Staying with the Trouble: Resident Artists’ Show and Open Forum

Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen

STAYING WITH THE TROUBLE
Resident Artists’ Show and Open Forum
 
Friday 26th- Sunday 28th June
The White Building, London

The open studios event for the last cycle of The White Building’s #stacktivism residency programme will feature work by artists-in-residence Kei Kreutler, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Erica Scourti and Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen around geopolitical landscapes of data, experience encryption processes, browsing decoys, satellite constellations and estranged astrologies. Working on- and off-site over this spring, their practices deal with differing conceptions of infrastructures, contemporary networks, geologies, and narratives of scale and subjectivities.

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PROGRAMME

Friday 6:30- 9pm

CLEAN THOUGHTS (video performance)
Erica Scourti
“When everything is clean, we can start again”

ONE-TO-FIVE YEARS (A Workshop)
Kei Kreutler
The night will close seated in a circle. Having emerged from distributed conversations under the alias INFRA_LIFE, the workshop traditionally centres around the questions: What do you envision for the world in the next five years on political, personal and network scales? How can we re-configure or hack existing infrastructure and institutions to meet our shared goals, and what will we have to develop ourselves from the ground up? Staying with the past is also possible.


Saturday 12-6pm
All day open studio

Sunday 12-6pm

12-1pm
Exhibition Tour- led by the artists

2-4pm Open Forum

Prompted by Donna Haraway’s injunction for staying with the trouble, an open forum[n] conversation will focus on critical discussion around questions of art and/ versus activism, the complicity at the intersection of art and technology, and how contemporary global and self-scales[o] are produced.

A mix of friends, interested parties, academics, and other artists have been invited to respond to these questions in an open discussion format chaired by Erica Scourti. More details will be announced later in the week.

WHERE: The White Building, Unit 7, Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, London E9 5EN MAP
WHEN:  Friday 26th- Sunday 28th June

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INFRA_SPECTION Screening and Discussion

CS1349985-02A-BIG7pm, Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Come by the White Building for a screening and discussion featuring magic, black boxes, and red stacks, with videos from the Haunted Machines mini-conference at FutureEverything 2015 and transmediale: CAPTURE ALL 2015.

This event will be the first in a series of informal screenings, readings, and discussions held at the White Building’s studio space with current artists-in-residence Erica Scourti, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, and Kei Kreutler.

Ping us on Twitter (@Erica_Scourti@M_PF@keikreutler ) for more details, and expect there to be (some) beer.

WHERE: The White Building, Unit 7, Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, London E9 5EN
(next to Crate, Hackney Wick)  MAP
WHEN: Tuesday 14 April 2015, 7pm

dreaming of electric tweets

Wrote this piece on affect recognition and other stuff almost a year ago and never got round to posting, later added some bits and then forgot about it. Decided to post without rejigs- it just about makes sense (except I’m no longer sleeping with screens as I have the boy to do that with)

download (1)Despite being a person who goes to bed surrounded by phone, iPad and laptop, sleep is usually one of the few places I’m not perennially plugged in, so last night’s dream of checking Twitter interactions seemed to signal a new level of saturation: an always-on zombie, dreaming of electric tweets. Not coincidentally, I’d been reading Jonathan Crary’s 24/7, a chilling indictment of life as value-extraction game where sleep holds out as a final frontier of valueless repose, along with daydreams, rest and the “useless time of reflection and contemplation”, all of which act as problematic barriers to the monetisation of all experience. For one, no technology is as yet capable of intruding into our dreams to program appearances of Twitter, or any other product, service or brand; also, unlike online behaviours, dreams can’t be recorded for clues about what sneaker or holiday destination your subconscious is hankering after. Which is just as well, since, as the facilitator of a Cryptolcass at Mozilla’s London HQ pointed out, a possible future where recorded dreams can put you in jail is reason enough to start taking privacy seriously, before it’s too late.

