New York-based artist Melanie Gilligan’s largest project to date, The Common Sense takes the form of a sci-fi mini-series which looks at how minds, bodies, and interpersonal relations are shaped by technological advancements within capitalism. This experimental narrative drama tells a story that revolves around a future technology which allows one to directly experience another person's bodily sensations and affect. After a decade of transforming the conditions of work and social life, for the most part in accordance with economic demands, the technology’s networks suddenly fail causing massive disorientation. People withdraw and isolate themselves from the public, no longer knowing how to communicate. Once the system comes back online, the story splits into two scenarios: one version shows a period of normalization after the rupture, while in the other people confront the ways that the technology has been exploitatively used for years, some forming social movements to resist the continuation of these conditions.
Gilligan draws upon a feminist sci-fi tradition that includes the work of writers Octavia E. Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin in which sci-fi is used as a means for both critiquing a social order and proposing a different vision. The story is also influenced by recent social movements and riots across the world responding to the “permanent crisis” of capitalism. Ultimately the goal of the series is to discuss how our interactions become entangled with and reproduce capitalist conditions. Gilligan explores the complex relationship between the technological development as propelled by capitalist accumulation and how interpersonal relations and emotions are instrumentalized in this process. However, the artist also leaves open some uncertainty for possibilities regarding the new conditions technological change can create.
This series is the first co-commission by three institutions in the Netherlands of a single work by an artist. This winter it is presented sequentially in overlapping exhibitions with different episodes opening at Casco in Utrecht, De Hallen Haarlem, and de Appel arts centre in Amsterdam, creating a nomadic viewing experience through which to see the entire work. The Common Sense was filmed in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Toronto and is supported by Dommering Foundation and Galerie Max Mayer. The Toronto shooting was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, Charles Street Video, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery University of Toronto, and LIFT (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto). The exhibition is presented in the context of Casco’s 2013–2015 program guideline "Composing the Commons".