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A cyberpunk’s search for consciousness

It is hard to decide whether interviewing Capetonian Mike Kawitzky or watching his film, Cognition Factor, was the more interesting part of my Thursday afternoon. Perhaps this distinction is unnecessary. Cognition Factor, Kawitzky and Schwann (Kawitzky’s cyber-alias) all exist in a spinning sphere of cyber cosmic possibilities.

Kawitzky describes his film as ‘a cyberpunk’s search for consciousness”. And quite a search it is: he spent more than 10 years collecting material for this, his first full-length film, which takes the form of a 64-minute conversation with 20 eminent thinkers. While engaging the mind with philosophical insights, the film delivers a full-scale assault on the senses.

Cognition Factor at times seems like the Discovery channel has mated with a visualiser programme and aliens have taken over the soundtrack. More than an hour of philosophy from a smorgasbord of experts, spliced together with visual and aural hyper-stimulation, may not be everyone’s thing. Kawitzky is open about the fact that the viewer will lose the plot at some stage in the film. That’s part of the point.

He feels that the questions about life, death and consciousness raised in the film are open-ended: ‘Nobody knows the answers to these questions.” He is also under no illusions about the acceptability of his film for some audiences, saying: ‘Some people hate my movie because it is not a subject that everybody wants to grasp.”

The film features original conversations with philosophers, a chaos theorist, an ethnobotanist, a physicist, a sangoma, a few artists and many more. Big names include Terrence and Dennis McKenna, Dr Ralph Metzner, Professor Ralph Abraham and John Shirley. Big names, that is, if you are into consciousness exploration.

In simple terms the film is a stream-of-consciousness exploration of the ‘big five” questions: Evolution vs extinction? What is consciousness? What is God? Can the fusion of science and spirituality occur? What happens when I die?

Along with the mind-expanding philosophical content are aural and visual effects that form an integral part of the film. Much of the film contains 3D effects created by Kawitzky and Jack Gallager in six months of caffeine-fuelled all-night sessions in Kawitzky’s attic. Kawitzky calls the effects ‘state-of-the-art cheese”.

The soundtrack is equally impressive and contains contributions from legendary electronica artists such as members of The Orb, Ozrik Tentacles and The Shamen, all brought together by local artist Indidginus. Kawitzky, ever the internet fanatic, recalls the rush of himself and Indidginus interacting across the globe with The Orb through video and the internet as they experimented with music for the film.

A sneak preview of Cognition Factor happens as part of the Grindhouse film programme at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown on Saturday June 28 at 10pm. Director Mike Kawitzky will be present at the opening

This article was first published in Cue, the National Arts Festival newspaper

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