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Wilson Oryema

Serpentine Marathon 2018

Made by Wilson Oryema for the
2018 Serpentine Gallery “Work”

We give thanks for the “invisible cities”
which laid the foundations for us to be here,

Act i

Act ii

Act iii

A book of three acts.

The final act is tragic.


At no point does concern of the truth or lies spoken in the
words from Lavoro’s mouth come into question, whether it be
descriptions of the numerous places he has travelled to or his
comments on everything else.

For Apol and Artem, ones who exist in relative isolation on
an island far from the world Lavoro speaks of, their
experiences are fixed — “nothing changes, again, nothing
changes” could be regarded as the local motto — It is said
the rain pours the same time every year, the sun shines down
with similar consistency, the wind blows in the same
direction, and life and death are in a cycle as those who
depart from this world… are soon to make their return and
be reborn anew. In short, no one ever able to “leave” the

However, with Lavoro, the first and only outsider they’ve
come into contact with his words peak interest, bring
challenge, and breath new life into the chambers of those
who take the time to listen.

It is said “Pride goeth before destruction, and a
haughty spirit before a fall”. Well, for those who
envision themselves at lofty heights they may never
get close to, I have a city I long ago travelled to
that may encourage you. Blessed with arable land
and easy access to water. Devra was a city of
military might and intelligence, unmatched in
warfare for centuries. And with victory came the
spoils, be it, treasures, workers, and more. At the
height of their success, at any time, in different
parts of the country you would find indentured
servants from countries who were triumphed over
— tributes of the defeated — building new
structures, or repairing that which was damaged
previously in battle.

The city, was now adorned in sculptures depicting
pride and honour, typically in the form of animal
and man, but sometimes somewhere in between.
However, this desire was never sated, and resulted
in Devra overspending on luxurious structures
while underspending of agricultural development.
To, then inciting pointless battles to recover debt,
and receive more servants.
But, of course one can not hope to grow if the
foundations are unstable, and even if we try we
will soon collapse under the pressure of our own
There are two ways of describing Casśe. Once the
global capital of trade, it is said everything you
ever wanted could be found here. You could arrive
on a Tuesday, then leave the same day and have a
completely different set of possessions than what
you entered with. An abundance of things. So
hungry were those on the ground to trade, day and
night interchanged with no fluctuation in the
number of those who occupy the markets.
Smelling salts, Coffee beans, many tricks are used
to prevent our traders from going to sleep.

On the other hand a young child no older than 15
told me this: “I came to Casśe 4 years ago to make
a living for myself and others. Trading whatever I
could to get by, as a result I have held many items
in my possession. From: shoes that have been worn
atop of mountains; pearl necklaces that have been
in families for generations; mysterious fruits from
lands oceans apart; to worn armour, salt, and
much more things which come with a story to tell.
Before I had realised, it became less about the
profit and more about the shared memories.”

Anyone’s who been to Bola will have found
themselves caught in the rush to the arena. Where
you’ll find yourself amongst tens of thousands of
people screaming for death and entertainment.
The gladiator locked in battle with the wild boar.
The brutal chariot races which surely end in
someones death. Even those who come to clean up
the mess. Many years later you return to Bola and
you find the same events taking place.

However, most of the previous participants have
died, the audience is filled with new faces too. Sons
and daughters of those who sat in the spaces
before them. Children of the gladiators are now
the ones filling the audiences. Those from the
audiences are now in the chariot races. Years later
even the roles change as new characters fill the
stage. Conversations change, people change,
although none live long enough to observe.
Nonetheless, the original purpose remains the

In a world that is constantly transforming, many
things will fall through the cracks and be forgotten
in the abyss. The old: courtesies; jobs; habits; and
pastimes, to name a few. Which may be for the

After spending 5 days on a camel, we finally
reached Tazir. The last bastion of old civilisation.
Upon entry to the city, visitors are greeted by elder
men and given postcards to gaze upon the past but
also highly encouraged to explore the city, and
compare that which it is, to that which it was.

