Virtual Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Language, and Democracy
November 09, 2020; 11:00 – 18:00Youtube Channel Royal Academy of Art (KABK)
A thriving democracy is based on informed debate and involves a wide range of language-based interactions. In fact, the term parliament itself comes from the French word parler (to talk / speak). Deliberation and debate in both public and private spaces are at the core of both democratic processes and personal liberties. Voting is based on language, whether on the physical ballot, during the election campaign or simply by formulating voting and election laws. Language permits ideas to circulate freely, and is part of the very DNA of political processes.
Who Speaks? is a project collaboration between the Non Linear Narrative Master’s programme of the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, University College London and Camberwell College of Arts (CCW / University of the Arts London) with the Analysis and Research Department (DAO) of the Dutch Parliament. It manifests itself in the form of a one-day international symposium and a semester-long study programme that investigates how artificial intelligence influences democracy by means of language. During its course, Who Speaks? welcomes notable individuals from the digital rights movement, cyberlaw, political philosophy and investigative journalism in order to understand the decision-making processes behind artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The virtual symposium is organised as a Live broadcast via Youtube which brings together academic peers and Dutch policy makers for joint knowledge exchange and discussion on who has actually the final say in an AI driven democracy. Major issues addressed during three panel discussions, focus on algorithmic bias, surveillance technologies, fake news, online privacy rights, speech and text generation, search engine censoring and post-feminist […]
Essay – September 18, 2020
The media is flooded with projections of futures with or without ‘the virus’.1 In both dystopian and utopian accounts, as well as more level-headed attempts to extrapolate scenarios, finite terms drawn from uncertain predictions are often used, precluding clear judgement. Instead of writing these scenarios off as nonsensical, they should be understood as what they are: ideological projections that attempt to shape rather than predict possible futures. Who is ‘shaping’? Under what prerogative? In service of which ideological a-priori? Serving which material (political / economic) interests?
While any critical reader could answer these questions, it might be more productive to shift away from these predicted (contingent) futures and towards what has already happened. What can be done right now to thwart the endeavours of the ‘shapers’? How can we open up this contingent future to the public interest that concerns us all and should be subject of an open, critical, and truly public debate, rather than the object of flawed and illegitimate attempts at social engineering? A way to start is to trace the associations of those determining these contingent futures (human and non-human), to establish the most beneficial forms of living together in a continuous feedback loop of ‘composing the good common world’2.3
Such a complex undertaking needs to be a collective effort, comprised of individual actions, not necessarily at all points coherent, nor even commensurable. Successive ‘matters of concern’ need to be explicated, which bring us together exactly because they divide us.4 Therefore I do not aim at a comprehensive analysis, but focus on interrogating the shifting spatial dynamics and regimes of urban space as they pertain to a specific ‘matter of […]
Editorial – July 20, 2020
Touch & Feel in the Digital Age is a substantive and interdisciplinary study into how we feel and touch in our technologically mediated, dematerialized digital cultures and how this is expressed in our social and artistic practices. The original idea was to investigate through a series of essays and artist contributions what kind of underlying structures, powers and forces are currently active, which regulate our experiences of feel and touch in the digital domain, in a technological, biopolitical and ontological sense. We were particularly concerned with the strategies, interests and monopoly positions of the major commercial media and technology companies and with the relationship and implications of touch media and technology to the body and physical space. How can ubiquitous haptic technology and media be critically questioned, tested and put into practice from experimental theory, art and design?
The first impetus for the project came in 2018–2019, when we could not yet imagine that the world would face a highly contagious virus that would take the form of a pandemic and give a whole new dimension to problematizing touch. In 2018, it was inconceivable that government-imposed lockdowns on citizens would take place, and that we would be subject to strict guidelines in the area of human touch and interaction. At the time of this writing in 2020, we live in a world in which social distancing and physical distancing are the rules and in which there is a blemish on touch. All this has our research topic made even more urgent, but at the same time vastly more difficult because we are in the middle of a new situation and hardly have an idea of the consequences on a political, social and personal level.
