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'Superconversations: Machines that Matter' symposium live coverage, 12/11-12/12


@karenarchey or maybe art experts might double as experts about other things (which the usually already are), and artist-activists might assume additional social roles (which they usually already do)? I really like the allusion to wave/particle duality of light here, as well as all of the food-based projects. We are all usually doing more than one thing at once (like many machines, to be sure); perhaps we just too rarely come to sit at the same dinner table.


@ian_e_k Well it seemed to me that conflict kitchen became an example for Sholette precisely because it embodied a paradox: workers there unionized to be able earn minimum wage, something that perhaps embodies some of the political contradictions that Sholette was looking for in these examples? I wonder if the artist and activist sometime become a Jekyll and Hyde split. Are these two sides sitting at the same table?


We’re just coming back from break. Next up is a screening of Anton Vidokle and Oleksiy Radynski’s film “A Museum of Immortality.”


Hello! Here is the schedule for today and author abstracts and bios below:

:arrow_right: LIVESTREAM HERE: :arrow_left:

Saturday, December 13, 3–7pm

3pm: Science Fiction Panel
Renata Lemos Morais (via Google Hangout), Ben Woodard, Ed Keller, McKenzie Wark, and Mary Dery
Moderated by Jason Adams

5pm: Screening
Julieta Aranda, Stealing one’s own corpse (An alternative set of footholds for an ascent into the dark), 2014

5:30pm: Computation Panel
Antonia Majaca (via Google Hangout), Ekaterina Zavyalova, T’ai Smith (via Google Hangout), Troy Conrad Therrien, and Reza Negarestani
Moderated by Tony Yanick

Renata Lemos Morais: The Marvelous Realism of “Worlds Beyond Science”

What would happen if Meillassoux’s extro-science fiction would instead be understood as extro-science fact? This talk explores the concept of “worlds beyond science” in the context of the wave-like fluctuation of fact vs. fiction in actual nanoscience and technology, and proposes that Latin American marvelous realism and Amerindian cannibal metaphysics are a privileged universe of discourse to come to terms with the fantastic realities of “worlds beyond science,” be they factual or fictional. The fusion between what is real and what is imaginary is an essential characteristic of nanoscience’s discourse, and has been a constant in the marvelous realism of our postcolonial literature and in the cosmologies of our Amazonian tribes.

Renata Lemos Morais is a Lecturer in Media and Communication at Deakin University, Melbourne, and a member of CIRET, The International Center of Transdisciplinary Research.

Ben Woodard: Augmentative Idealism, Three Forms of Science-Fictional Time

Woodard’s talk argues that science fiction is not a future-oriented genre in narratological terms alone, but that it involves an asymmetricalization of time in general toward futurity. This augmentative model of time, Woodard will argue, is an achievement of philosophical idealism, an idealism that undergirds the socio-political simulations of science fiction in its strongest forms. Taking numerous films and stories as examples, Woodard argues that Science Fiction is a generic model for the real ideality of time.

Ben Woodard is a recent PhD graduate in Theory and Criticism from Western University. His doctoral work focused on the relationship between idealism, pragmatism, and naturalism in Schelling. He is an instructor at the New Centre for Research & Practice, an associate of the Laboratory for Ontology (UK branch), and a co-founder of P.S., a philosophy collective at the Performing Arts Forum in St. Erme, France.

Ed Keller: “She’s a Killer Queen”: Cosmopolitical Gestures and the Swarming of Infinite Space

A consideration of alternate forms of collectivity and compassion, in the context of planet-scaled or alien computational systems. Is there a point of balance between mutual aid and mutually assured destruction? What might constitute the “cosmic commons” (c.f. Hanson) and what alternate cognitive frameworks might we need to map it? Does anything human make it out of the near future? Orbiting the film Under the Skin (Glazer, 2014); informed by a range of hard sci-fi including Peter Watts’s Blindsight and Echopraxia; Lem’s Solaris; Vandemeer’s Annihilation; and Robin Hanson’s The Rapacious Hardscrapple Frontier.

Ed Keller is director of the Center for Transformative Media at The New School, and Associate Professor at Parsons The New School for Design. Designer, professor, writer, musician, and multimedia artist. Prior to joining Parsons, he taught at Columbia University GSAPP (1998–2010) and SCIArc (2004–09). With Carla Leitão he co-founded AUM Studio, an architecture and new media firm that has produced residential projects, competitions, and new media installations in Europe and the US.