Traversing Tazir, you will find the city centre,
adorned with many sculptures of important
citizens and leaders, people of all genders and ages
have been immortalised. Looking at the postcard
the scenes are almost identical. However, looking
at the postcard you will notice the sculptures being
solely of old men. Upon leaving the city you are
asked to give your thoughts on what has been seen.
In order not to disappoint the staunch defenders
of the old Tazir, free speech is admired, but one is
pushed to celebrate the old city, and speak of “how
it’s lost its way” and so forth, even if that is not

However, to not fall into the pitfalls of nostalgia.
We must remember, that different towns of the
same name can live, die, and succeed one another.
Occupying the same place. Inhabiting the same
people, same facial features, and even share the
same name, but not know each other at all. So,
even if we rush to make the comparison, we must
realise they are not the same at all.

An hour from the coast of Säne, and a few hours
away from anything else, we find ourselves in
Anstee — the town birds never visit. An unusually
quiet town, aside from the sound of murmurs and

Anstee was created from a need of increased
efficiency in production lines. With local
government, Multinational Organisations, and out
of work residents all coming together to solve their
needs, and here is the result. No one under 12 and
no one over 60. Anyone in-between is eligible to
work and live here. All shapes. All sizes. As long as
you can spend all day in front of bright lights and
heavy machinery you can work here.

With most of their time spent in the factories, staff
have little time for meals and even less time for
leisure. Any idle thoughts are interrupted by the
whirring cogs and deep need to sleep, and with
little knowledge of the world outside many who
work here are destined to remain here.

I fondly remember the only time I went to
Torquere. glimmering monoliths that covered the
sky and so many they went on for as far as the eyes
can see. Nothing out of order, nothing out of

On your first few forays into the city, one should
find no shame in being lost. Modelled on
uniformity, every junction looks like every other
junction, every bridge like every other bridge,
every corner like every other corner, and every
back alley—where the “unseemly” are hidden in
plain sight—has the same stomach wrenching
smell as all the rest.

As such I spent my time testing certain things and
I encourage you to do the same. Head to the city
centre, ideally during rush hour — local courtesy
follows a no eye contact rule so eyes down.
Anyway, take a bus in every direction, at least
once. At the last stop, go to the first shop you find
to eat, pick whatever you want — it’ll probably
taste all the same!

Once you’ve finished go and talk to the first person
you see, ask them how they are, and what they’ve
been up to in the last 24 hours. As with everything
else… nothing out of order, nothing out of place.
In my younger years, I was especially excitable. In
a moment to prove myself as a “serious” person I
headed to Koukre — a city of cliches, “if you can
make it here…” and similar terms were coined
initially for Koukre.

After taking several buses, 2 trains, and long
distance plane to make it there. I found myself
having to spend 12 hours filling entrance forms,
which were mandatory for all new entrants to the
city. I found myself mesmerised by the speed of

I found myself in a job, the standard hours were
9-5 much like everyone else. First day. I arrive, I
work for 2 hours. I finish my tasks. I try to find
something to do. I struggle, as there’s nothing to
do. I go for lunch, tip the vendor and get back to
work. One can only go on so many bathroom
breaks. I fortunately break the time up with more
forms — this time, for HR and other internal
processes. Day done. I speak to my colleagues. It’s
a common problem, depending on how you’re
Allegedly, in addition to being pinned down by
needless bureaucracy, many of us don’t have much
work to do but are required to be here and as such
find many ways to stretch the amount of time
necessary to complete projects or just try and look
busy. Simple. As we part ways and make promises
to have lunch tomorrow. I turn the corner and
jump in a cab to the airport. Whisper sweet
nothings into the air. Spend some hours on the
Koukre exit forms, before making my way back

Rasosse is a wonderful place filled with some of
the most talented individuals I’ve ever met. But,
individuals they remain, as everyone who lives and
works in the city are strangers to each other.

No eye contact made, if eyes lock, then one is
likely to turn to the ground and keep moving. The
pro gamers in the PC shop. The teenager trying to
pass their final exams. The office worker with
deadlines to complete by Friday morning, and then
even more before the Monday morning. The A&E
surgeon at the understaffed hospital. The
emergency services teams who have to work 18
hour days to support others, and more.

Even trapped together at a bus shelter in the rain,
a delayed train, or any other inconvenience, the
sound remains muted, eyes down to phones, and
trying to survive until the next shot of caffeine.
Energy drinks and antidepressants. Coffee and
paracetamol. And a shot of tequila here and there.
Whatever keeps them awake so they can work into
the night. And whatever will keep them sane as
they’re forced to forgo personal time.

