Unheimliches Tal / Uncanny Valley

von Rimini Protokoll (Stefan Kaegi) & Thomas Melle / Münchner Kammerspiele

The expression «uncanny valley» describes the back-and-forth between acceptance and distrust that overcomes us when, as human beings, we regard and interact with humanoid robots: What is a human being? What is a machine? Japanese robotics researchers call this eerie similarity the «uncanny valley».

For Uncanny Valley an animatronic double of novelist and playwright Thomas Melle was produced. This humanoid serves to replace the author, which raises such questions as: Is the relationship between replica and original competitive or do they help each other? Does the original get closer to himself through his double? Who is speaking and what is underlying program?

Melle observes and Stefan Kaegi documents how engineers newly assemble Melle’s body using servo motor units and silicone and then program the motors so they can simulate Melle’s personal movement repertoire. Through precision mechanics, a mask, and a costume, the humanoid robot becomes an actor whose facial expressions, gestures, and speech might be able to trigger empathy – but empathy with whom? With Melle himself, who is no longer there, or at least with the robot? Who is speaking in the uncanny valley?

Thomas Melle studied Comparative Literature and Philosophy in Tübingen, Austin (Texas), and Berlin. He is author of frequently performed theatrical pieces and his translations include, e.g., William T. Vollmann’s novel Whores for Gloria. His debut novel Sickster (2011) was nominated for the German Book Prize and received the Franz Hessel Literary Prize. In 2014, his novel 3000 Euro was released, which appeared on the shortlist for the German Book Prize. In 2015, Melle, who lives in Berlin, received the Große Kunstpreis Berlin.

Swiss director Stefan Kaegi stages documentary theatre plays, radioplays, and urban environment projects, which he creates through diverse collaborative partnerships, e.g., he directed Mnemopark depicting the world of a model railway as a live filmset at a scale of 1:87; over a period of two years, he toured throughout Europe with two Bulgarian truck drivers and a converted truck (Cargo Sofia); in 2008, he developed Radio Muezzin in Cairo – a project about the call to prayer in the age of mechanical reproduction; in 2009, he staged a work with 10,000 grasshoppers for the Schauspielhaus Zürich and also a pirated copy of the Security Conference at a round table at the Munich Kammerspiele; in 2011, he created a piece about Russian-German oil pipelines called Bodenprobe Kasachstan [Soil Sample Kazakhstan]; and, between 2006 and 2011, he often worked together with Lola Arias, most recently, in creating Chácara Paraíso, which featured Brazilian policemen, and Airport Kids, which involved the participation of global nomads ranging in age between seven and thirteen years.

Further projects include «Idiom Modul» of the Malta Festival in Polish Póznan (2012). As well, Kaegi continuously develops Remote X, a site-specific audio walk for fifty headphones, which he freshly adapts to new cities, so far extending from Lima to Copenhagen and Shanghai to Abu Dhabi. In Gesellschaftsmodell Großbaustelle (Staat 2) [Society under Construction (State 2)] up to 300 audience members simultaneously assume the role of construction worker transforming a theatre space into a huge construction site as a Wimmelbild [picture teaming with images including “hidden” images] that can be re-read again and again in a different way.

In collaboration with set designer Dominic Huber, Kaegi created eight rooms for the project Nachlass – Pièces sans personnes [Nachlass: German word composed of nach [after] and lassen [to leave] thereby representing all material and immaterial goods left behind by a deceased person, especially records (letters, works, documents, etc.) built up during a lifetime; Pièces sans personnes: plays or pieces without persons]. In the absence of their protagonists, the rooms tell about what remains of a human being when she or he is no longer there.

Together with Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel, Kaegi stages his works under the label Rimini Protokoll, whose aim is to pry open subjective reality and present all its facets from unusual perspectives. In 2015, Kaegi and Rimini Protokoll received the Swiss Grand Award for Theatre / Hans Reinhart Ring. Kaegi lives in Berlin, where Rimini Protokoll has their office.

→ in German / English audioversion available through headphones → Duration: 50 mins
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