McKenzie Wark: The Anti-Robinsonade

It is ironic that one of the most consistent refutations of the myth of “Robinson,” of a bourgeois subject making itself alone on a desert island, comes from Kim Stanley Robinson. Here Wark will talk about Robinson’s later fiction as allegories for planetary processes of enduring self-making by assemblages of species, information, machines, and information.

McKenzie Wark is the author of The Beach Beneath the Street (Verso), Telesthesia (Polity), A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard, 2004), Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (Verso, 2015), and various other things. He teaches in the Liberal Studies MA at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Mark Dery: Afrofuturism Reloaded: Fifteen Theses in Fifteen Minutes

When Mark Dery coined the term “Afrofuturism” in his 1993 essay “Black to the Future,” he drew on the guerrilla semiotics of Henry Louis Gates’s Signifying Monkey; the radical science fiction of Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler; hip-hop envisioned as black America’s answer to the white hacker culture whose battle cry was “the street finds its own uses for things”; and the Dubois-ian notion of rebooting lost historical memory, in a willfully amnesiac nation, as an essential precondition for any black Futurism that dreams of storming Tomorrowland to demand a say in the myths that constrain or liberate our visions of a better world. Now, at a moment when the Afrofuturist meme has gone viral and the marketers, hipsters, and hangers-on are closing in, it’s not a minute too soon to ask: What does Afrofuturism have to say to a world where #BlackLivesMatter is rising up; the state-sanctioned murder of black men by cops is an everyday occurrence; and a billionaire with an unconvincing comb-over is rousing the rabble with the sort of blood-and-soil racism that had played so well in Munich beer halls in 1923? In fifteen minutes’ worth of probes and provocations, Dery asks urgent questions about Afrofuturism, the politics of myth, and the future present.

Mark Dery is a cultural critic. He coined the term “Afrofuturism,” popularized the concept of “culture jamming,” and has published widely on media, technoculture, science fiction, American mythologies, and masculinity (and its discontents). He has been a professor of journalism at NYU, a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow at UC Irvine, a Hertog author in Columbia University’s Hertog Fellowship program, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome. His books include The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century. His latest book is the essay collection I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams.

Jason Adams is an organizer at the New Centre for Research & Practice

Screening: Julieta Aranda, Stealing one’s own corpse (An alternative set of footholds for an ascent into the dark), 2014

Julieta Aranda is an artist and editor of e-flux journal.

Computation Panel

Antonia Majaca: The Incomputable

Foucault opens the The Order of Things by quoting an ancient Chinese scheme of classification, dividing animals into numerous nonsensical categories. Pointing that the Western schemes of philosophy and science were no less arbitrary and no more true, Foucault called these schemes episteme or discursive regimes that set the limits of what can be said, thought, and known. The only escape from these regimes, according to Foucault, is in writing/art, and in brief moments of transition from one episteme to another, as was the shift from the episteme of representation to the episteme of man at the turn of the 19th century. In the periods of such radical shifts, a new kind of art is possible, free from governing conceptual schemes. In our time, human-machine interaction and the rapid development of algorithmic operationality is reconfiguring the very notion of knowledge, generating an entirely new epistemic space which in turn puts art in an entirely new position. If our age the age in which knowledge is finding its new form and what the implications of this change might be on art’s epistemic scope? If we assume that algorithmic govermentality introduces a new discursive regime, i.e. that we are indeed witnessing a shift into the episteme of the algorithm, does that shift open up a chance for the emergence of a new kind of art, resisting the governing conceptual schemes as Foucault would have it?

Antonia Majaca is a researcher and curator and the Visiting Professor at the IZK Institute for Contemporary Art at the Graz University of Technology, where her work focuses on the art-based transdisciplinary research and the epistemology of art in the age of algorithmic governmentality. She recently curated “Memorial For(u)ms: Histories of Possibility” for DAAD and HAU, Berlin and “Knowledge Forms and Forming Knowledge: Limits and Horizons of Transdisciplinary Art-Based Research” at the Halle für Kunst & Medien, Graz. Her three-year research and publishing project “The Incomputable: Art in the Age of Algorithms,” funded by FWF Austrian Science Fund, is currently being developed through an international platform involving Graz University of Technology, Goldsmiths University of London, and the Department of Human and Social Sciences at the University of Naples.

