It’s dusk in the Indian Ocean. Two palm trees whisper to each other: “I want to escape”. Confined to a small island, they search for ways to grow their mysterious fruit. Alongside them, another life: money, grown independent of humans, moves in and out of the island.
INTERFACE CHAOS is the debut short film by the Demystification Committee. It explores the search for survival of two entities coexisting in the Seychelles archipelago: money and a unique species of palm tree. In INTERFACE CHAOS, money and palm trees are each observed facing uncertainties in a world largely free of human activity, yet populated by signs of all kinds. One, the fruit which the palm trees strive to grow. Another, the empty shell of a tax advisor’s office.
Streaming here from 29 February to 22 March 2020, the film features an original soundtrack by SKY H1 and is introduced by visual artist and writer Andrea Karch in conversation with the Demystification Committee and SKY H1.
FROM EDGES TO LAYERS
Andrea Karch: INTERFACE CHAOS begins with what seems like a plain, black screen giving way to a dream-like musical landscape. The music darkens until it sounds like clouds breaking up. The black screen morphs into a night scene. The mesmerizing soundscape is interrupted by a female voice speaking Seychellois Creole. What was it that took you to the Seychelles?
Demystification Committee: In summer 2017 we began a year-long project on the theme of offshore corporate finance, in the framework of the Vilém Flusser Residency Program for Artistic Research in Berlin. Looking to grasp the inner workings of tax havens through direct engagement, we sought the help of advisors to set-up a corporate structure across two tax havens. One of the two was the Seychelles, a jurisdiction affording a high level of secrecy and tax exemption to anyone interested in owning a company there, with the provision that its business be conducted outside the Seychelles—the working definition of an offshore company.
The company we owned there had no office or personnel, and only a letterbox as its address, housed in the offices of a local tax advisor and gathering dust alongside hundreds of others. We operated it for the best part of a year. By spring 2018 the project was coming to an end, we travelled to the archipelago of the Seychelles, using our right to access the offices of the tax advisor and capture whatever physical manifestation of our soon-to-vanish company we could.
Having spent those previous months thinking of money as the foundation of the structures we investigated, we were now seeking more nuanced signs of money’s passage. Over a few days we travelled around the islands, filming without a clear vision yet of what the project would become, working less with a script and more with a map. Besides the visible manifestations of finance, we were intrigued by another sign, a large coconut grown by an endemic species of palm tree known as Lodoicea maldivica, or Coco de Mer. That the plant can live a thousand years, coupled with its unusual form and size, has given rise to popular beliefs about its mating rituals which outweigh scientific research on its pollination.
Andrea Karch: The two “signs” you are describing here are created by the film’s main protagonists. INTERFACE CHAOS tells the story of two entities: two palm trees which softly whisper to each other, referred to as makers; and one entity referred to as money. You visually introduce both parties within the first few minutes of your film. Found-footage of the Coco de Mer makes way for long shots of the “dusty” post boxes you just mentioned. Shots of deserted office buildings alternate with images of palm trees and their natural surroundings. Although the visual material is divergent, both motifs create an eerie atmosphere. Why is that?
Demystification Committee: In the film, makers and money search for survival and there is a sense of uncertainty underpinning their journeys.
Money seeks survival through escape. INTERFACE CHAOS is not concerned with money as cash, money as debt, or money as medium of exchange, but rather it considers money as a self-organizing entity undertaking a chaotic movement, looking to evade the containment it faces. In the film, money moves through a number of interfaces, a term alluding here to anything that permits or prevents its passage—financial service providers, corporate proxies, shell companies and protocols for minimal record-keeping or taxation. A few, bleak signs of its passage are left behind: concrete facades and empty letterboxes, which we wanted to foreground against a paradisiac backdrop devoid of humans.
This backdrop consists of the makers. Unlike a tree in a more expansive land, whose pollen can travel far so that the tree avoids direct competition with its seedlings, the makers find themselves confined to a single island. They are frustrated by a lack of knowledge and experience in growing their fruit. As one whispers their confession that they want to escape, it becomes apparent that there are no simple answers: “From where? Where to?”
Andrea Karch: While both “money” and the “makers” try to overcome containment, the world of INTERFACE CHAOS is made up of “layers”. The narrator states “What used to have edges, now has layers.” Could you elaborate on this?
Demystification Committee: The narrator’s suggestion hints at a change in the ways that money moves. Thinking again of containment, a system which aims to constrain money may have edges, providing somewhat clear boundaries against which money could operate, limiting or defining its scope. But with the emergence of interfaces to facilitate the passage of money, a new axis is added. As money moves through these interfaces, routing around edges or barriers, the system begins to feature layers. Edges become redundant, layers are limitless.
Such layers are not unique to the Seychelles, but the Seychelles features a unique set of them. In and through those, money produces an exceptional place, one fitting the canon, or the new norm, of extraterritorial and special economic zones for testing alternative legal and economic instruments.
