A chat with the collective behind Citizen Kino, Berlin’s craziest digital utopian night at the movies.
XLterrestrials are a collective of artists, thespians and hackers, all with a contempt for the concept of a single identity and a passion for ‘hacking’ our passive consumption of media. Their “Citizen Kino” shows take place at least once a month, bizarre film evenings midway between a group exorcism and a utopian Stammtisch. Truth be told, they’re moderated mostly by one man: Paolo P. aka Dr. Podinski, a wizard of sorts who’s made it his mission to question the visuals we’re subjected to every day. Audience members, a mixed bag of alternative lefties, hackers and Snowdenista types as well as a few conspiracy theorists, are encouraged to swallow substances like “jelly snakes” (literally) to free their minds from the enclosure of our society. Then video clips, short reports, ads and various images are beamed in to spark a conversation. It’s a sometimes inspiring, sometimes-frustrating experience (depending on the ratio of conspiracy theorists).
We met the XLterrestrials at the art space Spektrum, under one condition: that we not disclose their individual identities.
Where did XLterrestrials come from?
XLterrestrial 1: In the 1990s, NASA was working on sending a space probe to take pictures of Saturn. It was the first time the press was dealing with issues of NASA sending nuclear fuel, plutonium, into space over people’s heads. They were under pressure because of the huge business between NASA and the nuclear industry. So in our discussions we had this funny idea – well, not necessarily funny because it was also very serious – that human beings were being treated like extras in this military industrial complex movie, that this probe was more important than the safety of the planet. We felt we needed our own way of telling the story, because the corporate media wasn’t going to cover it. So that was one of our seeds of thinking: let’s create this arts and praxis group who can communicate these issues in new ways that aren’t necessarily like journalism, but more like science fiction.
Why didn’t you want to do this interview as an individual?
X1: It’s important with this project to experiment with collective identity. It’s a way to shield the individuals, so that you can actually say what it is you want to say without feeling potential repercussions, like a tactical shield that gives you more freedom.
XLterrestrial 4: Sometimes you can’t inspire yourself. In a collective someone else inspires you – they might encourage you to look into a direction you hadn’t considered before.
Does the collective idea factor into your Citizen Kino shows?
X1: Yeah. Citizen Kino came about to hack our individual consumption of news and media and turn it into a public forum, so that we can go back to the social event that cinema used to be. If we just sit there and suck media through our screens, then there’s no way to respond to it. But if we throw it out into a public setting then there’s a chance that I might piss someone off and we can all respond to that. You don’t come to our nights to download something.
What kind of topics do you deal with?
X1: There’ve been a lot over the past couple of years! A lot of the focus has been analysing the way our society is being immersed deeper and deeper into technology. We get fed a lot of imagery of what the future is going to look like by technology companies. But it’s actually bringing dark things to deal with. We don’t get that message from the advertising of technotopian products, so we try to draw attention to these angles and deal with them. We use little theatre gimmicks to break the ice and get people participating.
XLterrestrial 2: Yeah, like eating things that supposedly make you do strange things [nervous laughter], or wearing a cap which we tell you will make you see the world differently. These gimmicks help you realise that you’re used to merely spectating. They stop you from being afraid to engage.
Just who is Citizen Kino’s ringleader, Dr Podinski?
X1: Dr. Podinski is a scientist, a hacker, a psychologist. He doesn’t have any one specific role, which is why different people come and play him. In theatre there’s this term, the Everyman, a very flexible open-sourced character for other people to imagine how they would analyse and navigate the material.
So is Podinski “post-identity”?
XLterrestrial 3: He reminds me of something I saw at a Tactical Tech show. They showed a quote from Mark Zuckerberg, “To have two identities is a sign of a lack of integrity.” So what Facebook is trying to say is, “You can only access our technology if we have data on you.”
X1: It was around the time “Facecrack” started that we started doing shows like this. Here’s a person, Zuckerberg, Zuckerborg as I like to call him, who’s trying to destroy the playfulness of the internet by forcing you to become this single identity. We wanted to challenge that, so in that sense there is a post-identity activism going on. X2: I think we should be multi-layered, but the way the technology corporations work, they’re concentrating us into being single-layered. They’re manufacturing our desires into data, into something basic that can be targeted.
What’s the future of the media?
X1: It’s not really a future of media, but a future of being able to be outside of the media. Being able to turn it off when you want to turn it off. Being able to exist with less media is going to be crucial for our sanity.