Logo of the Hebbel am Ufer


Text: Luise Meier

“More than anything the films and the posters should serve to cause an interruption, a pause for thought and perhaps, in some small way, deliver a HAU moment that acts as an open invitation to the viewer.” @newfrontears
This text was written by the writer Luise Meier, commissioned by HAU Hebbel am Ufer to go along with their current film and poster campaign "KEEP IT REAL".
KEEP IT REAL! At first glance, this is a pretty conservative appeal. In times of fake news, TV star politics and anonymous online agitation the call to “keep it real!” seems like a yearning to take a step back – to move away from the screens and become an authentic self again – and to engage in actual acts amidst the real world. Then there is the cozy word “keep.” It does not call for anything new but for the preservation of the status quo. But an interpretation as accommodating as this one cannot hold up, since the slogan is inextricably linked to the avatars, cut into each other in the video clip and glued together on the wall. They are the ones claiming realness for themselves.  

KEEP IT REAL! For a long time, the slogan was aimed at imposters and posers, those embarrassed by their origins, deficits, weaknesses, by their otherness and impotence – pretending, performing and hiding behind empty masks. Now, due to its avatarian kinship, the phrase takes on new meanings. The gaze no longer originates in real life and looks at the screen. Suddenly another gaze appears from behind the screen – and we are the ones caught in it.

KEEP IT REAL! You are the mask. You are fictional, fabricated, industrially produced, and priced. You are digitally recorded, hooked up, algorithmically determined, and statistically analyzed. Claiming authenticity, realness, originality, and naturalness becomes fake. Even going offline is nothing more than a pose masking our socio-historical genesis – the wiring beneath the surface. Authenticity is nothing more than the corny scenery of alpine pasture imprinted on the plastic-coated milk carton, whose contents have been industrially produced without any cow ever standing in a meadow.  As the focus group revealed: The majority of customers react positively to hyper-realistically vamped up pictures of rural idyll. It’s awkward, of course. Who wants to have their free will and true desires exposed as a result of market research? There it is again, an origin, a genesis, a heteronomy that embarrasses us.

KEEP IT REAL! Don’t avoid conflict! Face the facts, as disagreeable as it may be! Fact is, we are living in the digital age. There is no turning back, no full employment, no natural lifestyle. Neither ethnicity nor gender or genetics will ensure our sense of belonging. “Keep it real!” in its avatarian subversion does not enforce purity laws. It calls for the acceptance of impurity and the techno-socio-economic entanglement as the material basis. Which poses the question: how do we create more desirable social formations and more pleasurable entanglements?

KEEP IT REAL! is what Marx and Engels demand in The Communist Manifesto. “All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.” Apropos Marx: If we abandon the difference between virtual and real production, we are compelled to realize that the avatars linked to us – our avartarian parts – are doing a lot of unpaid labor. Every click, like, post, and swipe translates our attention, our excitement, our engagement, our wishes, our outrage, our sociability and our curiosity into statistical data and profits, and increases the power of international tech-giants.

KEEP IT REAL! The sober view produces a moment of exposure, awkwardness, uneasiness, and questionability that is not resolved by consulting our smartphones, working hard on ourselves or detoxing. This is what is reflected in the awkward gestures and facial expressions of our avatarian siblings. They do not know how to interact with a world that is defined by its realness and its differentiation from what is virtual and imaginary. In the wobbly, looped, and jagged movements of the avatars we recognize our own awkwardness, an awkwardness that we experience in our everyday life, as we collide with an order of reality that is increasingly solidified by the TINA principle of supposed “Realpolitik.” Who said avatars had to perform seamless perfection? Who said they had to compensate for our deficits and failures? Why should they conform to the pressure to perform and self-optimize? Where are the lazy, stinking and limping avatars? Where are the drunk, lagging, unfinished, striking, burnt out, helpless, dispensable, misplaced, unemployed, and grumpy ones? Where are those lost in thought and lost for words?

KEEP IT REAL! As “real” humans, we are are inextricably glued to and cut into various avatarian creatures. There is no separating the real from the unreal, the artificiality from naturalness, constant from variable capital, man from machine. There is no wall, no barrier between the sphere of the real and the virtual – nothing that could shield one side from the effects, the debts, the injuries, the profits, and the power structures of the other.

KEEP IT REAL! This is really unreal, you are unreal, we are unreal. The unreal is real – deal with it! In reality, reality is embarrassingly unreal and the unreal is real. Claiming authenticity is no longer authentic. This is when we find ourselves amidst present paradoxes where theater comes into play. Where the break with reality and the introduction of imagination produces an encounter with the unheard, unseen, unbelievable, and unreal aspects of reality and the reality of the unreal. Where the real irreality and the unreal reality melt into building material for the future. 

So what now? There is room for hope that the manipulability, the unreal of reality, reveals its political and artistic possibility for change. The question is shifted: How can unreality be shaped, programmed, produced, imagined, and manipulated in order to become a more livable and joyful reality for all of us – human and avatarian comrades alike? Our kinship with avatars is not based in the preservation of indubitable origins or the determinable state of things but rather in a view towards future change.

KEEP IT REAL!: That we are not real does not mean we are not effective.

Luise Meier lives and works in Berlin as an independent writer, dramaturge and server. Her book "MRX Maschine" appeared in February 2018 with Matthes & Seitz Berlin.
Idea, concept and design "KEEP IT REAL": @newfrontears. Design and layout: Jürgen Fehrmann / HAU Hebbel am Ufer.