Andrea Karch: The film’s first typographic sequence reads “A chaos of interfaces/interfacing with chaos.” What does the entanglement of interfaces, the chaos, mean for money? And what does chaos mean to the makers?
Demystification Committee: A chaos of interfaces functions for, with and because of money. Money facilitates the entanglement of interfaces as it moves through them in order to survive.
For the makers, nature is chaos, less a lack of order than an order of its own. The act of growing the fruit is then their way to interface with that chaos, a way to survive it. This idea is somewhat influenced by a conception of the cosmos found in Nietzsche’s Gay Science (1882): “The total character of the world is in all eternity chaos—in the sense not of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms.”
As the makers accept this condition of unknowability and renounce a desire for answers to questions about their search, they realize life cannot be scripted and become free to experiment. By marking their surroundings with the fruit, the makers draw a space for themselves from the chaos of nature, turning it into their home.
Andrea Karch: A parallel exists, perhaps, between your idea of the layer, the chaos of interfaces deriving therefrom and “the zone” of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). There is a lushness to INTERFACE CHAOS, a natural, overgrown layer of vegetation that belies the hidden aspects of that place, as experienced in “the zone”. While freedom lies beyond the island, financial regulation or “the zone’s” boundaries, the mysteriously traveling fruit, the speaking palm trees, autonomously operating money, clearly overcome physical limitations. Through imagination, they become other-worldly. Similar to the figure of the daughter in Stalker, who moves three glasses across the table using telekinetic powers in the film’s final scene.
NO SCRIPT, JUST AN ACT
Andrea Karch: The first time I watched INTERFACE CHAOS, it had a hypnotizing effect on me. The single sequences are unusually long, epic, aesthetic yet bizarre. The underlying musical landscape, at some point felt like I was listening to my own heartbeat. Deep percussions, occasional, unfolding, hopeful notes and sharp synths, mysterious, recurring rhythms lulling me into a deep, dark fantasy or future vision… SKY H1 can you describe the collaborative process while working on INTERFACE CHAOS?
SKY H1: The collaboration went very smoothly. The Demystification Committee contacted me after coming to a show I played at EartH in London, and after that everything went quite quickly. They sent images as well as notes with descriptive adjectives. I thought about how these words would translate into music and improvised, a process I prefer to composing to footage. I sent them drafts and ideas and we immediately seemed to be a good match. I think the music also influenced how they started the editing of the film and when I received the first cut, I made changes to the composition before mixing everything precisely to what seemed fitting.
Demystification Committee: SKY H1’s music was a fundamental element throughout the filmmaking process, at times taking the lead. For instance, we were looking for ideas to support the opening scene, intended as a dreamy sequence. SKY H1’s response was fitting—the track sounds like “clouds breaking up” as Andrea put it earlier—but also surprising: half-way through, there is a powerful change in the synth loop that had been building up to that point. It adds a lot of tension to the track, an intensity which we responded to by re-cutting the scene to include the split Coco de Mer. Music was played on set, too: we used a theme developed as part of SKY H1’s drafts to inform and drive the improvised dance scene.
Andrea Karch: I understand the lack of human roles in the film as a visual analogy for the lack of human agency in offshore financial practices. However, there is one human-like figure, who is essential to the film—the character performing in the dance scene you just mentioned. The dancer’s hyper-glossy body parts are illuminated in an otherwise entirely blackened space, while the character’s movements seem to suggest some kind of resistance—at times aggressive, at times defensive, almost obedient, soft but as if wanting to escape the black box they are confined to. Can you tell us more about the dancer’s choreography?
Demystification Committee: You describe an androgynous character which—although its human performance enables the interpretations you suggest—in fact does not represent a person, but money. Dancing for survival, they depict that chaotic movement performed by money described earlier. Nervously gesturing, grasping and contorting and never content, even as the dance ends and the narrator hints at what may be the fragility of money: “Endless accumulation feeds the paranoia of uncertainty.”
We searched for a dancer able to “assume formlessness.” The choreography was largely improvised by the performance artist Kinda Gozo, who is experienced in Butoh dance, as she responded to SKY H1’s theme for the scene. Our minimal direction suggested the distress that comes from an inability to be certain and an ability to contort into ever more paranoid forms.
Andrea Karch: In these dance scenes the music develops slowly yet drastically, from something soft and mesmerizing to a fast-paced, artificially metallic soundscape. Sharp tones cut through an otherwise hypnotically dark undertone, creating an atmosphere of discomfort and struggle. SKY H1 can you talk about the musical elements present in these scenes and your sound design?
SKY H1: The image of the dancer was one of the first I received and it became the main inspiration for me for composing the soundtrack. The sharper tone of the music came quite automatically when I saw that image. Since the dancer had to move on the music I thought something more rhythmic and harder would be better suited. The artificial, more synthetic tone of the music fitted the alienesque movement and image of the dancer. It is a striking image and the change to a sharper tone from the more monastic, ambient music in the rest of the film makes it even more impactful.
