Performance review: FAKE, The Rechabite

This interactive exploration of our online 'realities' and our true selves proves a stirring journey.

In a world rife with fakeness and falsity, it’s increasingly rare to find anything you can count on as authentic and “real” these days.

With botox-filled celebrities and social media-driven misinformation to AI-generated content disguised as real news – what hope do we have of uncovering “the truth”?

These questions (among others) are at the heart of the latest performance work by kdmindustries, led by multidisciplinary artist Mark Haslam. It’s an interactive piece he has aptly named, FAKE, which sits in neat parallel with the artist’s previous works, including beta (2022), All I Ever Am (2021) and PRVCY (2017), which are also sophisticated investigations into the pervasiveness of big tech in our day-to-day lives.

FAKE is set in the darkened basement of Perth’s The Rechabite bar and performance space, and this is its perfect venue. As we enter the cavernous room we are free to wander around and peruse its floor-to-ceiling projections as they cast light on a black-box central set piece.

This central structure is a caged enclosure containing only one man (Haslam). Here, the artist sits quietly at his desk, and his presence – as he pumps out the nightclub beats and controls the huge display screens around us – hints that he will be our main guide through this mysterious journey.

Haslam’s role in the work is ambiguous, though there is clear symbolism in his position within his isolated “black box”. Here, we see a man whose identity is obscured by the walls that encase him and, while he is just metres away, he is also distant, as he dials in from the cloud-controlled universe that shapes every aspect of what we see.

His face is partially lit (but only by the rays of his screens and tech devices), and his voice – in the rare moments he speaks – is secondary to the sounds of the machines he is driving, and that, at times, are driving him.

Mark Haslam in ‘FAKE’, by kdmindustries at The Goodwill Club, The Rechabite, Perth. Photo: Chris Symes.

These coded elements within the work are among its greatest strengths, and allow for multifaceted readings of its non-narrative themes. Yet the scenes depicting things we already know – that our screen world is fast becoming our natural habitat, and that parts of the internet have unchecked capacity to do harm – are less effective at drawing us in.

And while some parts of the piece could be pacier, the work’s most poignant moments arrive when we can slow down and tune in to the tiny, yet somewhat clunky, typing sounds of Haslam’s “conversations” with us from his lonely box. As he “chats” with us through his keyboard strokes, his rhythmic taps serve as poetic reminders of the human hands that lie behind the machines we assume have total control.

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These scenes, and others like it, allude to the irreplaceable human agency we retain in the face of AI (fingers crossed!) and show how our real-life human actions – while often clunky, raw and prone to typos and errors ­– are tremendously more valuable (and entertaining) than the instant “realities” that new-tech claims to offer.

FAKE is a memorable experience that triggers stirring emotions around the preciousness (and precariousness) of our beliefs and who we think we are. With more time spent refining some of its most potent ideas, it could grow into an even sharper exploration of our ever-changing perceptions of these shifting “realities”.

FAKE is showing Thursday 23 to Saturday 25 May 2024 at The Goodwill Club, The Rechabite, Perth.

ArtsHub's Arts Feature Writer Jo Pickup is based in Perth. An arts writer and manager, she has worked as a journalist and broadcaster for media such as the ABC, RTRFM and The West Australian newspaper, contributing media content and commentary on art, culture and design. She has also worked for arts organisations such as Fremantle Arts Centre, STRUT dance, and the Aboriginal Arts Centre Hub of WA, as well as being a sessional arts lecturer at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).