Exhibition Essays

Hollow pony

October 2019

Hollow pony

Pip Adam

Thousands of years from now—not this now *touch your face* this now is thousands of years from now—DC and LB are in charge of the simulation for a small gallery in a short mall in the capital city of a tiny island state.

In the gallery the sun is coming in the windows more and more—this has nothing to do with DC and LB. The sun coming in the windows more as the year comes closer and closer to an end is a whole other department.

DC and LB work in a building with thousands of other people—hotdesking. Post-people, people capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations *check*. People interested in running simulations of their evolutionary history, or variations thereof *check*. Which means people with our kind of experiences *touch your face* are almost certainly living in a simulation.

DC and LB are watching the simulation with several other people. None of them notice the sun coming in the windows of the gallery.

SJ who’s in charge of iPhones and iPads and everything smooth and contained is there. “The cords are showing,” she says. “You can see the cords. The laminate isn’t flush on the boxes. Are those cords operational? You can tell it’s laminate.” No one likes SJ, but she has a point. It’s worrying. “You can see the means of production.” She’s eating something crunchy. She’s pointing it all out with the confidence of a person who holds no responsibility for the problem. Soon she’ll get a message from another department and she’ll say she has to take it and she’ll walk away and DC and LB will still be there—looking at the simulation, wondering what to do—whether to do anything, whether doing something will make it worse.

“Is that a lunch box?” It’s JB, he’s in charge of manufacturing everything. Everything that isn’t made by the natural order of things he makes.

There’s silence. DC and LB look closer and with tense faces nod together.

“It looks like a 2 litre rectangle,” SJ says, chewing loudly.

“It’s got four locking clips not two,” JB says. JB has a piece of paper on a clipboard and a pencil. In the end the future is quite retrograde. The pencils, the trains, the government enforced statist controls on successful businesses—Ayn Rand basically was right about that. It’s grimy too—low-lit. He looks at his list. “There’s the horse towel,” he says. “The sweatshirt that looks like an electrical storm, the piece of wood that looks like a banana, the laminate and,” he flicks the paper over, “the lunch box.”

“And the rocks,” SJ points the crunchy piece of food toward the holographic, real-time rendering that they’re watching the simulation from. Everyone in the nearby pods can hear them, everyone walking past can see the problem. Anytime something like this happens people are drawn to it like moths to light. Post-humans are bored in the dystopian future and prepare excuses in their heads in case anyone asks why they’re walking past the huddle of people watching the simulation with concern.

“The rocks aren’t mine,” JB says.

SJ leans closer improvising the need for a better look.

“They’re real rocks,” JB says. “They’ve been painted so they look fake.”

“They look real if you film them,” DC says.

LB nods, “Like in the movies.”

“They’re not mine,” JB says looking at his clip board. “You’ll have to talk to Nature or Geology or someone from Rivers.”

“Do you have the ironing boards,” SJ says, the crunchy piece of food goes on and on and the rest of them are cursing themselves for messaging her in the first place.

“I have the ironing boards,” JB says, sighing deeply.

“That’s not how they’re supposed to be used,” SJ points to the one on its back with the rotating bar and the one standing up that shakes. Even she realises it would be going too far to point out the one with the wooden banana that acts as an off-set pendulum. They all pray for another message that will take her away. “I mean,” she says. “It’s not my department but I would have thought it was important to optimize them over time so they can’t be used like that.”

In the simulated 2000 while playing Deus Ex players realised they could use wall-mounted mines as pitons for climbing walls. In the real 2000 also. In Halo 2, they worked out that by pressing the melee attack button (B) quickly followed by the reload button (X) and the primary fire button (R trigger) they wouldn’t have to wait for the gun to be back in position to shoot and that there was a glitch in the physics engine of Starsiege: Tribes that meant they could ski up and down steep slopes by rapidly pressing the jump key. Through this emergent play they saw the game in a new way—the simulation slipped. The simulated began to play the simulation rather than the simulation playing them. This was the real problem that SJ was pointing out. She thought it was a subtle dig but it was screaming. It was the play of it. The humour, that was what would break the thing.

SJ laughed. “When the Foley comes on the horse towel kind of looks like a horse.” No one else laughs. “She’s kind of built a simulation inside the simulation.”

“Not a very good one,” JB says, he’s looking at his list, he has no idea how to help and he thinks if he looks at his list it might lead to a momentum away from the conversation. He’s just about to say, “I just need to go and log these,” when SJ starts again.

“Which I guess—like it has nothing to do with me but, I guess that’s an even bigger problem.”

JB is taken aback and says, “In what way?” without meaning to.

“Well,” it feels to everyone like SJ is pulling herself up to a fuller height, like she’s about to deliver something. “The good simulations are immersive. Like, they forget they’re in them—but the horse towel, it shows all its workings. The wind making it flap, the Foley making it gallop. All the pieces are on display.”

Hearts sink with how correct she could be.

“Like the cords.” The crunchy thing is finally finished but now SJ is sucking the juice of it off her fingers and holding her hand in an odd way. “You want to tuck that shit away,” she says. “Having that shit on display is just a recipe for intense questioning.”

No one is sure how much questioning the simulation can take.

“You add that to the towel and the ironing boards not being where they’re meant to be,” SJ says. “No one is not thinking about where they came from. You can’t hide the children in the factories if you take the things out of their context. Not for long.”

JB is still looking at his clipboard but all hope of an easy exit is gone.

“But,” SJ is looking at her phone. SJ has a phone. “Like I say, it’s not really any of my business. Sorry,” she says. “I have to take this,” and she walks away, just like they knew she would, without any hint of a solution to the pile of problem she’d left.

“I should probably go too,” JB says. It just comes out because in the rhythm of leaving it works. “So, I can get these logged,” he’s pointing to his clip board he’s not even looking at DC or LB or the simulation or the people walking past.

DC and LB nod. “Shall we meet back here in an hour or so?” LB asks.

JB stops in his turn but just shrugs without looking at them. “I’ll have to check my diary.” JB does not have a phone. “My diary’s at my desk.” They probably won’t see him again.

DC and LB look back at the simulation. It’s just them now. Everyone else has left, something else is going wrong somewhere else. Realistically, everything will probably be fine.

“There’s bound to be a context for this,” LB says. Sitting down.

“It’ll fit in,” DC says.

“Modernism?” LB suggests. “Bauhaus?”

“The failure of Modernism and Bauhaus?”

“Technological disobedience,” LB says.

“Like the washer-driers in Cuba,” DC says.

“The anxiety of domestic labour.” LB is pulling the simulation down from the holographic renderer now. So no one can see it carry on, except them, when they chose to check in with it on there tiny desktop screens.

“It finishes soon anyway,” DC says.

“But the paint on the laminate might stick on the walls,” LB is thinking a bit about lunch now. “He put the paint on the sticky side of the Duraseal. Some of it might stay on the wall.”

“It’ll be like a memory,” DC reassures LB but also himself. “Like they’ll remember it when they see the paint on the wall, but it won’t be like it is when they stood in it. A memory’s a made-up thing. Every time they remember it they’ll make it up differently. Any doubt they had will work itself into the big story. It’ll be fine.”

They could probably go for a walk and get something from the food hall across the road. It was too hot for November. The world was on fire, but maybe the simulation would work it out. If everything kept doing its jobs and no one panicked the horses who knows what the simulated ancestors were capable of finding a solution for.

“The horse was kind of funny,” DC says.

“SJ didn’t even notice the water,” LB says.

“I like them when they’re playing.”