The Last Reality Show
Boris Nikitin

Boris Nikitin «Erste Staffel. 20 Jahre Grosser Bruder» exterior view of the container, stage design: David Hohmann, Staatstheater Nürnberg, 2020 © photo: Boris Nikitin

The Last Reality Show
Boris Nikitin

6 December 2023 - 21 January 2024

Making its debut in 1999, the Big Brother house was the first social media machine of the twenty-first century: a handful of unknown people with no particular skills move in for one hundred 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.

Boris Nikitin, The Last Reality Show, Überwachungskamera, 2023 ​​​​​​​© Boris Nikitin, Foto: Boris Nikitin

Boris Nikitin, Erste Staffel. 20 Jahre Grosser Bruder, surveillance camera
Stage design: David Hohmann, Staatstheater Nürnberg, 2020
© photo: Boris Nikitin

As soon as it launched, in 1999 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 twentieth anniversary of the first series in Germany, Basel-based theatre 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.

Nikitin küche

Boris Nikitin, Erste Staffel. 20 Jahre Grosser Bruder, kitchen and dining room
Stage design: David Hohmann
© Foto: Boris Nikitin

As a director, writer, set designer, videographer, and curator of festivals, symposia, and happenings, Nikitin is an important voice in contemporary theatre. For some years now, his focus has been on documentary theatre and propaganda. The manipulability of «truth» is a theme running through all of his works. Long before «fake news» became a buzzword, he was probing the real. As well as being well received by the press, productions like F for Fake nach Orson Welles (2008), Imitation of Life (2009), How to win friends and influence people (2013), Sei nicht du selbst (2013) and Martin Luther Propagandastück (2016) opened up a new space within a contemporary performance theatre scene still shaped by the quest for real bodies, real action, and a longing for authenticity. Nikitin's happenings also address the question of the real and its double, as in the festival It’s The Real Thing (2013 - 2019), the conversation series Propagandagespräche 1-8 (2018), and the Schweizer Propagandakonferenz (2019). In 2009, the taz newspaper wrote: «Nikitin takes the aesthetic of the non-professional, the expert, the accomplice one step further. Few other directing teams question the status of their narratives, and thus the status of the document, to the degree Nikitin does.» And in 2016, the Tagesanzeiger wrote: «The Basel director pushes the genre of documentary theatre to its limits.»

Nikitin Stuhl

Boris Nikitin, Erste Staffel. 20 Jahre Grosser Bruder, Confessions Room
Stage design: David Hohmann, Staatstheater Nürnberg, 2020
© photo: Boris Nikitin

With The Last Reality Show, Nikitin develops this theme further and makes new connections, linking the question of creating illusions with another topic he has focussed on in recent years: the vulnerability that arises when people expose themselves. The Big Brother container could be described as a quintessence of his works to date. At the same time, it is a time capsule connecting the year 1999 with the present day. In the intervening decades, the world has changed and the container has become a museum exhibit. The surveillance cameras are old, the furnishings out of style, the questions about reality omnipresent. On one wall hangs a photograph of the World Trade Centre, that was still standing at the time; on another a United Colors of Benetton poster by Oliviero Toscani. The beds in the bedroom are empty, the bathroom is nothing but a fragment. The inhabitants have long since left the container. What museum visitors enter is a space of memory.

A production by It's The Real Thing Studios. Supported by funds from the Specialist Committee for Dance and Theatre BS/BL. Exhibition in co-production with Museum Tinguely.

Concept: Boris Nikitin
Installation: Johannes Maas
Lighting: Kerim El-Mokdad
Programming: Nicolas Welti
Set design: David Hohmann
Production management: Annett Hardegen

Boris Nikitin lives in Basel. In 2017, the City of Jena awarded him the J.M.R Lenz Prize for his oeuvre to date. In 2020, he won the Swiss Theatre Prize.