post-futuristic farewell from the analogue car

Since the Futurists praised the automobile as the ultimate tool for human progress, it has become one of the most determinant consumer goods of the 20th century. With the rise of nationalism in Europe, Futurism blended in with the enthusiasm for war that characterised many intellectual and artistic groups on the threshold of the First World War. Industrialisation, speed, noise, aggression and technical innovations, were sources of several manifestos that got published between 1909 and 1914. The publication of Filippo Marinetti’s “Manifesto del Futurismo” on the front page of Le Figaro in 1914 kicked off a new era of industrialization; the avant-garde was born and raced itself into the future. 

Though later overthrown by
ever new avant-garde movements, it was Futurism that cemented in its very name
a fundamental aspect of the twentieth century – that is, an undestroyablebelief
in the future.

In the second part of the nineteenth century, and in
the first part of the twentieth, the myth of the future reached its peak. Based
on this belief political action was formed: liberalism and social democracy, nationalism,
communism and even anarchism shared at least one common idea – namely that
despite the darkness of the present, the future would be brighter and better. The
future seemed enduring for a long time, until, in the 1970s, people began to
realise that growth was finite. Neoliberal economic practice, imposed by Great Britain’s
Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and later by US president Ronald Reagan, put an end
to the collective belief in a prosperous future.

As the Italian media theorist Franco (Bifo) Berardi
describes in After the Future (2011) we have entered an era beyond mere future, the post-future. Berardi
does not focus on the year 1989 when Communism fell. He places the end of the future to the year 1977, when a
certain modern Western concept of the future as a linear progressive
development came to an end. Berardi substantiated this time indication by means
of phenomena such as the RAF campaign that resulted in the German Autumn, in
the rise of punk with the Sex Pistols screaming No future for you – no
future for me
, as well as in the post-’68 radical movement
Autonomia movement in Italy.

Parallel to these rather politics-driven developments, technological discovery also caused the collapse of the idea of the future. Future is not only a dimension of time, but also a dimension of space. It’s promise lies in the space that we do not know yet, that we can therefore discover and exploit. The speed of the external machines moved to the information domain and in the mean time every centimetre of our living environment seem to have gotten colonised. As the oil-age shaped, and ruined, the environment, the digital area now exercises its power over politics and society and the unprecedented subversive possibilities of cyberspace, are increasingly being appropriated by market-driven companies.

Even when faith in the future
collapsed, the car remained a reliable product that provided individual space,
a sense of self-determination, a touch of autonomy. The car has always
faithfully guided us through Western Modernity, and kept on embodying the
concept of a promising future. It proved resistant to many crucial political
and economic crises. At least, to this day. In this momentum of the
digital revolution, our ‘rolling uterus’ is merely an outdated, polluting object.
The car got stuck in long traffic jams
and has been overtaken by the speed of big data on the digital superhighway. In
order to survive, the car industry is radically re-inventing itself, keeping up
with Google’s Android Auto, Apple’s Carplay and Amazon’s Alexa, that are
turning the car into a source of its drivers’
movement profiles and other valuable consumer behaviour patterns. In this area
of ‘surveillance capitalism’ aptly described by economist Shoshana Zuboff, data
are being gathered from human experiences to predict and influence our coming
behaviour. In these predictions lies the new economic profit and certainly also
the profit of the car industry. It has to get rid of the combustion engine on
the one hand and it has to convince the new generation of customers of the
urgence of its products on the other hand. The object that traditionally
guaranteed individual autonomy and mobile self-determination is slowly but
surely getting fully digitized and networked.  

The year 2019 is dominated by
two opposing positions that collide in a frontal collision, where the farewell to analogue cars
driven by combustion engines is deplored and acclaimed at the same time.


… a taxi that doesn’t
necessarily takes you where you want to go. A runaway ride along the parameters
of the here and now.

This is Cologne, spring 2019. Each Friday morning the road traffic in the city centre is shut down, in order to let a growing number of  young protesters pass through. Students and scholars are skipping their classes and resolutely demand a cleaner environment, a brighter future. Not only in German cities, but worlwide. They fight for car free cities and an emission free society: “Wir sind hier, wir sind laut, weil ihr unsere Zukunft klaut”. At the same time  the election campaign for the European Parliament is in full swing filling public space with election posters. The main access roads to downtown Cologne are a perfect setting for the AfD (extreme right-wing populist party) poster campaign. While stuck on the A57, with the silhouette of the Dom cathedral looming in your front window, their slogans sharpen the political atmosphere; “Finger Weg von unserem Diesel” and “Geht’s noch Brussel? Diesel retten!”. The AfD is interfering with the madness, stearing up the fear. Angry citizens appear to be terrified of a growing number of Diesel bans in German cities, of loosing jobs and autonomy. Wearing yellow vests to match French protesters whose movement began as a reaction to proposed fuel hikes, they hit the streets shouting “Diesel drivers resist”.

Noordkaap Taxi took place in the streets of Cologne. Togheter with the artists JODI (NL), Max Dovey (UK), Abner Preis (NL) and Inari Wishiki (NL) Noordkaap called upon a  post-futuristic farewell from the analogue car. With a series of custom made taxirides throughout the city, the artists created work on the cutting edge of digital culturale and performance, where their critical look at the automobile and the digitalisation of private space from different artistic perspectives, resulted in intimate happenings.

Noordkaap Taxi was part of the project Memory
Stations, initiated by the Akademie der Künste der Welt (Academy of the Arts of
the World) that reached out to the citizens of Cologne and NRW region
to become public historians. 
Noordkaap focused on the car, as an object that we can all relate to,
and created a link between the local context, unconventional means of public
outreach and the Memory Station project.