Essay – December 10, 2021
The technological lens of modern medicine focusses on the biological mechanisms of the human body, scanning for malfunctions and deviations from the statistically verified norms of body data. This technological probe is not available for collaboration, nor does it invite feedback from its object of study. It encapsulates information about human health within a closed set of parameters, creating a disembodied biological system, devoid of a social context.
Situated inside the institutional context of the hospital, the living sentient subject of the biomedical lens (the patient) is made passive, rendered incapable of contributing to the interpretation of their own body data. They are required to enact a submissive role in relation to their health, and refrain from sharing the background noise of their lived-body experience. They patiently await the specialist’s pronouncement on their course of action, a pharmaceutical treatment – a hard technology1 engineered through generations of technological observation of cellular misbehaviour, of biological mechanisms analysed in isolation.
The scope and complexity of chronic ill health is often more complex than the scope of the diagnostic tools used to observe and understand it, no matter how sensitive or sophisticated these tools are deemed to be. Furthermore the chronic nature of some diseases asks the patient (with or without medicine) to develop a lifelong awareness of the disease and adapt to its needs to improve their health and quality of life. In the same way that the human body adapts to factors that have caused the disease, the diseased human body needs to adapt to its new condition, to re-stabilise and regain a sense of health. Therefore states of health are continuously evolving. I argue that […]
Essay – December 10, 2021
As a documentary photographer whose artistic research practice has focussed on historical imaginations of the African continent in relation to the present, for the KABK research project I looked at materials connected to anthropologist Paul Julien located in the Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. I was guided by the desire to activate Julien’s legacy through ‘collective making’ as a contribution to a more nuanced understanding of the depiction of ‘others’. Since then, I continue to work on the project supported by an NWO grant. In this essay I consider what eight years of working with the Paul Julien collection amounted to. Since the text was written the project website Reframing PJU has been published in the experimental online journal Bridging Humanities. The visuals in this essay are taken from this continuously evolving publication.
Essay – December 10, 2021
Taking part in the KABK Research Group gave me an opportunity to reflect on my role in Foundland Collective and specifically on projects that centre around image collections and archives. Through Foundland Collective, the Syrian designer Ghalia Elsrakbi and I work with political images and narratives in relation to issues of migration and conflict, in projects that often emerge from shared experiences during residency periods and personal encounters with places. The collections and archives we work with can be personal, subjective or alternative. Sometimes the archive is the starting point for our research, sometimes it provides the method and, occasionally it provides the format for an outcome.
For Simba, the Last Prince of Ba’ath Country (2011), we sourced political imagery related to the Syrian conflict from social media platforms. Specifically we looked on Facebook for pro-Assad propaganda made by pro-regime fans. Then we used the format of a publication to analyse, deconstruct and contextualise the visual iconography and the construction of myth within the images as a way to understand the Syrian conflict as it was unfolding and to capture a specific moment in time. Much of the found digital material is no longer available on the internet, highlighting the importance of our compilation and contextualisation of events as they were taking place.
The global proliferation of fake news and an increased distrust of media reporting demonstrates a need for frameworks that allow journalists more time and funding for factual reporting. This is especially true for journalists in challenging regions, such as Syria, where priority should be given to critical and nuanced narration. The role of storytelling related to news events will have significant consequences for prosecution cases and truth-seeking efforts. Artists, too, have a role to play in following media events and providing perspectives on media-related material. Foundland […]
Editorial – December 10, 2021
As part of its commitment to building a research culture, each year the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK) supports a selection of tutors to develop research projects through and by means of, or adjacent to, their art and design practices. The projects are distinct but often connected by shared thematic currents, methods or approaches.
During the 2019–2020 KABK Research Group, four of the tutor-researchers addressed images and image collections and how they might be reread and reframed through art and design research. Photographer Andrea Stultiens worked with the archive of the anthropologist Paul Julien located in the Fotomuseum in Rotterdam, guided by the desire to activate Julien’s problematic legacy through ‘collective making’ as a contribution to a more nuanced understanding of the depiction of ‘others’. Graphic designer Lauren Alexander assessed the artistic work she had produced together with Ghalia Elsrakbi under the name Foundland Collective, which uses existing historical and institutional archive material but also actively generates subjective and participatory ‘counter-archives’ to provide a home for marginalised perspectives left out of dominant historical and media narratives. Artist Marthe Prins identified an archive of photographs taken by Schengen border security guards submitted to a photography competition, and problematised the aestheticisation of the ‘operational image’ through image analysis, performance and speculative fiction. Architect and artist Lyndsey Housden tackled an archive of images that resided partially in her own body. Working with movement practices she sought to counter the fixed-state, predictive and disembodied technological imaging deployed by Western medicine with imagery and an imaginary that derives more directly from the lived-body experience of a chronic […]
Review – May 27, 2021
Just when it seemed like we were waking up from the wildest accelerationist dreams of full automation, frictionless consumption and entirely mediated posthuman existences, the pandemic sent us scrambling back to them. Industry analysts predict that technological transformations of work that were to unfold in the next twenty years – warehouse robotics, telecommuting, the platformization of services – will now occur in the next five. So rapid is this restructuring of capitalism that it becomes challenging to theorize, and organizing a coherent political challenge to it difficult to even envision. Yet the artists assembled into the exhibition Silent Works attempted to do both during a winter school last November hosted by the Berliner Gazette, a hybrid art-media-publishing outfit that has been at the forefront of critical digital culture since the dotcom era.
Silent Works is not just a project that is critical of what the organizers label ‘AI-capitalism’. In puncturing the fantasies of seamless machinic processes with the perpetual reminder that ‘automated’ systems are held together by the cogs of human labourers, it attempts to go a step further into imagining what kinds of rebellions might take place and what alternatives to capitalism might emerge from such resistance. In this, it is political in a more straightforward way: it identifies subjects of antagonism to digital capitalism (at least in potentia) in the human figures embedded in its systems of control and value creation, and it investigates the possibilities for radical challenges from these subjects. It is also a rather massive endeavour, encompassing dozens of artists and collaborators from around the world into a panoply of websites, manifestos, Vimeo and Soundcloud links, and the odd infodump. I cannot hope to address each piece – indeed, I can’t shake the suspicion I’ve completely missed some of them. Such are the vicissitudes of the infinite choices of The Online: eternal FOMO.
Many of the exhibition pieces are highly conceptual, resting on reams of the latest critical research into algorithmic management, outsourced clickwork, tech-driven gentrification and other morbid symptoms of our cyberpunk present. Interviews with activists, researchers and theorists of these phenomena from the […]
Essay – January 21, 2021
In June 2020, the Vienna Declaration on Artistic Research was published by seven European umbrella organizations for higher art education (representing art schools, conservatories, architecture, and film schools), two art school accreditation bodies, the public arts sector organization Culture Action Europe and the Society for Artistic Research (SAR). The Vienna Declaration is the first international policy document on artistic research, meant to provide concepts and definitions for integrating artistic research into European higher education. According to its authors, it addresses “political decision-makers, funding bodies, higher education and research institutions as well as other organisations and individuals catering for and undertaking AR”. Although the Vienna Declaration will likely become a future constitution and framework for artistic research in European art schools, no public debates of its content seem to have taken place in the six months after its publication. Florian Cramer and Nienke Terpsma think that it is time to speak up – and fundamentally disagree with its concept and framing of artistic research.
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?[…]