The video installation and multimedia project Tilikum deals with the linkage between instrumental sciences with economic principles. Starting point of the story is the brutal death of the animal trainer at Sea World Orlando, Florida. In 2010 the bull orca Tilikum suddenly stopped to obey the commands of his trainer Dawn Brancheau, and instead dragged her underwater, drowned- and dismembered her in front of a terrified audience. Going back in time, the video then focuses at the genealogy of operant conditioning and scientific training methods, first developed in the 20s and 30s by American Behaviourists. In late 40’s the new technical and theoretical possibilities of neurophysiology, linguistics and computer science started to scrutinize the behaviourist approach of black-boxing the mind. Yet instead of questioning the behaviourist’s ideological bias (Chomsky), the new generation of
scientists immediately translated it into a universal code of rational choice models and refined interrogation techniques. The second part of the video then tells how the discovery of dolphin- and whale intelligence was also deeply intertwined with the new research and atmosphere of departure. And while Allen Dulles declared a new era of brain warfare ambitious scientists started to believe that dolphins would be soon able to speak the English language.
The history of the entertainment-industrial complex—of which Sea World is a part—is entangled in fantasies of an ever-expanding scientific, military, and erotic frontier, which crisscrosses behaviourism, sensory deprivation as a torture technique, neuroscience, animal training, LSD-induced experiments in mind-expansion, inter-species communication, contact with aliens, and last but not least, dolphins.