocalyptic future. This is the scenario artists Philip Duckworth and Ben Sadler of Juneau Projects have created in their new immersive installation Welcome to Happy Redoubt, running at the Ingo Rooms of the King’s Cultural Institute until 16 December.

Comprised of a series of market stalls, the exhibition explores how artistic endeavours will evolve or devolve in the face of a tech-meltdown, and how, in a post-infocalyptic age – an apocalyptic information overload imagined in the works of sci-fi author Neal Stephenson – surviving tech might come to be fetishised by survivors. Posing questions about culture – what will emerge as a cultural signifier in a post-apocalyptic world? – the exhibition is a philosophical examination of the Western mode of living, and its finite future…How have you evolved Neal Stephenson’s idea of the ‘infocalypse’ – what’s the narrative behind the exhibition?

Philip Duckworth: The back-story we’ve developed is the idea of a global disaster – an infocalypse – where little functioning technology is left, except for a few robots that are fragments of remaining tech that have conglomerated and become overseers of the marketplace.

There’s a taboo against people using electricity or technology enforced by the fragments: people have to create hands-on arts and crafts type objects to trade with in the marketplace. There’s a slightly sinister undertone with the robots: they tax you on the way out; they take away your remaining currency; they control the information.

“As technology advances numerous skills become redundant in people”

You worked with London King’s College departments of Philosophy, Neuro-Science, Midwifery and Modern Languages: do you see these as disciplines integral to future survival?

Philip: It was an open call across the university for people who wanted to be involved. We were keen to get a wide perspective; having other departments on board, science and languages really fleshed out the exhibition.

Ben Sadler: We were thinking about a post-disaster world and how our skills would allow us to survive: is being able to paint or write going to help you barter in a post-disaster world? We spoke to a researcher in Bristol who was looking at how artificial intelligence might change the world. As an example he talked about the impact of the industrial revolution and how things like hand-weaving skills were lost within one generation because you suddenly had this automated process, and how as technology advances, numerous skills become redundant in people. Imagine then a world where people don’t have these skills anymore, how do you then survive beyond it?Might arts-based skills become redundant in a post-apocalyptic world then?

Philip: [In many ways, an infocalypse] is the ideal situation for an arts-and-craft type person. Art might flourish. But we ourselves are ambivalent: we don’t hate technology, we love it, but we’re interested in questioning it from other angles…

Ben: In parallel to this we’ve been looking at cavemen and the kind of societies that were generated then. The main thing was day-to-day survival, but there were also these ‘luxury’ goods people were making and devoting time to, like ceremonial spears. There was still a desire for luxury – I guess it was a status thing.

Why do you think, culturally speaking, we’re so fascinated with the idea of a post-apocalyptic world? Is it a yearning for something simpler? Welcome_to_the Happy Redoubt Stalls

Ben: Emily Butterworth, an academic specialising in early modern literature explained to us there was no concept of a post-apocalypse [in centuries gone by] – there was just the apocalypse. Just the end. Nothing continued after it. In the sense of post-apocalypse,  that’s a relatively new thing, perhaps after seeing disasters like atomic bombs being dropped, and seeing things survive.

Perhaps there’s been a religious shift too?

Ben: Heaven or Mad Max.

Philip: We deliberately wanted to make a different version of the apocalyptic view; there’s no scorched earth, no Hollywood disaster – that’s why we chose a tech breakdown. Society is still alive and functioning, just in a different way.

Welcome to Happy Redoubt runs at the Inigo Rooms, the King’s Cultural Institute until 16 December. Click for more information