Master degree talk held in december 2018

This is the text from my talk on my master project that was held in Konstfack december 2018.

 

Ultima Thule

The work I am going to talk about today are parts of a larger project that potentially will continue after my time at Konstfack.
The project as a whole is a construction of a fictive world and this construction has the over all name Ultima Thule. My exam work are two. possibly more, chapters of this story, told in the form of comics.

The name Ultima Thule is a term coined in ancient Greece and Rome, primarily as a name for either Greenland, Iceland or other parts of Scandinavia. It later also became a literary term to signify the concept of the farthest north or the metaphorical meaning of any distant place beyond the known borders of the world.

I believe the latin term Ultima means final both in farthest in distance and last in time. My story is about the last people of earth in the farthest north, basically the end of humanity.

 

Background

I have since childhood consumed fantastic stories through games, comics, movies, books and music. Especially superhero comics made in USA with their worldbuilding, was a starting point for my own urge to express myself as a storyteller and visual artist. My highest dream as a 10-year old was to be an artist working for the huge comic publisher Marvel in New York.

As I grew older I found other literary worlds that inspired me and that I wanted to explore. I taught myself doing comics through doing autobiographical comics, at the time I started my practice I depicted reality instead of the fantastic.
This was partly beacause of my inexperience as a storyteller, instead of made up stories I used events of real life, but my autobiographical comics were also a revolt against my earlier notions of beauty and ugliness, a reaction against a streamlined comics industry and often very simplified stories about good and evil, honor, violence and power, that I had difficulties accepting. There were of course good exceptions, but on the whole I left scifi, fantasy and superheroes behind me.

In pursuit of new stories I also gradually stopped doing autobiography and started to explore the origins of stories, mythology, spiritual concepts, fables and folk tales.
To evolve as a storyteller, the thought of using the fantastic storytelling as a platform, again started to get a hold on me.

This science fiction idea started growing within me more than ten years ago. The story has changed many times but the main themes has been the same all this time; an ecological catastrophe, humanity as a compulsive consumer and the power relations between the people and an elite.
And with these ideas I applied to Konstfack.

I have been a practicing comic book artist since the late nineties and I’ve had opportunities to make both small and large projects in different styles and genres. Even though comics has been my big passion since I was a kid, it has also been problematic. I have never had a shortage of ideas but I’ve often felt that making comics has been very energy demanding and sometimes I’ve been wondering if it’s worth the effort.

I have spend a lot of time doing other kinds of art too but still I always seem to return to comics. Maybe starting this project was a way for me to tap in to that passion I felt as a kid about comics. And I was also interested in how working with a comic in this academic setting would change my working process.

 

The Story

When I found out that I had been accepted to this master program, I wrote down a synopsis of the story as far as I had come with it. I have since then continued to develope the story with impressions from feedback sessions and the course.
The whole story is divided into three parts.

Before I start talking about the content I need to point out that it became painfully obvious that I wouldn’t be able to tell the whole story during this master programme, it’s simply to long.
One of the key moments of this work process has been to figure out how to limit the project and in what form to present it.

My solution will be to do the first and the last part, that probably sounds weird but I will explain the thoughts behind this soon.
First of all I want to describe the three parts of the story.

1.
The first part takes place in a shopping mall in Västerås. It is present time. Two protagonists that are there to shop observes how people start leaving the building in more or less panic. People gets evacuated in buses.
The two main characters chooses to stay in the now empty mall.
Soon the atmosphere outside turns dark with smoke. The tape the doors and ventilations as much as they can. Convinced that the mist eventually will disappear, the two persons gets comfortable with life in the mall. At first it is a paradise with things to eat and objects for entertainment, but gradually the poisonous smoke gets inside. The electricity stops working and they have to adapt to survive. Eventually they get sick and they make an attempt to get outside the mall and get help but they die quickly in the acid mist.

2.
The second part takes place a couple of thousand years in the future. In the mideast sweden three cities has developed independent of each other. They are encapsuled to protect the inhabitants of the poisonous atmosphere that happened in the first part. The three cities, that are based on Västerås, Uppsala and Stockholm, has been built on structures that existed before the environmental collapse and this has affected their societies.

In Västerås the people has been living on in an area consisting of sports arenas, a society revolving around sports has formed with values like honor, glory and physical dominance and fanaticism are highly valued and the political power belongs to those who are the best at the sport they practice, a kind of ultra violent hockey.

In Uppsala the population lives in the remains of buildings that belonged to the university, Mittuniversitetet. They have archives, libraries and collections of artefacts. They organise their society based on democratic and humanistic principles, they have also developed strange rituals in an attempt to keep the memory of the past alive.