In any case, the digital imperative has only become more compelling since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. To make life and work somehow continue, we are more than ever in the virtual domain of the Internet. With Jitsi, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, and Teams and our social media, we seem to have plenty of haptic experiences. However, our new virtual condition has been mainly imposed on us: the digital is no longer simply an extension or enrichment of our physical, carnal and material […]
Artist contribution – June 28, 2020
Deprived of physical contact the world became more distant. While our bodies are kept safe from infective agents, adverse effects include lower levels of oxytocin – a complex neurochemical hormone and transmitter that helps to reduce anxiety and maintain adequate immune response. Shielding, I’ve been reworking previously recorded material from my archives, looking for glimpses and sparks that transcend remote methods of communication to auraticly bridge feel and touch – screen and skin. Pairing an Iroha poem reading (a perfect pangram, that contains each character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once) echoed with footage of a grey parrot (the talking kind) and more abstract imagery, Licking the Sky, Embracing the Shadow of a Fish in a Glance Upon the Surface forms a short handheld observation of intimacy and care.
Jort van der Laan, Licking the Sky, Embracing the Shadow of a Fish in a Glance Upon the Surface, 2020, HD video loop, 1:59 min.
Artist contribution – June 3, 2020
Lorem Siri by artist duo JODI penetrates the interior of voice applications such as Siri and Alexa. These smart speakers are fast becoming increasingly common in daily life, and can be 'touched' by the human voice. Supposedly at our service, they are activated when addressed by name: ‘Hey Siri / Tell me / Do you know JODI? / Which do you mean? Jodi Dean or Jodi Dirk Paesmans and Joan Heemskerk? ...’ Following a command or question, Siri and Alexa provide assistance in dealing with the ubiquity of information societies. Or is that we, as users and consumers, serve them and the powerful media companies from which they originate? What do they absorb from our private lives? What is going on inside Siri or Alexa? Find out by clicking on the link below. This contribution is part of open!’s publication and research project on touch in the digital age.
Please check out this link for JODI’s Lorem Siri.
Essay – April 28, 2020
Ramon Amaro signals traces of political arithmetic thought in government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amaro goes into the wider implications of human quantification and data consolidation and asserts that COVID-19 analysis tools, vaccine research, and detection devices risk leaving open future gaps in data privacy, while also centralizing the patient data into government forecasting efforts. We must consider what impact data consolidation might have on future, even non health related, surveillance programmes. It must be asked whether the risks involved outweigh the immediacy of crisis; and if so, what traces of political and economic speculation based on our intimate medical data might be left behind. This essay is part of the publication and research project of Open! about sense of touch in the digital age.
In early 2020, Damo Academy, the research unit of Chinese multinational technology company Alibaba, announced the release of an AI system for the diagnosis of the COVID-19 (coronavirus).1 The system is said to detect COVID-19 in patient computed tomography (CT) scans with 96 per cent accuracy over ordinary viral pneumonia. The algorithm was trained with sample data from over 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, as well as data on treatment guidelines and recently published health studies. The algorithm was first released to medical professionals at Qiboshan Hospital in the Zhengzhou Province of China, with plans for adoption across additional provinces. In addition to great accuracy, the new algorithm is said to complete the virus detection process in 20 seconds or under, compared to the five to 15 minutes it would take a doctor to analyse more than 300 images in a CT scan.2
Alibaba is among many tech companies, from AlphaGo’s Deepmind to surveillance company BlueDot, that are rapidly developing new machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms for COVID-19 patient diagnosis. These algorithms are in addition to the creation of so-called ‘smart’ devices, such as the Kinsa ThermoScan 5 Ear smart thermometer and app, which combine user temperature readings with other user-generated data to provide real-time detection; and […]
Essay – April 26, 2020
By examining two examples of haptic technologies – the Taptic Engine and the TESLASUIT – David Parisi asks how we should evaluate their utopian and transformative claims. Parisi also reflects on the potential dangers of these haptic devices: who has access to and control of the tactile data that haptic technologies capture, store, and transmit? What new violence will be inflicted against bodies? Whose touch will be extended into virtual worlds and over physical space, and whose bodies will be excluded from these haptic networks? This essay is part of the publication and research project of Open! about the sense of touch in the digital age.
