Ticket to the Future / Punctured Sky

Punctured Sky Vol. 1 by Jon Rafman (2021)

Passierschein in die Zukunft / Ticket to the Future is an exhibition organized by the Kunstmuseum Bonn as part of beuys 2021, the series of events celebrating Joseph Beuys’ heritage, 100 years after his birth. The exhibition features works by Beuys, Katinka Bock, Christian Jankowski and Jon Rafman.

For the catalogue of the exhibition, I was asked to write a short text about Rafman’s contribution to the show, months before it was actually ready. I spoke with Jon, I read the script but, as the commissioned video work was in its very early stages, I focused my text on a story he often told in his artist talks, about a videogame that survived only in his personal memories. Eventually, that story became the subject of the final work, while the script I read remained an unreleased project, existing in the public – at least by now – only through the few lines at the very end of the text below.

Domenico Quaranta, “Punctured Sky Vol. 1”, in VV.AA, Passierschein in die Zukunft / Ticket to the Future. Joseph Beuys, Katinka Bock, Christian Jankowski, Jon Rafman, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Bonn, October 7, 2021 – January 9, 2022. Wienand Verlag, Cologne 2021, p. 56. Buy the book here.

Punctuded Sky Vol. 1 by Jon Rafman (2021)

In artist talks, Jon Rafman loves to tell a personal story. It starts with an old friend re-emerging from his past, telling him the internet hasn’t preserved any single trace of Punctured Sky, the computer game that they used to play together every day after middle school. Rafman assumes his friend is wrong. After all, nothing can disappear entirely from the web. So he starts his own investigation, but to his great surprise, he can’t find any evidence of the game anywhere on or offline; even his old friend dies at some point, leaving him alone with his memories. One day, when Jon asks his mum about the game, she answers: “I always found it strange that when you would come home, you would sit in front of the computer without turning it on and just stare at the blank screen for hours on end.”

Punctured Sky can be seen as the foundational myth of one of Rafman’s main topics: in the contemporary, hyperconnected world, reality dissolved, its very structure collapsed; its experience is totally subjective, but since the subject has dissolved too, our own “subjective” reality is very likely to be the result of the dreams, the lies, the fictional narratives shaped by somebody else; of a reciprocal, continuous, unintentional practice of gaslighting.

For Rafman, who has seen his recent life misshapen by others subjective perception of his reality, this concept is not only the result of sci-fi fantasy – although we may argue he has been influenced by Philip K. Dick, Rainer W. Fassbinder’s World On A Wire, and adventure video games, and by his flaneur-like exploration of online subcultures, virtual worlds and all the manifestations of the internet Arcades – it’s, pardon the pun, very real, and painful, and fitting to the post-truth world in which we are all imprisoned.

Debris of this cultural substratum shapes the form, the aesthetics, and the narrative of Punctured Sky Vol. 1, Rafman’s latest film. Using the aesthetics and formal structure of point-and-click adventure games, the film tells the story of Buddy, a video game designer trapped by his ex-lover in the game they were designing together. As the plot unfolds, his (and our) perception of reality is reconfigured many times, losing any consistency and allowing us to experience what is, for Rafman, the contemporary sublime: a world within a world within a world, an infinite stack of nested realities, each inside another like Matryoshka dolls.