Mustekala culture webzine has published a brilliant philosophical essay “Hyvän mielen markkinat” – that employs e.g. Michel Foucault’s concept “biopower” – about R.I.P. SERVICES and Wunderkinder, another celebrated recent performance that discussed our possibilities for life control in the contemporary society. Please find translated excerpts below:
Fair of “good feelings”
by Matti Tuomela,
editor-in-chief, mustekala culture webzine
(…) R.I.P. Services is a multisensory performance that took part in Alppitalo, in my case in a beautiful late summer evening (…) We could move freely on the site. There was a number of precise rectancle-shaped “boxes” marked on the floor that I associated with graves. In the middle of the room, a projection screen showed us footage of a wind turbine. This “cemetery setting” with all its associations made me think of the cycle of energy production. Little by little towards then end of R.I.P. Services, I realized what the “catch” of the performance was: it was sort of a fictitious advertisement event that aimed to sell us (as the name of the performance tells us) a service that will make our death as pleasant an experience as possible.
How does R.I.P. Services take part in the debate on wellbeing? Surely, it includes dark humour when making business about dying. In a theoretical sense, the performance can be seen to “fill” the “loophole” in Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) concept of “biopower”. In general terms, biopower refers to a technology of power to discipline and subjugate one’s body into a productive entity. Also, at the macro-level, biopower is linked to the control of populations, institutions, and hierarchies. An easy example of biopower is the justice system: our society does not execute criminals anymore but, instead, tries to “cure” them, make them into decent citizens – in a sense, into servants of power. Death, as Foucault puts it, is the limit of power. A dead body is not a productive body. In this sense, death is a crime against power. Capitalism requires biopower that organizes life into productive activity (…) R.I.P. Services, perhaps also as a general critical comment on the consumerist society, toys with the idea that we may be able to productivize this ultimate limit that escapes power – the limit between life and death.
R.I.P. Services offers interesting parallels and challenging views regarding the side effects of our fixation on ”wellbeing” [Carl Cedeström & André Spicer: “The Wellness Syndrome” (2015)]. Already the thought of a “good” or a “better” death is a sarcastic notion about our contemporary culture. The performance propagates the view that we are afraid of the process of dying and death because it includes many issues that we cannot control, such as pissing one’s pants at the moment of death. At the same time, the performance asks: what if you had the chance to decide? The fictitious service marketed by the performance reminds me of the services of life-coaches: the “product” being sold is located within the spectator; you just have to take control over it, “grasp it, decide yourself”. The starting point of the service that offers a “good death” is the customer’s fear of death. However, this service does not aim to erase that fear but to offer various ways to keep it under one’s control. Once again, the “space” of the human mind is infinite: can we ever really accept death? If we can’t, it is possible to cash in with it until the very end. The principle of life-coaching follows the same logic, only in the contrary meaning: towards a fee, the individual is “trained” to reach e.g. the potential or happiness or whatever that resides in him. But where are the apexes of these so-called “potentials”?
In R.I.P. Services, the customer’s need to buy the service is evident: all of us will die eventually. This need also relates to the control and disciplinary society. Activity wristbands, heart rate monitors and the millions of apps that help us measure our sport performances are side products of wellbeing; they are ways for disciplining our bodies. Indeed, introspection and the myriad ways to measure our performance in various areas are good examples, first, of the biopower directed at subjects and, second, of how we produce data about ourselves. The data acquisitions made by websites and apps are part of the process that aims to capitalize on the knowledge production that we, as individuals, have done about ourselves. (…) I think that the test about the fear of death is essentially connected to the current trend of introspection, self-disciplining, and self-control. (…) The male performer told us that we can tailor the service to suit our individual needs: the company gathers data about the customer so that they can give him/her (playfully) the perfect dying situation.
(Photo: Luzie Stransky)