For over thirty years, we have been waiting for the dream of haptics to come true. Popular press depictions of touch technologies, such as Howard Rheingold’s 1991 book Virtual Reality: The Revolutionary Technology of Computer-Generated Worlds, have portrayed haptic devices as technologies of an imminent future that promise to liberate our repressed sense of touch from the shackles of audio-visual media. The inevitable arrival of haptics, we have been told, will usher in a new mode of interacting not just with computers, but also with other subjects in our communicative networks. According to haptics marketers and engineers, adding touch feedback to computers would make our interactions with them – and with each other – more natural, more holistic, and more engaging. Layering haptics onto existing audio-visual media systems, in this narrative, will not just be additive, but transformative, giving touch a new centrality in the configuration of the mediated sensorium, and allowing us to extend and amplify our sense of touch, just as these audio-visual media had previously extended our senses of seeing and hearing. Channelling a haptocentric humanist tradition that positions touch as both a vital and neglected experiential […]
Artist contribution – April 26, 2020
In Drop Shadow, Jan Robert Leegte uses facial recognition to evoke formal responses through mirroring. The technique of facial recognition is often used commercially to identify the user to collect data for advertisement purposes. In a political sense, mirroring can be used to correct behaviour. In this work it is deployed to formally mirror you with an intangible object, namely an element of the standard interface. The interface has always been a battleground of expectation and response, and as such is also a mirroring medium. In this work, the drop shadow, an ornamental carrier of content, has been pushed forward to perform a ‘pas de deux’ with the user, resulting in an interactive sculpture that also alludes to the real-time presence of the interface surface and the deeper systems behind it. There is a real-time input and output of our mirroring, a reality usually hidden behind the pseudo-static appearance of the interface. The work also refers to Minimal Art, due to the focus on materiality. Although there is immediately a crux, since it also invokes elements of illusionism. Drop Shadow uses a stock image of a generic gallery wall, made in 3D software, taken from the internet. After slightly dissolving in JPEG compression, the wall shows a dancing simulated shadow. The work shows a theatrical evocation of the idea of minimalism and of materiality, something that happens constantly in our daily interaction with interfaces. This contribution is part of the publication and research project of Open! about sense of touch in the digital age.
Please check out this link for Jan Robert Leegte's Drop Shadow.
Artist contribution – March 21, 2020
Detour World contains the tactility of a digital map, nostalgically planning a route we have travelled before. With restricted international travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these dreams of walking the planet take place in a different light. The default route is set to Mark Zuckerberg’s daily commute as suggested by Google Maps. While Facebook and Google discuss making user data available to combat an infectious disease, the bright technological future fades like an old photograph. With each browser rendering this trip differently, we encourage you to travel your own route through memories of when the world seemed open and at your fingertips, while in lockdown. Detour World is part of a series of essays and artist contributions that together form an interdisciplinary study into how we feel and touch in our technologically mediated, dematerialized digital cultures and how this is expressed in our social and artistic practices.
Please check out this link for Constant Dullaart's Detour World.
Essay – January 28, 2020
This essay by art historian and media theorist Kris Paulsen is part of a series of essays and artist contributions that together form an interdisciplinary study into how we feel and touch in our technologically mediated, dematerialized digital cultures and how this is expressed in our social and artistic practices. Paulsen looks to the fantasy of bodiless space to see how our bodies were pulled into that place and to see how we might make visible our fleshy capture in immaterial space.
On 8 February 1996, cyberspace was pronounced ‘free’. With all of the bombast of a revolutionary founding father shouting down the old lords, John Perry Barlow, Grateful Dead lyricist turned internet civil liberties activist and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, declared cyberspace ‘a new home of mind’, free from the sovereignty, tyranny and authority of nations. To ‘the governments of the Industrial World, [those] weary giants of flesh and steel’, he declared: ‘Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.’1 To get into this new world, however, we would have to leave our bodies – our matter – behind. This was the price to pay for liberty, but Barlow and other ‘cyber-utopians’ did not figure it as a great loss. Freedom from the body meant not only freedom from physical coercion and laws, but also from the trappings of race, class, gender and sex, as well as all of the prejudice and privilege attached to those embodied markings and performances. In cyberspace, we could be anything we wanted; we could be anonymous; we could be no one.[…]
Interview – January 17, 2020
The remainder of the Emirates’ cool breeze welcomed curator and scholar Claire Tancons’ Look for Me All Around You, one of the three independently curated platforms of Sharjah Biennial 14, in early March last year. Identified by the biennial-going international art crowd to possess ‘a strong performative bent’1, the reading consistently aligns with Tancons’ methodology in relocating the act of looking ‘towards the aural’ and in reiterating the space of feeling in the vibrations of the echo within the infrastructures of global exhibition-making.
Look for Me All Around You produced 27 new commissions for the biennial’s title Leaving the Echo Chamber, a familiar call for critical consciousness and action in our disjunctive historical moment of diminishing democratic values and invigorating fascist possibilities. Tancons’ diasporic work-in-situ has enabled her to form a curatorial milieu in performance that traces and highlights a scholarship that privileges African diasporic practices. With the positive valence of neoliberal mobility and networking, Tancons has smuggled these modes of decentering and othering curatorial methodologies in emerging biennials and large-scale productions. For Sharjah Biennial, these commitments have been tested in the sites of an emirate co-evolving and forming its structures and constraints of what a contemporary civil society could be.
