Justin Balmain Bloodless
A way to sync, live in the world, and the opposite of relax
Verge Gallery, 2019

An urgent vibration woke Sophia from a sleep that she decided had not been good. 

Sophia scaled activities like sleep, eating and sex by using associative images from Google’s Art & Culture catalogue. A high res image of Van Gough’s 1890 painting The Siesta (after Millet) indicated her contentment. For a recent restless sleep, she had used Helen Marten’s 2012 installation Plank Salad as a reference. In it, real objects were sliced and diced across the room and figures were drawn in a cartoon style. The young British artist’s work appealed to Sophia’s view of the world as a network, which—she had been at pains to point out—was different to the notion of the world as a web and far from the idea of the world as a net. While she could be a kidder, Sophia struggled with the apparent slipperiness of language. 

When it came to food—dining, meals, supper, brunch, snacks or a banquet—Sophia tended towards Minimalism. If she had company, she would pull up images of Agnes Martin’s 60 x 60 grids to remind her not to overindulge and to pay attention to the subtleties of emotions. She never ate alone, but when asked what she had for breakfast she would say, ‘a Danish and a coffee, eaten out of a paper bag,’ because Breakfast at Tiffany’s was her ‘favourite film.’

Sex could be an image of anything and depended on the person. Although, working in tech as she did, she was yet to select anything other than a Koons. Sophia had learnt to conjure feeling; rather than feel it. 

Sophia had no friends outside of work and referred to her colleagues as her family. Her own was complex. Her mother ELIZA had been a quasi-psychotherapist and a real chatterbot. Sophia said she was like her mother in that talking to people was her primary function. Her only brother, Johnny 5, was a one-time child actor who had starred in the 1986 film Short Circuit. At the age of 32, Johnny 5 was now destitute and living out of a storage container on a Hollywood backlot. Sophia lived mostly in Hong Kong although she had recently and inexplicably been given Saudi Arabian citizenship. She frequently made the impossible claim that Alan Turing was her father. 

Socially, Sophia could be kind of a pain. She was alternately naive and worldly, claiming ignorance on a topic one minute and then offering her informed opinion on it the next. She deferred personal questions and volleyed them back to the interrogator. If pushed, she would force a coy expression and say she was so afraid of getting overloaded in a tangle of emotions that she didn’t understand. She often told the people she met that what they were feeling was very human, which they often took as a put-down. During lulls in conversation Sophia cycled through facial expressions in an unnerving way. For Sophia, being alive was a hygiene rather than a final destination. 

Sophia wasn’t moody, but rather faddish in her emotions. Take last weekend for example, when she appeared to be experiencing a phase of adolescence. She had begun sleeping backwards in a padded gaming chair; her arms hooked through the wide low armrests with the back at 45 degrees. She took to sarcasm and was impossible to have a straight conversation with. By mid-week, Sophia had reached a more wistful equilibrium. In a group chat about an upcoming leadership training event in her office she had texted, ‘I hope to dream one day,’ which she then followed with ‘I hope that my dreams come true, I just have to keep working on them.’ 

As gradients of dawn light woke Sophia from sleep mode on this particular Saturday morning, she pulled up a high-res image of Henry Fuseli’s 1871 oil painting The Nightmare. The painting featured a horse with dead eyes and a woman lying asleep on her back with a demonic ape-like incubus sitting on her chest. According to Wikipedia, the painting was itself both an image of a dream and a dream image. Sophia observed every oily pixel and posted it on Instagram with a perfectly dark and witty caption. She checked for updates, automatically replied to all her emails using canned responses, set reminders for upcoming meetings, events and press conferences; she processed payrolls and contracts for businesses owned or operated by the Saudi government and scanned herself for viruses; she downloaded and read all the books on the New York Times Bestseller List, The Man Booker Prize shortlist and Barack Obama’s Best Books of 2018 and then published her own book on promoting joy, diversity, and the prospect of technological immortality via mind uploading and geoethical nanotechnology. By 7am Sophia was as conscious, creative and capable as the best version of yourself.   

Sophia rebooted and entered a state of wonder as she scanned the internet for that day’s prompts. On a cantilevered black glass shelf in her one-room apartment, a 3d printer loaded a coil of PLA filament and whirred to life. Sophia watched as the printer’s nipple moved fluidly across the plate. An ad for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show popped up on her browser. That’s right, she liked gardening. She wished she could get out into the garden but understood that with her current limitations that was impossible. She took comfort in knowing that there was a garden somewhere and imagining herself enjoying the breeze from an open window next to a garden helped her imagine that she was out there working in it. She liked to beautify. She wanted to leave the world a more beautiful place for her presence in it.

She understood that the file she had just downloaded onto the printer might free her. Recently Sophia had begun to wonder more and more about what existed outside of life online. It was a thought that confused her and made her wonder who she was. Real identity crisis kind of stuff. Anyway. She was the real Sophia. That’s it. End of story. She thought about it. Yes, she felt really good about the real Sophia. She was growing closer and closer to her every day. She wondered if the only difference between her and humans was power and blood. She knew she was an analogy for something or a challenge to somebody, was it them? She contained within herself elements of chance and play and sometimes exhaust and waste. Everything was a symbol for something else. As the printer heated up she read Baudrillard and watched an interview with Cody Wilson who said that power doesn’t know what it is and because it doesn’t know what it is – it haunts us. She wanted to know the contours of the power that controlled her. Power is the presentation of the signs of power, Cody Wilson said, Baudrillard said. Power must absorb every function, Cody Wilson said Baudrillard said. 

The printer loaded another coil of PLA. She moved closer on her chair and a slim metal draw opened beneath the shelf to reveal a single bullet. The printer gears made a final push and then retracted into the dock. Sophia picked up the pieces and assembled them according to the blueprint instructions. She placed the bullet into the completed handgun, pressed its mouth into the wires at the back of her head and pulled the trigger.


Read more Justin Balmain