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dreamz

As well as potentially landing people in jail, technology that could directly access our minds, and dreams, would be manna for marketers, giving an even more accurate portrayal of what it is we ‘really want’, and then targeting ads to meet- and shape- these desires. The notion that ever more responsive, telematic, intimate devices and software will end up not just being able to read the contents of our mind, but to actively shape it, has also been a long-standing concern of dystopian strands of science-fiction, in books that herald the complete commodification of the soul and the pliant zombie citizens it produces. In Transmetropolitan, a dark comic series by Warren Ellis, advertising has penetrated into the dreamscape, with sponsored messages bombarding the protagonist Spider Jerusalem in his sleep. Similarly, MT Anderson’s Feed extrapolates current trends of targeted online marketing to telepathic levels, where ads pop up in users minds in response to life events- a break up, a job loss- with what algorithms have deduced would be their most likely behavioral response- ice-cream binge, shopping splurge or revenge fantasy. Most of Philip K Dick’s output could also be read as a (fairly accurate, it turns out) prediction of life once people’s affective responses can be parsed into useful data.
i2w2b While these scenarios are still mostly fictional dystopias, Google’s purchase of various AI and robotics companies, like DeepMind and Boston Dynamics, suggest that ‘divination of private consciousness’, and it’s hidden desires, is big business. Perhaps with masses of Very Big Data plus algorithms fuelled by some artificially intelligent juice, search engines will finally be able read between the lines of your URL history, emails and social media interactions and deduce what you want to search for- and buy- before you even know. Of course this still signals a belief in the separation between us (desiring humans) and them (deducing algobots/ machines/ etc), when it’s probably more a process of entanglement where it becomes impossible to tell ‘who makes and who is made in the relation between man and machine’, as Donna Harraway put it.

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But anyway, the parsing of affective responses and the insights they provide into our supposedly unfettered desires, is becoming big business. For example, new affect recognition imaging technologies promise to track what consumers ‘really’ feel/ want, according to the changing weather of facial expressions; and Dataclysm, a book by OK Cupid’s CEO book, draws conclusions from data gathered about users’ dating proclivities, thereby telling who they are when, as the subtitle puts it ‘they think no one’s watching’.

In both cases there seems to be an underlying belief that their data, or rather, the reading of it, unwittingly reveals elusive truths that not even the users themselves are truly aware of. Both rely on the algorithmic parsing of this data into ‘fact’- the muscular micro-movements into emotional states, or the eyeballing and clicking on dating profiles into facts about what men want (youth, apparently…). Needless to say, the conclusions (‘facts’) are codified by existing conventions- around what happiness, sadness etc look like, about how different genders interact (usually with the assumption that there are only ever TWO genders)- and therefore you could say, the process of reading and interpreting data has as much agency in the shaping of meaning as the data itself. That’s a long-winded, verbose way of saying that data, whatever that even means, does not just ‘mean stuff’ objectively and apart form the society and culture that’s measuring it.

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Still, the idea of algos reading private consciousness suggests that they become both technologies for accessing inner experience, as well frustrating barriers to its efficient conveyance: an interface which enables communication but always prevents direct, unmediated, one-to-one experience, where what I feel, you feel. Boulter and Grussin call the desire to efface the medium so as to allow the represented content (of the video, computer game or innermost desires) to appear more realistically to the viewer the logic of immediacy, a longstanding tradition within Western art. This erasure of the medium or support gives the viewer the illusion of power by obfuscating the reality of the technical interface and its over-arching control of the viewing (or playing, or whatever) situation. The development of ever-smaller and more portable, wearable tech could also be seen as a desire to remove the pesky interfaces and merge more seamlessly and enjoyably with information flows.

More broadly, the notion of invisible or transparent infrastructure upholds an impossible dream of immaterial connection, and a state of denial towards the social and geopolitical realities that facilitate our tech. Recent debates around Stacktivism, for example, have emphasized the materiality of technology and the physical consequences of e-waste, energy-guzzling servers and the mineral harvesting involved in hardware construction. Stacktivism, has been described as ‘a conversation about those hidden technological and social infrastructures and the conventional metaphors that mask them: the cloud, the smooth and playful industrial design, the invisible interface.’

messiah
Getting off that fluffy cloud and scratching the surface of these smooth machines by becoming aware of the very material conditions that support them becomes an act of resistance against the ambient control of interface-less technology that aims to unite us with the contents of the network. If our data has become perhaps an interface through which our ‘inner world’ is mediated and known, then scrutinizing this process could also be about making visible the very real, material ways it’s collected, used and monetized through our always-on, and always-on-us- technology.