Stockholm is built on a series of connected shopping malls. The population are kept in a constant loop of slavelike consumption and production. Although any type of food or object could be manufactured by machines, the city uses the roles of consumer and worker to manage people. The city is completely digitalized, a computer is monitoring their biology and behavior.

Deviations from the norm are severely punished and all people do at certain points in their lives serve as kind of guards and monitor each other.

Close to the city, in what once was the castle of Stockholm, lives a group of people that possesses all the political power, they have once developed the city and with their exclusive technology they have augmented themselves to become semigods. They are no longer interested in governing the city, they are only interested in their own pleasure.

All the three cities has characters that are important to the plot but the main story takes place in Stockholm.
Unrest and erratic behavior among the people in Stockholm forces the demigod elite to move to the city to display their power. The leader/king has a personal AI called MAI and because of this movement MAI starts to change and evolve.

Drones that has been sent out in to the countryside finds the other two cities and contact between the cities is established during the plot. The story in Stockholm also revolves around a person that is a kind of anomaly, the person seem unaffected by the digital surveillance and is able too stay hidden in plain sight. Other happenings are the discovery of a mystical meditation sect and that immigrants arrive from the Baltic sea.

There are subplots that more or less important about how the city handles education, crime and punishment, energy production, the political game etc.

All through this second part there is this drive to bring the people of the three cities together and to unite them in an ultimate, new city. This is a process driven by the AI.

3.
In the third part i describe the final demise of mankind.
The population, that now are gathered in a last city, are being held passive by a drug, a kind of electronically transmitted pulse that keep people in a constant meditative and euphoric state.
All but three characters are kept in this sleep; the MAI the AI, Iki, the anomaly from Stockholm and an antagonist named Cyony, a sadistic security manager.
MAI has reached a level of omnipotence and they can manipulate both time, room and matter, but identifies itself as the last human being. MAI finishes all other peoples lives, with the aid of the meditation pulse wave everyone reaches a state of nirvana and dissolves into nothingness, all but Iki and Cyony who both gets sent

back in time by MAI to scenes that takes place in part two.

I have named the AI MAI after the Tibetan Buddhist myth of the last Buddha Maitreya. In the Buddhist Eschatology the world ends in flames after seven suns appear.
MAI needs to cease to exist for their plan to be fulfilled and shoots themself up into space. The moment before they dissolve in a great fireball they separate into two identical versions of MAI and one of them journeys back through time to the time where the first chapter takes place.

There they quickly takes kontrol over all human computer networks and launches 6 nuclear missiles to hit places around the world. This is the reason for the poisonous cloud in the first chapter.

So the end of the story creates the beginning of the story, this is the reason why I want to complete the first and the last part. It becomes a figure biting its own tail and it feels balanced. Also I am interested in the idea of leaving parts out and suggest for the reader that there is more. I could for exemple create fake ads in the publication with images of books or comicbooks that don’t exist yet. It can become a kind of puzzle.

 

Theories about the content

I have told you about my childhood fascination for superhero comics and scifi, that’s a part of my motivation for creating this work, but I also have a theoretical framework around the story. Some of the topics I want to reflect upon are human power relations, the limits of being human and the impermanence of humanity.

In the first chapter, with the working title ”Everything in one place” I criticize consumerism and unsustainability in the current capitalistic method. When faced with disaster the protagonists chose to stay in a place designed to be a paradise to us, everything we need in the same place, even if it feels like a model, a movie set or an illusion even. In short term they experience pleasure but in the longer term they don’t survive. The characters become a representation of a humanity in denial and on the verge of ruin.

In the second part I want to express a similar critique but on a less personal plane, more on the structural plane. The three cities display concepts that are common i human society but here they are driven to the point of parody or satire. The cities different strategies for coping are in one example an old economical structure, production and consumption, in the other example physical competition and honor, and in the third a fabricated image of the past through old objects and rituals.

Through the story there is also a progressive spiritual idea about how humanity as a whole strives to be liberated from these illusions and the compulsion to constantly repete the patterns I mentioned above.

 

Theories about the practice

I have started to use a new working method within this project. It definitely challenges my own traditions of making comics. Comics as a medium can be extremely efficient in its accessibility, I sometimes describe comics as instructions for a potential reader. Text are of course also instructions but text alone lets readers create their own mental images while comics streams both the images and the narrative to the reader.

Creating comics are generally bound by rules and functions, it can concern reading direction, tempo, kontrast, symmetry, format etc. using these rules has mostly given me as a comicbook artist a sense of security and control.
However, I think I have been at a point where I have been TOO bound by rules and too pedagogical in my practice.

