A critical look into online consumerism habits, “AD2CART” uses technology to tell the story of a man navigating his way through the ecosystem of the modern-day internet. The experimental performance took place last Friday as part of the master’s thesis project of Martim Galvão GS, a graduate student of the Multimedia and Electronic Music Experiments program.
“We hoped to create the experience of a kind of humorous discomfort about the ways in which we succumb to these advertising elements in order to help construct an identity and ingrain in ourselves that we’re not enough,” said Kate Bergstrom GS, the director of “AD2CART” and a graduate student studying directing through the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program.
“AD2CART” combines various mediums to achieve this purpose, such as instruments, actors, lighting and computers that come to life. It tells the story of a regular man who is distracted by his web browser and ultimately wastes his time in the world of online shopping. Under the performance’s seemingly humorous and light appearance, “AD2CART” makes biting commentary about online consumerism.
The narrative of the performance deals with algorithms dictating the ideal masculinity and selling identity, Bergstrom said. The computer is the only character in the performance that speaks, and it does so relentlessly — continuously chipping at the main character’s constraint and self-confidence in order to sell an idealized version of masculinity or the augmented “you.”
The main character — the human one — never speaks but conveys his emotions through percussion, with rhythms occasionally denoting excitement and anticipation but mostly anxiety. “The drums are a way to bring in human presence to the piece, whereas everything (else) that’s happening is electronic,” Galvão said.
The computers and instruments are the storytellers, rather than the people who are actually physically present, Bergstrom said. “We’re looking to bust into a new form where the acting is more of a puppeteering of these elements,” she added.
When the Amazon package with the character’s purchases finally arrives, the stage explodes into bursts of colorful lights and the delivery man enters toting a red electric guitar. “The delivery person becomes the star — this person is giving you this experience that you’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Alexander Dupuis GS, a graduate student in the MEME program who played the delivery man.
The main character is ultimately disappointed with his purchases, which seemed inevitable insofar as online purchases cannot change who you are in the real world. The constant bombardment of ads on social media and the internet are selling pipe dreams.
“The way that these data gathering platforms work (is that) they can always find a way to turn even resistance to brand marketing into a type of brand marketing. So you can sell that back to people,” Galvão said. The piece makes a point of acknowledging that even when the main character becomes aware of this vicious consumerist cycle he is trapped in, he cannot get out of it. The algorithms take note of his anti-capitalist interests and begin to advertise anti-consumerist merchandise that can be purchased on Amazon.
“I think the piece is still in progress,” said Bergstrom. “This is just our first crack at telling this story of inescapable capitalism in the sale of one’s identity.”