Friendship in the Age of Gaslighting

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- Performance at AllArtNow, Stockholm, June 16, 2023

“Friendship in the Age of Gaslighting” is a performance specifically developed for the travelling exhibition project “You Are not A Guest.”  The exhibition and program around it, is curated by Abir Boukhari.

We are all aware that the world is changing fast. Many aspects of our reality that we took for granted only a few years ago can no longer be counted on. The landscape of industry, politics and technology are moving in previously unimaginable directions. In the performance Huttner looks at what happens to friendship in the wake of the changes that we are living through. He invites the audience to ponder how love expresses itself in their relationship to their friends. Could this affection be the foundation for inspiring hope in our hearts? Can friendship be negatively influenced and even destroyed by political malfeasance?

In order to reflect on this, the performance takes its starting point in the term “Gaslighting,” which is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity. The term comes from the 1944 film called “Gaslight” which stars Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer and which Huttner shows clips from.

He also discusses the term “Cognitive warfare” as it has been described by NATO and other military institutions. They have described it as a new form of warfare where war becomes “a battle for the brain,” “weaponization of brain sciences,” and “hacking the individual.” In the performance Huttner asks how this changed warfare influences our social interactions in our every day? To bring the question to the forefront he shows a clip that can be seen on Youtube by U.S. military’s 4th PSYOP Group, called “Ghost in the Machine.”. The clip is clearly influenced by experimental film and video art and raises a whole array of strange questions related to trust, friendship and modern urban life.

In the creation of sound in the performance, Huttner uses a recording of his own brain activity when he was under hypnosis when he reflected on friendship together with the hypnotherapist. After the performance there followed a discussion that became longer than the performance itself.