Björn Franke

Violent Machines for Troubled Times

One of the most common triggers for panic is the loss of control over a situation, such as being enclosed in small spaces from which one cannot escape by one’s own efforts. This may be the reason why one of the deepest human fears is being buried alive or, more recently, being stuck in a lift without contact to the outside world. The latter also reflects the fear of losing control, which humans experience when being at the mercy of technological systems. The »Panic Box« creates such a situation. After closing the door, the user is trapped inside the box and is asked to pass a reaction test in order to open the door. The situation intensifies with the release of a gas and the continuous drop in reaction results. However, since the test results are manipulated and the gas is a placebo, the only way to escape the box is to press a panic button, which raises an outside alarm. The machine creates a hopeless situation from which one can only escape by admitting one’s state of panic.
We increasingly submit ourselves voluntarily to the direct control of machines and technical systems such as alarm clocks or traffic lights, which regulate our private and social lives. Sometimes, however, this control can be more enforcing and can influence our behaviour more directly. The voluntary submission under the control of machines can help us to attain or eliminate a certain behaviour that we are unable to achieve on our own due to lack of motivation or will. In this way, the machine becomes an external motivation device, similar to a personal trainer or coach, which not only encourages us but also makes us change our behaviour. The »Pace Maker« is a training device to improve the performance of an extreme workout. It consists of a facial mask with a valve and an embedded pedometer, which counts the amount of steps per time-frame. The valve opens or closes depending on the stepping speed of the user, which is set at the beginning of the training. If the speed is too slow, the device starts to suffocate the user, which then mobilises all power reserves.
Some of our fears are very hard to grasp, since they are so removed from everyday experience and rational thinking. Nevertheless, we try to quantify these diffused fears through technical warning and prediction systems which allow us to grasp and manage them. These systems include risk assessment scales, weather prediction systems and crime statistics. On the one hand, these systems allow us to address and manage our fears, but on the other hand, these systems might also trigger fears that would otherwise remain unnoticed. »Threat Alert« is a device that turns the abstract fear of catastrophes and terror into a tangible experience. Linked to a governmental warning system, the device displays the current national threat-level on a colour-coded scale. Thereby, the individual citizen is kept in a hypochondriac condition of permanent readiness and alertness. In addition to the display, a wearable device can be used during the night, which wakes up the user by pinching the skin should the threat-level rise.
Photos in collaboration with Jonas Unger.

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