Australian performance artist and theatre-maker Michelle Aitken presents the New Zealand premiere of her solo show Future’s Eve this week at Basement. We chatted to her about where the show came from, a disobedient Roomba and gender:
What is Future’s Eve all about?
Future's Eve is a solo about what it means to be a woman in a world where woman-shaped-objects in the form of AI and sexbots are iminent. So, the show is about sex robots, Siri, and sci-fi, and about how women are represented, especially when they're man made, and if this representation is any good. It's a show with way more questions than it has answers really. Throughout it I'm trying to grapple with ideas about femininity, consent, relationships, AI, bias, hyer-sexualisation... Not to mention an often disobedient Roomba.
How did Future’s Eve originate?
Oh man I wish I knew the actual answer to this. The show started in mid-2017, probably after I read some dumb click-bait article on facebook. Maybe about Sexy Samanthas, or Sofia, that robot that's somehow a citizen of Saudi Arabia. And there's been a lot of conversation about biases being programmed into AI over recent years, especially with self-driving cars becoming a reality. Or actually, maybe it was following watching Fifth Element for the first time and not being able to get over how super gendered and uncomfortable it is. ugh.
I read somewhere that female virtual assistant voices are perceived as helping you solve your own problems, while male voices are seen as telling you what to do. It does my head in thinking about it.
How do a roomba and Siri fit into the work?
I originally imagined the roomba having many tasks to do throughout the show, but I could only afford an off-brand robo-vacuum and it is a very naughty bot. I'm adding to the list of things to never work with: children, animals, roombas. The roomba plays a robot of doom, delivers me things, and in the end is set free. I play a bit of a sexy Siri I think. Did you know Apple reckons Siri is genderless? As if, right. There's something about that kind of sass and obedience that can only be coded as female...
Do you think Siri is enjoying her job?
I think Siri loves her job. She's also a bit of a tease, and I think it's actually such an interesting thing to think about. You can't really make an assistant that doesn't come across as willing to please, especially because you can make them do whatever you want anyway. I read somewhere that female virtual assistant voices are perceived as helping you solve your own problems, while male voices are seen as telling you what to do. It does my head in thinking about it.
Who is your favourite fictional robot?
Maybe the specific Stepford wife that just keeps giving everyone her recipe for baked goods? Or maybe C3PO. So sassy.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Future's Eve?
I hope they take away a deep sense of concern about where we're headed, but also a feeling of hope, that maybe we can have a say in our collective future, and that there could be great things ahead if we talk critically and act wisely.
Future’s Eve is on at Basement Theatre from 28 Aug - 01 Sep. Book tickets or find out more here.