AT THE DAWN OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM, OUR SPAN OF CONTROL IS ALMOST LIMITLESS, 2021
3x Single-channel animated video with sound
by Chong Yan Chuah, Lay Sheng, Zhi Wee
In this collaborative work between (A-Z) Chuah Chong Yan (artist), Lay Sheng (political theorist) and Zhi Wee (creative technologist), we take seriously Mahathir’s forewarnings of the supersession of the human in the time of modernity. We run scholarly exegesis, speeches, advertorials and magazines produced in the time of Wawasan through GPT-3, producing a stream of text that simulates the futurity of 1990s for our times. We submit an AI-automatic critique against Wawasan’s inhuman/inhumane modernism. We relinquish the cherished assumptions of humanism, to imagine new ways of automatic critique at the scale of computational speed. Wawasan 2020—a blueprint for an advanced utopia, a superfluid modernity, a developmental fever, a tech-nocratic high authoritarianism, and a supercorridor of informational highway. Simultaneously an AI-authored manifesto for living, and a world-building project of an oppressively techno-scientific future, our work extrapolates themultiple and sometimes inchoate visions of futurity in 1990s for our times.
Wawasan 2020 was Malaysia’s horizon. Announced in 1991 by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, it served as a prescription for a young nation caught in the rancour of its teenage years. Wawasan 2020, like other promises of development in Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, was the vehicle to bring Malaysia into the future – it promised to deliver a mature, unified, developed, and prosperous nation by the year 2020.
Wawasan 2020 was the culmination of Mahathir’s policies – the New Economic Policy for a just economics, the Look East policy in Asian excellence – with the added sparkle of the new ideology of Bangsa Malaysia. To this end, Wawasan 2020 was translated to the masses – children sang songs and made drawings, artists were mobilised to picture the future, stores were named in its honour. In concrete, Wawasan 2020 also left its footprint in infrastructure and transport. In the more fanciful (yet, also, totally serious) versions of this development fever, by 2020, Malaysia would have a highway leading to the rest of the Asian land continent, communication satellites, submarine fibre-optic cables and even flying cars. It would be the centre of a new world, defined by its connection to everywhere else.
After 2020, why Wawasan 2020, yet again? The cultural products of Wawasan 2020 have been spun to exhaustion, what is there left to say?
Let us instead consider Wawasan 2020 as representation. Wawasan 2020 is – to borrow the phrase from architectural historian Reinhold Martin – a cipher, “encod[ing] a virtual universe of production and consumption, as well as a material unit, a piece of the universe that helps to keep it going.” It both is, and represents, the new. It matters insofar as it is able to stand in for a bevvy of contradictory ideas in the hopes of capturing significance, including the adjective word-soup of its description, the leftist ideals, the neo-liberal realities. The Vision is both the vehicle and its movement, but also, it doesn’t really matter.
If we read Wawasan 2020 as cipher and as representation, then we must read Wawasan 2020 as laden with a call to form. Beyond marking epochal futurity and new temporalities, it took on solid mediums to circulate and exist in the world. We see this in the proliferation of speeches, seminars, websites, books, art, architecture, infrastructure etc; the list does not end. In some ways, to exist in relation to Malaysia in the 1990s to 2000s was to exist in relation to Wawasan 2020, whether through allusion, explicit citation or even denial. To understand the stakes of Wawasan 2020, we must simultaneously acknowledge its relation to the state and decontextualise its state-centeredness. We must reject the monolith, and instead pluralise the ways of visioning the utopic plan offered.
It is with this provocation that we invite you to participate in wawasan.directory: a project to reimagine the possibilities and potentialities of Wawasan 2020 and make disciplinary and formal agendas anew. wawasan.directory brings together artists, architects, designers, musicians and writers to create speculative histories and alternative futures. To tell a story of Wawasan 2020 is to engage in disjuncture, anachronism and lateness. Between fiction and fact, we occupy the space of conjecture, opinion and memory: this is the tide of the Wawasan dream.
A PEOPLE THAT IS GRADE, LASTING, AND PROPOGATING.
Diagnosing the malaise of the country, Mahathir announces that we have “come late to the age of industrialisation”. To this, we can only have the “will to make sweeping changes”, to reconfigure our sense of selves, expressed as a mechanical mastery and modernisation over our bodies. Nothing short of a reordering of humanity can exhort this arrival of modernity.
