Cover Story, January 2019
Schizophrenic machine, the concluding performance of the Latitudes-curated Joan Morey project COLLAPSE, took place on the freezing evening of 10 January. One hundred and thirteen pre-vetted audience members, each complying with a rigid all-black dress code, were driven by coach to the previously undisclosed location: the former La Model prison in Barcelona’s Eixample neighbourhood. More strictures were barked by a balaclava-clad doorman upon arrival: silence!, single file! No mobile phones, no bathrooms, no chance to leave. The reverberation of a door slamming. More than two hours in the darkness and cold.
Inaugurated in 1904 and closed as recently as 2017, La Model was a notorious centre for political repression and social control during the Franco dictatorship. Morey’s major new performance was his first with no leading human actors. Instead a cast of drones and a high-speed camera robot arm — together with recorded voices and music, blinding lights, and an architecture-scanning laser — were the technological interpreters that dramatised the foreboding architecture. Or rather, the building itself became the principal character as the spectator-captives were corralled from one scene to the next, kettled into and out of its different wings and its yard, returning each time to the central core of the correctional mechanism.
With its six radial arms and central surveillance tower, La Model embodies the principals of the panopticon. Devised in 1791 by the English philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham, the panopticon typology produced a device whereby a single omnipresent guard could in principal observe all inmates at the same time. The architecture generated total control of the prisoners, and supposedly instigated their redemption, by inducing an incessant state of self-monitoring and automatically guaranteeing authority over privacy. Overwhelming and unrelenting, Schizophrenic machine was finally brought to an end with a deafening recording of the siren once used to signal prison lockdown. This had been only a temporary incarceration.