The whole Truth about Lies

A project about self-deception, heteronomy, white lies and fallacies

This sentence is wrong!!

First things first: „This sentence is wrong!“ If the implications of this statement have not yet become clear in the brevity required, you can safely expand a little further: The next half-sentence will be a single lie – and the previous half-sentence was the whole truth! Somewhere there, on the hyphen as a thin line between the extremes, is „The whole Truth about Lies“, which NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS want to track down with their latest expedition. Because anyone looking for the whole truth about lies will find it in paradoxes – or in the theatre, where the hoped-for insight is based on a prearranged deception. Here, the illusion surprises even when you are allowed to watch it being created and literally see through its workings in the semi-transparent hall of mirrors of the stage space. However, the dynamics that a stable trick can develop in conjunction with advancing technology astonished even the creators of this experimental set-up: the digitally altered figures are reflected by analogue surfaces, the image is superimposed on the object … oh, you have to see it for yourself!

But once again: „This sentence is false!“ Like a leitmotif, the search for truthful, resilient statements about lies ran through the work on the play – and led to the realisation that abstract greatness can best be captured in small, concrete forms. Devout lip service or a conversation about a departed love, a feigned reunion or an obituary at an open grave tell us a lot about the inseparable entanglement of the true and the false. Unlike the contradictory news or the barely verifiable images used to justify crises and start wars, individuals do not feel absolved of their responsibility in such private situations. It is true that the common assertion that each person tells 200 lies a day is based on a confusion of cause and effect: the original statement by the American psychologist Jerald Jellison in the 1970s referred to the passive, not the active role and thus meant the number of untruths received, not the number of untruths sent. But even if the frequently cited statistic is not true (and at the same time becomes more and more likely with every repetition), it contains a kernel of truth: every lie must have an originator – and a single speaker is enough to infect many people with his message. So there only needs to be one host for the virus … 

A good example of this epidemic spread was provided by a major tabloid newspaper a decade and a half ago, when it wanted to emphasise its own credibility with an advertising campaign: It placed photographs of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein under the sentence „Every truth needs a brave person to speak it!“. The combination of what was written and what was shown created a link in terms of content; the supposed quote was assigned to the person portrayed and authenticated by the connection. In social networks, this fusion of actually incompatible elements is now ubiquitous, and the harmless game of deception can hardly be distinguished from deliberate and dangerous manipulation. And when the AI co-pilot, of all things, which generates images and texts on request, immediately ends the requested conversation about its own ability to lie and does not allow any further questions, surely that is … a lie?

In front of and behind the mirror, all these aspects are touched upon and musically accentuated, with the spectrum of repurposed finds ranging from the baroque invocation of guardian angels to the fatalistic celebration of the broken, from Fleetwood Mac‘s „Tell me Lies“ to John Lennon‘s „Give me some Truth“. While Rossini‘s

„La callunia“ should be unmistakable as a meteorological paraphrase of a slander looming from afar, the puppet aria of Olympia from „The Tales of Hoffmann“ is more of a premonition of today‘s illusory worlds in which artificial creatures sing of real feelings. And Shostakovich‘s settings of Michelangelo‘s and Shakespeare‘s sonnets tell of the exhaustion of honesty in a world of lies – and of the ingratitude with which the truth of art is rewarded there. In view of the confusing images from the same source, it can be surmised that fragments of an artificial intelligence that only needs humans as a medium are already lurking in the accompanying texts. But do machines think morally at all? And do they know what we mean when we say: This sentence is wrong!

The transparent lie: Pepper‘s Ghost

In 1862 – an era characterised by technological wonders and scientific discoveries – the British inventor John Henry Pepper presented an optical illusion that continues to fascinate and confuse people to this day. Pepper‘s Ghost“ is actually based on a relatively simple construction: thanks to a cleverly bevelled, semi-transparent mirror, the image of a body can be reflected as if it were located directly in space. This technique was originally developed to entertain and amaze Victorian audiences with the depiction of ghosts and phantoms. The modern combination of this effect with digital video overlays not only increases its impact, but also leads to a new vagueness in the description: „Pepper‘s Ghost“ is by no means – as is often wrongly claimed – a holographic technique. In holography, three-dimensional images are created using laser technology, the results are at most a few centimetres in size at the current state of development – and have nothing to do with the simpler but more effective reflection technology. The renaming of a familiar illusion as a futuristic technology also illustrates the readiness with which the surface is taken for the depth, the image for the original. In such a world, the lie becomes the truth because it appears more convenient, more accessible and more spectacular. This lie is not harmless; it reflects a society that is increasingly willing to take surface for substance, appearance for essence, and in which appearance often triumphs over reality. „The whole Truth about Lies“ …

Andreas Hillger, Dramaturgy

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A production by NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS and the Schwetzingen SWR Festival, supported by the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe and the Hauptstadt Kultur Fonds. In cooperation with Radialsystem.

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