The Last Reality Show — Boris Nikitin
Making its debut in 1999 in the Netherlands, the “Big Brother” house was the first social media machine of the 21st century: a handful of unknown people with no particular skills move in for 100 days, watched round the clock by the TV-viewing public as they go about their day-to-day business—brushing their teeth, playing cards, sleeping, showering, making small talk, eating, having sex. All of the inhabitants’ activities were filmed 24/7 and posted on the Internet. Their only link with the outside world was a video camera through which they shared their most intimate thoughts and feelings with the public every day. But the show was about more than putting private lives on show. It was also a contest during which viewers voted to remove participants from the house, one by one. Their everyday lives became a matter of performance, on every level.
As soon as it launched in the Netherlands, and in 63 other countries since, “Big Brother” became a subject of debate. With its combination of everyday life, voluntary self-observation, staged authenticity, and competition, the format was a provocation. While some spoke of a long-overdue democratization of the entertainment industry, others thought the show’s reinterpretation of the all-powerful “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s novel “1984”went too far, foreshadowing the debates of the next two decades. The show’s main protagonist was not one of the contestants, but the space in which they met: the container. It was a democratic utopia, a dystopia, and a work of conceptual art all in one: a self-surveillance set-up, a self-updating readymade, a reality machine. It also drove a paradigm shift: the fourth wall between private and public spheres was broken down once and for all from this moment on, we were all performers.
For the 20th anniversary of the first series, Basel-based theater director Boris Nikitin had a replica made of the original “Big Brother” container as part of “Erste Staffel—20 Jahre Grosser Bruder” at Staatstheater Nürnberg. Now the replica will be on show for six weeks at Museum Tinguely. For the exhibition, Nikitin and his team have reworked the object: slightly modified dimensions, with one room less, and made not out of metal but using white-painted wood. It is the imitation of a building that was itself already a simulacrum—a simulacrum that marked the dawning of the age of digital visibility.
Paul Sacher-Anlage 2