Artist Rebecca Kopycinski fixes glitches at Bow Market all month
“Is your ThotBot glitched? The ULTRA wants to know.”
So reads the flyer that multimedia artist Rebecca Kopycinski has plastered around Somerville and beyond for nearly a year. You may have seen it… and scratched your… ThotBot!?!
The street prop is part of her transmedia narrative, “a series of stories born from one fictional universe, delivered via multiple media platforms.” “At the center is ThotBot—a government mandated brain implant that algorithmically applies points to one’s thoughts—and a recurring protagonist called Reagan Esther Myer.”
“It started as a guerilla marketing campaign for my multimedia play,” Kopycinski says. “I wanted to give people an opportunity to learn more about ThotBot either before or after the show, so I created the ThotBot Implantation Center posters and website. Then I thought, ‘What if there were a center you could actually visit?’”
Now there is such a home base, in the form of a small performance center at Bow Market, manifesting in the form of “an interactive installation paired with an audio/visual concert experience that invites audiences to immerse themselves in this terrifying speculative future.”
Do you still have more questions? We did too, so we reached out to Kopycinski.
To be clear, were you shooting for something of a semi-viral marketing campaign poster of sorts?
Short answer, yes. The “Is Your ThotBot Glitched?” poster campaign started as a marketing scheme for the multimedia show that I mounted [in June 2018] called Reagan Esther Myer. But the roots of the campaign are a little deeper than that. The concept came after a workshop performance of the aforementioned show in January 2018. I solicited feedback from the audience (which was made up of mostly friends and family) and received two comments that utterly transformed this project: (1) “This was mindblowing!! Thank you for sharing it. I have to say—it left me wanting more, more, more from this amazing world!”; and (2) “What if someone could take a test to see if their ThotBot is glitched?”
I decided to create a website for the ThotBot Implantation Center so an audience member could visit either before or after seeing Reagan Esther Myer and learn more about my post-apocalyptic meritocracy through the menace at the center of it: the ThotBot brain device. As the poster suggests, one can take a Glitch Test on the website, which is a fun way to create engagement.
Something about that poster just took off. As of this writing, over 8,600 people have visited. Countless people who attended the June events approached me after the show and told me it was the poster that pulled them in. From there, I realized that the ThotBot Implantation Center should be an actual place, so that brings me to Bow Market.
In a broader sense, it’s wild to notice how the word “thotbot” has leached into the collective psyche. I have to admit it might have something to do with the slang term “thot” being part of the social lexicon, a word I was unfamiliar with until someone told me to look it up a couple years ago. People I meet seem to have an instant recognition of the word, which isn’t maybe all too surprising as I am tireless in hanging posters all over Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston, sometimes walking as many as 12 miles a day to do so.
Are there any posters hanging in your neighborhood that have inspired you to look up a site?
I have not seen any posters that have inspired me to look up a site, but there were definitely inspirations for this project. I typically do a massive amount of research when I start a project to see what has been done before. And especially what was done in the ’80s and ’90s. The first inspiration came from the marketing campaign for Blair Witch Project that included hanging MISSING posters for the three actors in the film. I liked the idea of blurring the lines between the story world and the real world. Side note: I still get messages from people asking me if ThotBot is real and/or is a cult.
The website was partly inspired by the website created to promote Jurassic Park: Lost World. It’s designed to be the website of the research company that does something bad, I think? Maybe they are the ones that make the dinosaurs come back? I don’t know. I have to admit I’ve never seen any of the movies in the Jurassic Park franchise. But the website is still up.
Hey, Netflix! Where’s my movie deal? I already have the viral marketing campaign ready to go.
Can you bring us back to the moment that you came up with the ThotBot concept?
I cannot! Ha. I don’t remember the exact moment I came up with ThotBot, but I do know that the first Google doc I made for this project was created on Oct 27, 2015. That contains references to ThotBot, so it must have been sometime in early to mid-2015. I can’t believe I’ve been working on this project for that long. I guess that explains why I have several terabytes of digital media and a few writing books filled with notes for this storyverse.
I can tell you why I came up with ThotBot. It probably began during a major depressive period I experienced living in Allston in 2005-06. I saw the movie Being There with Peter Sellers, which ends with him walking on water and a voiceover saying, “Life … is a state of mind.” It was also around this time that I stumbled upon neuroplasticity and the idea that we are constantly shaping our brains through repetition (or lack thereof). We are the creators of our realities through thought and action. Perspective, belief, memory, social class, education—among many other things—all play a role in shaping how we see and act in the world, but ultimately we are the creators.