Andrea Karch: The film’s aestheticized, almost romantic, visual language makes me wonder if you as filmmakers, actually searched for more than the mysterious coconut or traces of money flows. By the time INTERFACE CHAOS ends, the makers choose to accept the chaos inherent to nature. “They become free to act without knowing.” Is this your solution to a world caught up in the chaos of interfaces?
Demystification Committee: We were looking for different viewpoints and the worlds created through those. In one scene of INTERFACE CHAOS, a view on the ocean’s horizon at night rotates 180 degrees to resemble a hill surrounded by stars. As the world turns upside down, the narrator reads a passage from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1922): “Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds will we have at our disposal.”
In some ways the makers embody the Proustian artist. The very act of marking their surroundings with their sign—their fruit—is a gesture towards productive experimentation, an acceptance of the lack of a measure, or script. The sign they leave behind betrays a different viewpoint towards the world: that it is, in itself, a new and different world.
There is another viewpoint. The opening scene depicts a performative study of the mysterious fruit grown by the palm trees. A man, the sole person in the film, is seen splitting the fruit in half, seeking answers to its mystery. This act of splitting, measuring and placing values within a scale, betrays a common contemporary worldview, aspiring to the ultimate security of measuring and evaluating all of nature, and in the process extracting all that can be. Those who desire, or are required, to measure are in turn reduced to be defined by money itself. An entity, once invented by humans but now more powerful than them and able to conform their viewpoint.
Andrea Karch: SKY H1, how did you relate to the topics INTERFACE CHAOS addresses?
SKY H1: What appealed to me most was the poetic and even romantic approach to quite a theoretical and rather dry subject. The film succeeds in creating a space you want to escape to, it almost feels like a dream. That aspect of it is very much how I approach my own music. The empty, haunting, but at the same time welcoming images, feel very much like a reflection of the music I make.
Andrea Karch: In their book Digital Tarkovsky (2018) the filmmakers and designers Metahaven quote Bernard Stiegler on what cinema means: “If it were possible to demonstrate that lived reality is always a construct of the imagination and thus perceived only on condition of being fictional (…), then we would finally be forced to conclude that perception is subordinated to (…) the imagination. The relationship between the two would be constituted of previously non-existent terms, and this in turn would mean that life is always cinema.” To what extent does film as a medium allow you to address such a sober financial matter in a way that your earlier work couldn’t?
Demystification Committee: In an earlier work we had been operating in a somewhat investigative or participatory mode and we saw a limit to the rigid way that financial matters are commonly discussed, with clichés around whose side each different actor is supposed to be on and a reliance upon an implied or imagined viewpoint of the audience.
We were interested in capturing money in its capacity to act and self-organize. Through film we were able to approach the topic in a less didactic way and gained an ability to construct a reality or a space around makers and money that is part found or perceived, and part proposed or imagined.
For example, the timescale of the film is unclear. The makers seem to only whisper at dusk, while money and its interfaces are seen across day and night; the makers may live a thousand years, taking decades to bear a single fruit and money accumulates for the long term, but can act inhumanly quickly. Film as a framework offered a way to focus these divergent beings without having to normalize one to the other, overlapping a place and a time, as a combination of the perceived and the imagined, whereby the two entities and their journeys can coexist. This was particularly important with the way money is depicted: to move away from old tropes towards the characteristics seen, for instance, in the dancer and their movement.
Andrea Karch: Since its completion in 2019, INTERFACE CHAOS has been screened in Berlin, London, Graz and at the Porto Design Biennale. Three excerpts can be seen on INTERFACECHAOS.COM. What are your plans for 2020?
SKY H1: I am currently working on other movie scores, including a first feature film. And I am planning to release new material this year, solo stuff, remixes and collaborations.
Demystification Committee: We have some hybrid screenings coming up in London and Berlin, as part of which SKY H1 will perform a live version of the soundtrack alongside a screening of INTERFACE CHAOS. A solo show is opening at Aksioma Institute for Contemporary Art in Ljubljana, focusing on the work done around and through our offshore corporate structure and shown for the first time since its dissolution in 2018. While there, we will discuss tax havens with investigative journalists and other artists as part of MoneyLab 8.
Written and directed by: Demystification Committee
Original soundtrack: SKY H1
Cast: Kinda Gozo
Voiceover: Gabriel Cautain
Voices: Tara D’Arquian
Camera and editing: Demystification Committee
Camera assistant: Rokas Juozapavicius
3D design: William Fairbrother
Sound mix: Mark Durham
Hair styling and makeup: Saffron Dunlop
Made possible with the support of London College of Communication and Ravensbourne University London.
The Demystification Committee would like to thank Andrea Karch, Bob Wilson, Letizia Rustichelli, Mina Amiri Kalvøy, Nikola Marić, Noémi Varga, Paolo Davoli, Ricardo Saavedra, Rizosfera.net and tiagsssss.