Mårten Lange & Daniel Everett
Vantage Point

by Paola Paleari

While I am writing, the coronavirus outbreak is sparking panic all over the world and paralyzing entire towns in specific areas in Asia and Europe. Close to where my parents live, in Northern Italy, shopping malls are being ravaged of long-life goods and basic supplies in fear of shortage of food due to quarantine measures. Schools and offices have been closed, and public events canceled. A couple of days ago, an intercity bus traveling from Milan was stopped in Lyon and its passengers sealed off because the driver reportedly had a “bad cough”.

While the pandemic’s exceptional virulence is a reminder of the mortal nature of organic life, the social psychosis that feeds on it, and the dystopian scenarios that emerge accordingly, hint at an even more dire condition. They expose the precariousness of the sophisticated apparatuses that the homo technologicus has created for itself. The metropolis is the full manifestation of the artificial system more than half of the world’s population lives in symbiosis with: par excellence, the place of predominance of the human order over the natural one.

But the coin of progress has, as we know, multiple sides. With each new high-rise reaching vertically to the sky, we move away from solid ground and escape routes. Whenever a navigation app refines its mapping coverage, our sense of orientation shrinks. The more devices can relieve us from a specific task, the more we atrophy the ability to solve the problem at the source. In other words, the very same technological innovations that improve the comfort of our daily lives are furthering our manual inadequacy and, in the long run, will possibly undermine our ability to survive in case of an infrastructural collapse—an equation as inescapable as it is invisible.

Mårten Lange & Daniel Everett, from the series Vantage Point

In their recent four-handed project Vantage Point, Mårten Lange and Daniel Everett focus on observing Tokyo, the symbol of technological advancement and the most populous megalopolis in the world with 37 million inhabitants. The project was born after the artists realized that they were both photographing the same areas in the city from different perspectives and at separate times. Given their shared penchant for using the camera to dissect the metastasis of the urban landscape and its architectural symptoms, the idea of combining their outputs in a joint series seemed like the most logical thing to do.

Their attention lingers on unspectacular details that could otherwise easily go unnoticed. There’s no trace of the flashy and colorful buzz of attractive neighborhoods such as Shibuya or Ikebukuro; on the contrary, pretty much everything in their pictures looks standardized and uniformed, as belonging to an indiscernible mass. Significantly, a setting that recurs in their images is the building site. The very same amount of square meters that – once polished and filled with human presence – will count many zeros on the market, is now just a dusty and unsexy prelude to life.

Through a detached, nonjudgmental eye, Lange and Everett observe the epidermic ramifications of an organism whose roots are an energy-consuming, dissipative system and a sophisticated but fragile technological network, where everything would collapse if a link in the chain suddenly disappeared.

To meet its considerable energy demand, Japan cannot rely on its natural resources. Prior to the 2011 earthquake, nuclear power represented almost one-third of the national power generation. The Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster demonstrated at high cost the implicit preposterousness of atomic power plants in a seismic territory like that of the Nipponese archipelago. Even if the catastrophe triggered strong reactions that led to the swift banning of nuclear power, the Japanese government has progressively resumed it, as it is the only domestic energy system that can sustain the nation’s highly evolved standards in terms of lifestyle and well-being.

Mårten Lange & Daniel Everett, from the series Vantage Point

Vantage Point brings back to mind the film Survival Family by Shinobu Yaguchi: a 2017 comedy-drama that follows the vicissitudes of the middle-class Suzuki family in the days after a mysterious blackout puts out the electric system across the nation. The most intriguing part in the film is the initial sequences: along a morning where all things appear unchanged since the previous day, the protagonists slowly realize that even the most insignificant gesture is turned into a radically different activity in the total absence of electronic equipments.

Instead of insisting on the aftermath’s undeniable fascination, the photographs by Mårten Lange and Daniel Everett seem to have been taken the day before the catastrophe. They are quiet, but they are not reassuring. They are glimpses of Tokyo that could be found, almost identical and carrying the same unexploded charge, in many metropolises around the world. The sword of Damocles hangs over our head, and it swings in large circles.

Published in Foam Magazine #56 – Elsewhere / The Other Issue, April 2020