In this interview, conducted between January and December 2019, the task of understanding Tancons’ practice and Sharjah Biennial platform is a deliberate measure of coinciding her inquiries and proposals with other narratives of redemption and resistance, i.e., all the way south to insular South East Asia. This chance is a collaborative opportunity of deepening counter-histories, pronouncing the utopic aspiration for supremacy yet knowingly keen on its status as a virtually unstable fellowship of strategies and positions. The disaffection with the dominant nomenclature of […]
Interview – December 5, 2019
Climate change seems intangible – nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It is entangled with everything and everyone. Against this backdrop, the challenge is to grasp its causes in the interconnections between ecosystems and communal, state and global structures. Ultimately, possibilities must be explored to tackle climate change from within such interconnections. In the following interview, Fiji-based poet and philosopher Sudesh Mishra shares his thoughts on indigenous cosmologies as sources of inspiration vis-à-vis environmental havoc.
Krystian Woznicki: In a recent paper you write: ‘If modernity defines itself through a process whereby it relationally relegates to areas of darkness what is, in fact, constitutively necessary to it, then it is time to shine a light on these dark areas in order to transform the “death drive” driving surplus accumulation.’1 Speaking of relegating to areas of darkness what is, in fact, constitutively necessary to neoliberal modernity, I would like to focus on an aspect that you repeatedly address in your work: the fact that humans lack a sense of taking part, something you call ‘human apartness’. In my view, this lack is constitutive of the neoliberal subject that has been established as decoupled from others, even decoupled from the rest of the world, if not from the world as such. Could you say more about this problem?
Sudesh Mishra: At some point in our very brief history, we decided to stop thinking of ourselves as being a participatory component in an ever-changing assemblage – or, more precisely, zoē-assemblage – that includes other entities on the planet, organic and inorganic forms: frogs, trees, rain, stones, fish, light, bacteria, dust, et […]
Artist contribution – September 11, 2019
To date, critiques of technology have been focused on the environmental harm caused by sourcing the raw materials for, and the manufacturing, shipping and disposing of, our hardware. There is an urgent need, however, to scrutinize the environmental and psychological impacts of our ever-accumulating software and data waste. Undertaken as part of the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (KABK) Research Group 2018, Niels Schrader uses online tools and published online media in combination with site immersion and visual analysis to understand more fully what happens when the resources needed to create, share and store our daily output of 2,5 quintillion bytes of so-called ‘virtual’ data encroach on the physical environment.
Editorial – August 2, 2019
Each year the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague makes provision for a selected group of its tutors and staff to work on a self-defined research project in the context of a Research Group. The nature of these projects varies, from research driven by and through one’s own artistic or design practice to historical or theoretical research; from material or technological research to academic research in preparation for a PhD trajectory. In monthly meetings, participants discuss progress and questions related to methods for research and analysis, theoretical concepts and modes of dissemination. Alice Twemlow, lector Design at the KABK and Chair of the 2018 Research Group, introduces (image) essays by Rachel Bacon, Rosa te Velde, Niels Schrader and Donald Weber, which are distillations of individual research projects and are published in two batches.1
Taking as our metaphorical conceit the geological concept of fault lines — fractures in the planet’s surface, along which movement and displacement occurs — we addressed the changing contours of contemporary art and design research as the borders of disciplines shift.2 How does art and design research inhabit the fissures between disciplinary realms and negotiate the discontinuities between them? What is the frictional or generative potential of such interstitial positioning? Are there particular qualities and capacities of art and design-specific research tools and methods and what do they allow for?