Ekaterina Zavyalova: Decentralized Architecture Office

The Quantified City consists of market-driven platforms, shaping and optimizing space beyond the singular work of an architect for human and nonhuman users. Yet, space-time has been succeeded by absolute synthetic time, since the introduction of the blockchain time-stamping technology. Secured by scarce resources extracted from the Earth, not abstract markets, the blockchain is the rare sign. Architectural creativity is found interstitial to global networks of circulating value. A decentralized architecture office, running on blockchain technology, is a platform for distributing equity, connections, and tools to regain agency in the city. The architectural transaction evolves to be banked not with mortgage derivatives but with crypto-equity. Exchanges and economies of virtual communities can be applied to a site-specific location by the architect, short-circuiting algorithmic paths in space. When reciprocal capture between users occur, the value is stored, traded, and circulated in parallel markets of space.

Ekaterina Zavyalova is an architect and, with Ryan John King and Nick Axel, founder of FOAM—a decentralized architecture office (ĐAO) working to apply blockchain technologies to the production of the built environment and office-form. FOAM recently realized a partner installation, “The Tropical Mining Station,” and symposium, “The Art of Economy,” for the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial. Ekaterina’s work has explored the relationship between high-tech and craft, the use of recycled materials, automation in design, alternative funding strategies, community organization, and cryptocurrency.

T’ai Smith: Branding as Computation, or Epigenetic Mutation

Recently it was discovered that a common brand of antidepressants could create epigenetic mutations in mice and perhaps also human patients. These blue or yellow gel-cap devices apparently change the way gene proteins attach and replicate, thereby reforming neural links—that is, the way we think about or fashion ourselves as emotional beings. Taking an SSRI every morning does not simply affect this body now, on this day, like changing one’s clothes from Prada to Gucci; it is reformatting the computational logic of my psychical genes. So my psyche is branded and rebranded in keeping with the seasons, and then some future anterior. This is not because I’ve changed styles, but because I’ve restyled these cells and their mode of replication. In fact, it doesn’t matter which brand is “chosen,” but that branding writ large is the mutable substrate onto which I am and will be inscribed. Affect follows form.

T’ai Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. She is the author of Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), and her articles have appeared in Art Journal, Art Practical, Grey Room, Journal of Modern Craft, Texte zur Kunst, and Zeitschrift für Medien-und Kulturforschung.

Troy Conrad Therrien: Oedipus NeXT

The idea that the entire universe might be a large computer carries no shock value for architects. Architecture has always claimed a special relationship to a coherent nature as the mediator between humans and the cosmos, the means by which the universality of order stretching from one to the other could be represented at their interface. For computing to lay claim to the universe, then, it must go through architecture. The history of computers bears this out as a strategy of eating architecture. From the IBM System/360 to the NeXT Computer to Ethereum, a contemporary “planetary scale computer,” each in turn has served to metabolize more and more of the domain of architecture in the march toward a digital world. Architecture thus remains a cipher with which to project and evaluate the potential effects of computation at large.

Troy Conrad Therrien is a Curator of Architecture and Digital Initiatives at the Guggenheim. He was previously adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia University, where he co-founded the Architecture Online Lab, and is co-founder of Therrien–Barley, a design and innovation consultancy. Initially trained as a computer engineer, and later in architecture design, history, and theory, Therrien’s current work focuses on the relationship between architecture, communication technology, and political economy through a curatorial practice that blends traditional exhibitions with other experimental forms of programming.

Reza Negarestani: Cognitive Contact with the World

The topic of this presentation is the semantic complexity of cognition and its implications for the program of artificial general intelligence (as in contrast to the classical project of artificial intelligence as primarily focused on syntactic complexity). What I would like to focus on is the computational picture of the semantic complexity and what it takes for a machine to be able to sufficiently come into cognitive contact with itself and the world.

Reza Negarestani is a philosopher. He has contributed extensively to journals and anthologies and lectured at numerous international universities and institutes. His current philosophical project is focused on rationalist universalism beginning with the evolution of the modern system of knowledge and advancing toward contemporary philosophies of rationalism, their procedures as well as their demands for special forms of human conduct.