Lots of the cultural expressions I enjoy for myself are unpredictable, mystical and improvised and leaves a lot for the viewer/listener/reader to interpret themselves.
I have while working with this project allowed myself to improvise and be as free as I am capable to be. It is an exercise of trust towards myself and it is a challenge that is very welcome.

 

Scifi norms

Some of the norms or clichees within science fiction needs to be mentioned.
In an assignment during my first year I investigated how robots and artificial intelligences are represented in media and culture. For example I wrote about the sexualized robot and white as a default color for robots.
Obviously it feels important for med to avoid these traditions.
Overall you could easily say that fantastic literature has been a very male oriented genres, written by men and directed to a male audience. But with the inherent potential for experimentation with science fiction, fantasy or speculative fiction there is of course a great potential for norm creativity.

In my story there are characters whos gender are undefined, for example the two main protagonists, MAI the artificial intelligence and Iki.
MAI is a robot and is per definition sexless, I have simply chosen not to let the robot have a programmed gender.

Iki means two in turkish and my original plan was to let them, in a fluid way, change gender identity through out the story from male to female. Finally I have decided to just let them be unspecified instead of making an obvious point about it.
Several of the demigods in the court of Stockholm are hermaphrodites or use genetic technology to change sex whenever they like.

In the parts about Västerås, the city of sport, I however want to draw a clear binary line between the sexes to satirize about male dominance and machismo culture.

Another part of my story that I had to think hard about was the biblical connotations in the first chapter. The two protagoninsts gets to represent the last people but also in some sense the first people, because they are in the beginning of the story. I have staged a paradise for them from which they are driven off. I’m sure you hear where I’m going with this.

Within scifi there is a concept called the ”shaggy god story”, I quote from Wikipedia:

"The shaggy god story is the bane of magazine editors, who get approximately one story a week set in a garden of Eden spelt Ee-Duhn.

—Brian W. Aldiss, writing as Dr. Peristyle, New Worlds October, 1965."

I can’t deny that I have a big interest in creation myths and that I am playing with these concepts here, but I have tried to do it in a relevant way.
In a chapter in the second part a teacher is teaching or indoctrinating rather, their pupils about the danger of leaving the encapsulated city by showing moving images from the surveillance cameras from the shopping mall from the first chapter. The two characters get to be examples of sinful behavior and their consequences get to be central for the prevailing norm, just as the fall of man is central for christianity. I wanted to stage the creation of a myth.

 

The presentation

I want to design and present the chapters I manage to finish as separate comic books. In this slides I have used the format 16,8 x 25,7 as a test, this is the standard format for a Marvel or DC comic book. I like the result. The comics could work as separate objects or be collected in a box-
I would with the comic book form want to open up for the possibilities to collaborate with others in creating Ultima Thule for example by making covers, pencil my scripts, ink my pencils, make scripts based on my synopsises or even make up spin-off- stories based on my characters or places.
I want it to be ok to work in a non chronological way and that it would be possible to add parts.
The world could be free to use in other expressions or mediums like video games, roll playing games, literature or drama.

In the exibition I want to exhibit the comics in a scenography that looks like a part of a foodstore with objects like comic book stand and shopping cart and food packages for example. 

 

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Presenting the Ultima Thule project

Hi, I thought I would see how it feels to use this website for showing the process with my master degree project I'm currently working on at Konstfack.

By looking at the date for the publication of the previous post here, you can figure out that I'm not so much about being public. At least not here. I am a quite active Instagram user though. However, Instagram is also a good tool for being vague, I often present pictures without talking about the context or my feelings or theories behind them.

This project, Ultima Thule, a science fiction comic, marks an attempt to change a part of my art practice. Part of my idea is to open up for collaborative work, I have created a world that others can participate in. 

I think much of the inspiration for this comes from being a part of two rather big art projects in recent time; the first was Ytan, a non profit art association in Västerås (where I live), me and two friends, Dan Wid and Anna Törrönen developed an art space, organised shows, workshops, gatherings and although the hard, unpaid work almost destroyed us, we learned a lot. The other project was Ballongen - Lek på riktigt, a project started by Konstfrämjandet Västmanland (People's movement for art promotion Västmanland) and the Västerås Art museum. This was a progressive idea about promoting the lust for creation and play with kids in the area Råby in Västerås, the project took many forms over a long period of time, and I participated in different ways.

Being a part of these collaborative situations made it strange for me to go back to the isolated comicbook creation I've grown used to.

By attending Konstfack I have had the opportunity to show my work process to classmates and teatchers and I've decided that my exam project Ultima Thule will be an experiment to see if I can not only be transparent with my process but also create this scifi-world with others.

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