The concept of fault lines allowed us to map and interpret an array of pressing issues, including the convergence of airspace and dataspace, a colonial-modernist bias in design history, digital pollution, and climate change. How can we reveal and resist the expanding geographies of drone surveillance? What are some strategies for critiquing design history’s Eurocentric modes of knowledge production? What are the environmental and psychological impacts of our ever-accumulating data detritus? What is the role and position of the artist in a time of ecological crisis?[…]
Essay – August 1, 2019
In this research project, undertaken as part of the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (KABK) Research Group 2018, artist Rachel Bacon explores the relationship between mark-making in drawing and in mining, hoping to develop a drawing practice capable of responding to the ecological crisis. Cultural theorist T. J. Demos believes that environmentally engaged art has the potential to address and rethink the complexity of relations between economics, politics, technology, culture and law.1 An alternative to this activist position – a more emotive practice, of adjusting to and mourning the effects of the calamity – is posited in the work of Timothy Morton and Heather Davis among others. During the past year Bacon has been investigating where and how her drawing practice is situated along this spectrum between activism and grieving
Despite the overwhelming nature of the ecological crisis, my initial reaction when confronted with an open-pit coal mine – surely one of the most physical and visceral symbols of climate change – was, I must admit, to be somewhat underwhelmed. Thinking about the relationship between the mark-making of drawing and mining had led me one cold, rainy week in November 2018 to Western Europe’s largest open-pit coal mine, near Cologne in Germany. This mine, the Tagebau Hambach, is one of a number of lignite (brown coal) mines in the area. It supplies fuel to the second and third worst polluters on Climate Action Network’s ‘Dirty Thirty’ list of the top CO2-emitting power plants in Europe.2
As I stood at the brink of the mine, I tried to make sense of it. At almost forty-five square kilometres of surface area, the mine is so big it almost resembles a feature of the natural landscape, like a river valley. Lignite, an especially dirty form of coal to burn, was created from ancient forests and bogs. The brown coal lies like a huge black stroke at the bottom of the mine, five hundred metres deep, only this drawing has been accomplished by massive digging machines. To get to the layer of brown coal, the excavators have to remove layers of topsoil, called […]
Interview – August 1, 2019
Last December, anthropologist Dr Adelante Revoleis presented their findings on Design History during the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (KABK) Fault Lines research symposium in The Hague. In this interview, we speak with them on their forthcoming book Advancements in the Study of the Peculiarities of the Rise and Fall of Design History in the Late 20th and Early 21st Century.
Rosa te Velde: Could you tell us a little bit about your research on Design History?
Adelante Revoleis: Until recently, we have only been able to research the phenomenon of ‘Design History’ through the sparse archival materials that would reveal themselves. Some time ago I coincidentally stumbled upon a dusty collection of ‘Design History’ books. Around the same time, the Long-Lost Internet Repository Project granted access to their findings and there I found a collection of Design History articles, mainly from journals such as the Journal of Design History (1977–2029) and I(1979–2024) – a bizarre and extraordinary find, which proved that there was once an academic field called Design History, predominantly practised in the Former West by a small group of specialists. I wondered who they were, what this mysterious practice was all about and why it was so short-lived. This type of investigation will contribute to our understanding of the remnants of practices of modernity/coloniality in the first half of the 21st century.
How would you define the field of Design History?
Despite its potentially wide-ranging interests, Design History was a marginal field of academic inquiry. Since its departure from art history in the 1970s, it claimed that it was concerned with contextual investigations into the social, economic and political aspects of various design objects. Yet, there seemed to be a discrepancy between its self-description and what it actually was: an exclusive canon of sanctified Design Knowledge. Some Design Historians advocated for a dethroning of the designer as the most important figure in the design narrative in favour of a focus on the context of design objects, and on the consumer, while others pushed to broaden its geographic reach, and expand its subject matter. But all of this proved to be too radical for most Design Historians and the Design History textbooks remained largely focused on the Grand Design History Narratives, which included William Morris, Walter Gropius, The Bauhaus, Charles and Ray Eames, and a long list of Scandinavian and Italian […]
Improvvisare, pubblicare, resistere!
June 28, 2019; 15:30 – 17:30Controra - Oreri Iniziativa Editoriale
Making Nothing Out of Something: Improvising writing and publishing in relation to practices of resistance is the 2018–2019 Open! Coop Academy study group, part of DAI Roaming Academy. After a year of study and intensive gatherings in Arnhem, Epen, St. Erme, Cagliari, Dessau and Berlin, we will share our inquiries and makings with the public.
How can the collective task of writing enhance the singularity of our individual voices, as a social space where political desires can be improvised, embodied and shared? Improvisation as the core of a language for a community yet to come. A community of resistant bodies that perpetually claims its geographical infinitude, its unwritten histories, oppressed traditions, and bastard languages.
