HYPHEN show 2017: Annie Kruntcheva re-frames longevity as a conspiracy theory

Annie Kruntcheva’s 2017 graduation project from the BA Design course at Goldsmiths started as an investigation into fear of death, and gradually turned into framing increased longevity as a conspiracy theory:

“We’re all being made to live longer because of our fear of death, but in doing so, we also have to work longer. So, an extended human lifespan is for the purpose of capitalist gain. We’re currently seeing more and more people living up to, and past a hundred years of age, but with that come many repercussions for climate change and overpopulation- and if we live longer, we’re going to have to finance that life.

I’m also looking at what happens to human purpose when work disappears. We’re raised to believe in a three-stage life, education-work-retirement, and the value of hard work is embedded into human culture. But what happens when we can’t work? With automation, precarious work, universal basic income, it’s looking more and more like the corporate ladder, and human jobs altogether, will disappear.”

On the outcomes of her project:

“The main outcome of the project is a documentary film, which parallels human existence to the rearing of cattle, because dairy cows are born to work, and they’re only really kept alive for the production part of their life. This imagery is supposed to make you question our ways of working, and make you become more responsible for your work life. I have multiple interviews with people who work in the future of work, a professor of Psychology, a famous conspiracy author, and two dairy farmers.

Another outcome is a futuristic office space, which alludes to traditional office spaces, but also to milking parlours for cows, hospitals, and arcade games. It’s a booth in which you go, make your contribution through an interactive program which consists of answering five randomly generated questions, and receive tickets from a machine. Maybe it would be something that crops up on the street, like a telephone box, or a passport photo booth. It speculates a working world where jobs don’t exist anymore, or very few of them exist, and where human existence relies upon just giving data.

This kind of ‘work’ is already happening, in a way. You can already get paid to take surveys, and we are already unpaid employees of companies like Instagram and Facebook, since they don’t make content, their business model relies on users making content. We give our data away, and then it’s sold to other parties and we get adverts that are targeted directly at us.”

On her research process:

“I’ve read a book called The Hundred-Year Life, and one of the first things I’ve done for research was to interview quite a few people in Lewisham on longevity. They said, “oh, that sounds terrible, I wouldn’t want to live that long. I wouldn’t want to have to work longer, would I?” They opened my eyes to this perspective, of working until we die, like cows.  But then, when I was interviewing professionals about the future of work, they were saying that we might be out for work, and that we’re going to have to find other ways to be ‘milked’, otherwise we might go insane. Through each interview, the course of the project changed.

I also went to a conference on conspiracies, and I found out a lot about the psychology behind conspiracy theories, and the conspiracy in the post-truth world. When you feel you’re out of control, you end up believing in conspiracies more than others. It’s also human nature to believe there’s always someone behind an event, and that a big event requires a big explanation. For example, it doesn’t seem feasible enough that a lone gunman could have shot JFK, it must have been a wider conspiracy!

Another interesting research point came from the dairy farms I visited. One of the farmers I spoke to is more traditional, milking the cows twice a day with traditional equipment, whereas the other one has a robotic milking system where the cows go in voluntarily, whenever they choose they want to be milked. I thought it was very relevant: maybe in the future we’re not being forced to work in the traditional way, we’re choosing when and where and how, because we need to feel a purpose.”

Is the Longevity Conspiracy plausible?

“It’s the perfect conspiracy, if you think about it. If it turned out to be true, it’s the most brilliant thing, because we won’t think about it. We think extending our lives is brilliant, drugs will save us, if you have an illness you don’t say, “OK, that’s it”. You want to survive. Death is something that is so natural, but we want to preserve our existence- through religious beliefs, through beauty and health fads…”

On her personal approach to design:

“I really like growing things through discussion, and trying to engage society, I think that’s something I want to try and do more as a designer, to bring about wider social change and discussion about big topics that can’t easily be solved.”

On her time on the BA Design course at Goldsmiths:

“In the first few years, I struggled to find my feet. You go to university thinking you know what you like, but it really challenges everything you thought you knew. I gained a lot of confidence, mainly in the third year, in experimenting with making physical things, I’ve always been a bit afraid of playing with constructing, I used to rely a lot more on 2D visual design.  I think the course gives you a lot of space to explore what you’re interested in, and to develop that in-depth. It’s been a rollercoaster. I thought I’d be learning more specialist things, for example how to be a graphic designer, whereas in the end I learned that it’s more about bringing all those disciplines together to create the best solution to a question.”