This video explores the figuration of the new Cyberjaya Man of Wawasan by looking at man’s sublimation into the things and infrastructures that his labour built. Through humanity’s absence, the video invokes the uncanny dissipation of man in the accelerated era of Wawasan. Who remains to maintain this modernity? Who, or perhaps more fittingly, what does this blueprinted modernity serve? What does a Wawasan that has displaced Man look like?
Malaysia's new finance minister has called for Malaysians to embrace "the new normalisation process" and "do as the locals do as you would do anything to be a good neighbour to the locals". Dr. Mahathir exhorted the Malay community to follow a similar trend in “grade, lasting and propagating” their country in comparison to their European counterparts. The world was still to come, and Malaysia must forever be trivial. "Europeans will never be Europeans."
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AT THE BEGINNING OF THE DECADE, THERE EMERGED A GREAT STIR AGAIN
Like a glitch, social and economic crises in the accelerated timeline of Wawasan throws systems into disarray. Modernity does not merely stop, its vehicular chassis crashes along the superhighway.
There is another sense in which time crashes, as when we have arrived at the future promised in Vision 2020. As it turns out, the future must be furtively deferred through clever bureaucratese: Wawasan 2020 is substituted with Wawasan Bersama Makmur 2030. But a Wawasan ‘future’ stripped off its utopic projections, is just the banality of hereafter in bureaucratic, developmental time. Without the immanent, utopic future, the ‘now’ we live in is reduced to a static point. The present crashes into a moment of immobility, inaction and stasis.
Wrapped in an endlessly looping video narrating over economic, political and social crisis within Malaysia at the end of 1990s, the video magnifies the intensification of social inertia experienced by the public in the aftermath of Wawasan accelerationism.
The Malaysian Government put forward several options for ways to mend the damage made by the "bargain". Some suggested that the government's punitive stance be extended to include any non-Malays who might be attracted to the "Malay" brand. Others argued that the removal of the stigma of "bargain"ability was worth the risk. None of the options were able to capture the attention of the general public more than the U.S. audience. The Malaysian audience was largely ignored by the media, with a notable absence in Thailand where the "Bargain" was signed.
"Why am I being treated to such a debauched dinner (in the morning) when I might have been served a large plate of fish."
At the beginning of the decade, however, there emerged a great stir again when, as a few days earlier, Mahathir had warned a large gathering of dignitaries not to fight in the streets and had not warned the delegates not to join organized labour. It was this great stir that set off a great deal of speculation about the likely link between the two.
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THE STATE IS NOW THE MAIN MEANS OF BUYING THINGS, MAKING FURNITURE, SETTING THINGS ALIGHT, AND DISPOSING OF THEM
One of the most understated premises of Wawasan is the thorough reconfiguration of political society.
Modernity is incompatible with bureaucratic inertia—"Every transaction with the Government would take an unconscionable length of time”. The civil service, deemed a stumbling block of Wawasan with their “old attitude[s]” and “unacceptable delays”, must give way for a more efficient system. Malaysia Incorporated, birthed in this atmosphere, sought to break down the boundaries of business and government to achieve a seamless, frictionless unity between private and public. Governed by a ‘tech’-nocratic rationality, with Mahathir at its apex, Wawasan is a political vision and a performance of high authoritarianism.
The video dictates aloud some of the AI-formulated economic policies for Malaysia. Ranging from commentaries on oil businesses, workers’ productivity, mandatory training, resources efficiency, to the role of government, one is immersed in a world that is oppressively prescriptive in its techno-scientifism.
Business elites believe that an economy without oil will be unable to thrive, that an economy built on oil will be unable to thrive, that an economy based on diplomacy will be unable to thrive, and that an economy based on rivalry and cooperation and mutual aid and cooperation and all the arts of diplomacy and cooperation and patronage and all the arts of manipulating the other's thinking will be unable to thrive. They believe that an economy based on rivalry and isolation and dependency and all the arts of patronage and control and all the arts of manipulation and manipulation and all the other arts of causing and responding to the other's effects will be unable to produce lasting change. And they believe that an economy based on rivalry and isolation and dependency and all the other arts of resistance and resistance and all the other arts of survival and growth and progress and all the other arts of consciousness and being and all the other arts of consciousness will be unable to produce either desired or desirable outcomes.
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