As roaming, gentrifying, squatting, culturally entangled, privileged yet marginalised members of this study group, we take inspiration from activist movements, both historically and contemporary, to self-publish alternatives to the current techno capitalist cultural hegemony. How do we define our tools, methods and ethos to act out a queer possibility, deliberate on our current dislocated locality and post-colonial condition? How can we produce objects that operate as comrades and set the stage for a discussion that can narrate our protests? With Fare niente da qualcosa: improvvisare, pubblicare, resistere! we invite you to join us for a gathering, performance, reading, conversation and exhibition in which we aim to reflect and embody improvisation as ‘a movement, a dehiscence, a quickenin […]
Artist contribution – June 16, 2019
This lexicon is a collaborative textual and visual work composed of contributions by the participants of the Open! COOP study group Making Nothing Out of Something: Improvising Writing and Publishing in Relation to Practices of Resistance. The study group – part of DAI Roaming Academy 2018–2019 – took improvisation as the substantive starting point for both making and thinking. Improvisation was reflected about and embodied as generative and relational, and as a catalyst for artistic and social experiment and practice, specifically experimental writing and publishing.
Interview – June 2, 2019
Avery F. Gordon’s The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins (2018)1 is an impressive, kaleidoscopic and genre-bending book based on Gordon’s more than two decades of research into utopian traditions that have been systematically excluded from the Western canon. Organized in the form of an archive of actual and fictional experiences of living and working together differently in the shadows of power, Gordon’s book makes a vast array of subjugated knowledge visible and available for appropriation. The Hawthorn Archive that has initially been a space for encounter and the preservation of precarious materials, and that now has been turned into a book, unearths neglected utopian traditions that are less about some distant future place that would have to be built according to people’s ideals than living and working differently in the here and now of the communal as a way of realizing co-existence across the boundaries of space, time and, above all, social groups. Here, those who were struggling for the commons (and against enclosures) in seventeenth-century England are a major reference point for a variety of other movements, including abolitionism and decolonialism.
The recent rise of right-wing populism consolidates the work of post-financial crisis austerity politics: shrinking access to existential resources and economic participation in general is compensated with the promise of national membership. Unsurprisingly, it too propagates the logic of less: ever fewer people are supposed to benefit from the forms of membership that the nation-state represents; ever fewer impulses from the world out there are supposed to influence the nation-state. In short, while austerity rhetoric insists we must tighten our belts, right-wing populist rhetoric claims we must tighten our border controls.
This particular brand of ‘less world’ politics obstructs access to the world. As a consequence, not only is access to the world as it is blocked, but also access to the world as it could be. It is high time to reverse this trend. As the political-discursive ‘world shrinkage’ and the false utopia of the homogeneous nation-state become increasingly normalized under right-wing populism, The Hawthorn Archive provides practical models against world shrinkage and for alternative utopias, especially to false ones. Gordon’s book convincingly shows that world shrinkage is always to a certain degree transcended in the everyday practices of the communal. The Hawthorn Archive is a resource for the Berliner Gazette, entering its twentieth year with a project titled More World, which counters world shrinkage by inviting you to explore together communal tools for planetary challenges. We have a special section open for contributions from all over the world and launched the project in January with a talk by Avery F. Gordon on The Hawthorne […]
Essay – June 1, 2019
The workshop is a popular framework in cultural production that brings together groups of people from different fields in order to (co-)produce knowledge. Situated between work and leisure, workshops are organized within extra-curricular activities, such as symposia, incubator programmes, and innovation labs. Those activities emerge from public cultural institutions, for-profit festivals and congresses, academic conferences, and small non-profit initiatives. Buzzwords like ‘rapid prototyping’ or ‘agility’ promote high-velocity technological development and imply that the workshop format is a highly productive one. From the perspective of design practice and more specifically, by looking at collaborative approaches to technology design, this essay explores the1 workshop’s capacity, or lack thereof, to create critical, constructive conditions for designing technology.
I was asked by one of my design students: ‘Why does everything have to be a workshop these days?’ The question most probably arose out of a certain workshop fatigue after having gone through a whole semester of weekly hands-on workshops during a practice seminar I taught on collaborative making from 2017–2018 in the design department at Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam. However, the question also2 addressed a certain exhaustion of the ‘workshop market’, a workshopization of cultural production, and a general disappointment in what workshops are actually capable of. The format of the workshop offers a framework for social gatherings, producing, and sharing knowledge. However, there seems to be little specificity in articulating its premises, characteristics, and objectives.
Together with the Amsterdam-based collective Hackers & Designers (H&D) I co-founded with artist Selby Gildemacher and software developer James Bryan Graves in 2013, I make critical inquiries into the complexity of technological constructions and their societal implications through collective processes of designing technology. H&D currently has seven members and is only one of many workshop initiatives in the Netherlands that have started organizing extra-curricular bottom-up educational activities outside of the institutional context since 2010 […]