I arrive in district 27. Now the largest city in the
world with 70 million. Upon arrival i’m instructed,
that if I stay here longer than 2 months I am liable
to be drafted into “swaps”, the productivity
programme, unless able to show talents exceeding
that of regular society—for which you would
receive ample benefits.

The majority have succumb to receiving universal
wage and any formerly necessary roles are now
overseen by a select number of humans and a sole
mainframe computer, San. One may wonder what
the citizens do with their time… leisure and swaps.
A more humane response than simply wiping out
everyone, the overseers prefer that casual citizens
were kept alive and healthy.

So, every month, a large percentage of citizens are
set various tasks that will take up their time, mainly
product testing for human capabilities (new organs
and other modified body parts) as well as
observation tasks, with breaks too, all cruelty free
—I have been told. Not overstaying my welcome i
briskly leave after a few weeks as I’d prefer to
scurry elsewhere.

A great quote states “The tree of liberty must be
refreshed from time to time with the blood of
patriots and tyrants.” and the city of Ruderia
seems to have embedded this in its DNA.

Several millennia of human warfare. As soon as a
particular enemy had been felled another had
arrived soon after. The advent of gene editing
spurred two desires: one for stronger crops also
capable of being grown on arid land; and two, a
desire for animals to potentially work better for
them against their external enemies. Which, of
course, then extended the serious threats from
solely human to potentially all creatures from the
animal kingdom.

Enhanced vultures came and covered the sky, but
were soon cleared off. Snakes capable of growing
legs and burrowing underground came to pull the
floor from beneath us, however, they were soon
stomped out. The spiders with poison threads
which were set alight to keep at bay.

To the concrete eating termites that arrived just
before winter, they fortunately were able to
exterminate, and many other creatures and
diseases that were unable to cease human reign.
But nothing lasts forever, and so long had Ruderia
been domesticated it was unexpected to say the
least when the flora begun to attack.
Never have I been to a place which celebrates life
more than Siris. A place of few, the population
may number no more than several hundred.
However, in the hundreds of years I’ve been to
and from the city, that number hasn’t changed. No
deaths. No births.

Obviously attributed to the cyborg revolution. I
was told the creation of indestructible organs and
brain-computer interfaces, amongst other things,
incited unmatched levels of violence to “trim the
fat” and “regulate the population”.

Fast forward to today, and there is much regret
mixed with other feelings in the hearts of Sirisians.
As such, over time Siris have created an identical
copy of their world to house the dead. Those who
lost their lives were taken there to continue and
celebrate what was lost: Sat at tables, in positions
of rest, dancing, reading, being dressed in the
clothes of the time, working, etc.

Every so often the selected group of Sirisians who
created the copy are tasked with going back and
forth to check on the space and make sure nothing
has decayed and been damaged too much.
However, they say every time they visit, something
has been changed in the space by the corpses. So
much so, it is incomparable to the living city. It
may be the result of years of reflection. Either
way, fellow Sirisians took to this information and
began to replicate that which the grave-keepers
had told them.

However, many I’ve spoken to now would say this
is nothing new, and in fact the dead built the living
city. It is to say, between the two worlds there is no
telling who is living and who is dead!
The planet which achieved it all, Dolos. Across the
board. It is said to have achieved world peace, and
no lives were lost in the process. Work was part of
all life but balanced and of minimal time
consumption. All borders have been destroyed.
Ingenuity reached it’s apex. Medical advances
meant no one died or was ever afflicted by diseases
or ailments. Technological advancements meant
they had be Type IV civilisation on the updated
Kardashev scale. Every problem which ever
affected any society, was no longer a problem on

Diplomats who spend their lives in transit and
conversation, Space explorers who arrive back
with all kinds of places with new materials, Naval
teams who spend most of their lives at sea: look
down and speak of Dolos. Sometimes sparks of
light are seen in the sky, and people wonder if
there is a celebration taking place, maybe some
kind of festival. Many look down from varying
heights about what is going on there, the types of
conversations, and what takes up the time of the
average Dolosian.
Although they have no intention of visiting —
Dolos is also far too risky to travel to for them, but
it serves as an anchor for the thoughts and eyes of
those who stay at lofty heights. Apol and Artem
were expecting to hear what it was like on the
planet and how the people were, but Lavoro
cannot speak further, as he has yet to find out
which planet it is. It has never been clearly
identified, and if you were within its orbit, it would
be a different place. For those who pass it without
entering, the planet is one thing; it is another for
those who are trapped by it and never leave.

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