We cannot control what happens, but we can control how we respond. We hold the reigns. We control the brains. Hey, that rhymes. When I was creating this dystopia (which is based on our society, as any self-respecting speculative future is), I knew I wanted to have something acting on the brain. I wanted to create a situation where people are incentivized to let go of those reigns. Turns out it’s a brain implant that erases your “harmful” memories, zaps your emotional range, and encourages you to think about how the government wants you to think in order to maximize a prize called Redemption.
It wasn’t too long ago that you had the major shows that led to this project. Is this how an artist has to be these days? Quick to respond, and—gasp—to sometimes give the audience a little bit of what it wants?!?
There’s a really fine line between being true to what you want to do as an artist and giving the audience (or the funders/grant orgs) what it wants. I’m not willing to compromise my artistic integrity to fit into anyone’s box, but I also want an audience. It’s a fine line. I knew I had some traction after Reagan Esther Myer since it was a hit with audiences and, as I said, I knew people were starting to recognize ThotBot as a thing. Luckily, I knew what I wanted to do next and it happened to be ThotBot-centric. I was already developing the ThotBot Implantation Center concept, I just needed a space to make it happen. There was a bit of serendipity at play when I learned about the GAP [Get Artists Paid] Space at Bow Market. The opportunity presented itself, and I doggedly pursued it.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I was aiming to give the audience what it wants, but as it turned out, I did. The initial run of 16 shows and three additional dates have sold out. There’s currently a waiting list. They’re getting what they want and I’m doing what I want. It doesn’t always work out that way. It’s blowing my mind. The success of this installation bodes well for the future of the larger project.
My vision is a series of experiences and performances that comprise the full story of Reagan Esther Myer and the dystopia in which she lives. They complement each other, but also stand alone. The multimedia play I mounted in June and this installation (and the accompanying poster-website experience) are major parts, as is the ’90s style JRPG video game I will be developing this year. Who knows what else will come after that. I can’t speak for all artists, but for me, being an artist (and working toward a viable business and career) nowadays is all about diversifying and trying new things. My motivation isn’t necessarily “give the people what they want,” but “build something people didn’t know they wanted.”
What kind of person stands to really benefit from the ThotBot Implantation Center? Who needs this service right away?
ThotBot has been tremendously successful since the ULTRA implemented the program post-impact. It continues to unite the minds of citizens toward the common goal of making our society great again. Don’t you want to be great again? Once implanted, ThotBot uses ULTRApure Selective Memory Reconfiguration Technology to deliver a stunning blow to the synaptic pathways that store harmful memories. Next, you’ll notice the soothing hum of Tranquility, an ULTRA-patented sedative proven to make you great again. ThotBot is compulsory.
But seriously, at some point I started to realize the motivation for creating this weird brain implant may have sprung from the private desire to just turn it all off sometimes. Shut it down. I think it’s something we’ve all thought once or twice. Life is hard. Some memories are deeply painful. Some emotions are overwhelming. I think there’s at least one point in all our lives we wish we could forget, a time when we wish we could have dialed back the feelings.
The experience is set up in sections, allowing for people to shop and hang out in between. Tell us about customizing these events for the space they are in.
Creating is just executing a series of decisions based on a set of parameters. The ThotBot Implantation Center design was very much informed by the quirks of the space. The GAP Space at Bow Market is small, about 8 feet by 17 feet. Each show has a maximum capacity of 12 attendees, because that is all that can fit in the space at one time. That decision was made for me. I don’t think I would have created such an intimate experience without the space constraints, but I’m glad that it ended up that way. It’s been a special experience with such a small group each night.
The first part of the experience is the waiting room. The audience completes an intake form and then explores the space. They can read informational materials, listen to audio recordings, watch video, and explore a cabinet full of “actual confiscated contraband proven to be harmful to ThotBot operating systems.”
This is a self-directed experience, though there is an ULTRA Tech in attendance in case a cassette tape gets eaten (actual occurrence) or a VCR dies (actual occurrence). The hour-long intermission is a multipurpose part of the event. First, it allows me to reconfigure the space for the following audio/visual concert experience. Second, it allows people to get food and drinks. I’m a proponent of having access to snacks, alcohol, and coffee at any event. Bow Market has some pretty great food and drink. You can get a pizza with pickles as a topping. Just saying. Third, it’s a good time to use the restroom.
I’m sure future iterations of this installation will look a little different based on the space in which it lives. I look forward to how it morphs with each iteration. It keeps it fresh.
Finally, what does one wear to such a spectacle?
I never considered suggesting a dress code. You should wear what a glitched-out apocalypse survivor from sometime between 1986 and 1992 would wear.