Tony Yanick is an organizer at the New Centre for Research & Practice.


Ben Woodard spoke about the relationship of time to science fiction, which expands and contracts through literature and television narratives. I have to admit that a lot of this went over my head (hopefully Ben will share his talk notes with us here).

His presentation made me think about time, science fiction, and the space race, an IRL extension of science fiction, which seemed to accelerate time in fear of nuclear death.


Renata Morais: spoke of nanoscience and nanofiction and how her nanoscience studies opened “portals” to reconnect to her own Brazilian culture and amerindian thought. Quantum mechanics brings forth the limits of science, blurring fact and fiction, in a double narrative existence of sorts. Anthropologist Vivieros de Castro claims that to quantum mechanics was left the role to ontologize in the West. The author considers that Melliassoux’s description of “worlds beyond science” can refresh this discussion, in a way that the author relates to literary traditions magical/marvelous realism. A further relation is sketched with amerindian cosmologies’s multiverses. Although there is an undeniable beauty in this type of comparison it seems to me that the bigger resistance to this type of comparison has come from the scientific community and deepened in Sokal-type debates of postmodernism. I would be curious to understand—perhaps in the Q&A—if the author feels this type of relation is attracting the interest in the nanoscience community as well? Specially at a time when so much of our future will be conditioned by nano computation and climatology (two scientific areas that come to mind as the COP21 comes to and end).


McKenzie Wark is up next. He speaks about Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, which he says successfully melds together many contexts of science and utopianism. Science fiction becomes a way that different sciences can meet each other on a singular plane, he says, for example, engineering can meet biotech, etc.

What if the bourgeois novel was just fantasy literature, he asks. No one in a bourgeois novel asks who takes out the trash. What if the utopian tradition was relentlessly practical? The bourgeois novel gives up on addressing the practicalities of utopianism, which makes it seem like an extension of science fiction. What he proposes is a realism of the practice and the apparatus that gives up the realism of the object and a desire for ontology.


Ed Keller: sketches a categorization of the human-alien interactions in science fiction and what sci-fi may offer as food for thought in considering the inhuman and the posthuman. The author read from Peter Hanson, Peter Watts, and Karl Schroeder, and among other points brought up Schroeder’s thalience—a type of existence in which entities become thalient if they succeed “in developing autonomously their own categories for understanding the world” which seemed to respond well to Renata Morais’s presentation. Toward the conclusion he proposed a type of gradation in different types of comsopolitics present in sci-fi: dark, neutral (Primo Levi), orthogonal (Hugo DeGaris).


Speaking now is Mark Dery, a white cultural critic from Boston who apparently coined the term “Afrofuturism” in 1993. He speaks about the term, and shows some Youtube videos of black people dancing that emblematize Afrofuturism, including one by Janelle Monae. She is referred to as a “hip hop Harriet Tubman” as Dery makes connections between the plight of slaves in America with that of androids, as the etymological root of “robot” comes from the Czech “robota,” or “forced labor.” “Androids are the new other,” he says. Afrofuturism is less concerned with knocking the human off its ontological perch, says Dery, but more concerned with forging relationships with other species, whether they be post-human or animal.

I’ll push back on this presentation a little bit and say that I’m a little confused about a white man’s proprietary relationship with a concept that involves the cultural imagining of black bodies. Isn’t it the work of black people to write and theorize their own bodies?


I have to push back against your push back. I think it is perfectly fine if knowledgable people who who are not from a particular identity address subjects that are traditionally associated with that identity. I think Mark’s presentation was totally apt and maybe even better than what some African American scholars have to say about the topic.


Speaking from my own position as female, I think it’s imperative to experience the subject position of a woman if one is to theorize feminism, just as it is imperative to write from the lived experience of a black person when theorizing Afrofuturism. It is the very essence of the project of feminism for women to write women’s own history (see here Helene Cixous), not for men to write the history of women imagined by men (which has already come to pass). The idea of a woman writing her own history, an écriture féminine, has been thought of as a way for women to regain control of and power over their own image, which heretofore had been written and distorted by patriarchal oppression. To say that a white man did it better is to perpetuate men speaking for women, whites speaking for blacks, and the silencing of marginalized groups.


We just finished a screening of Julieta Aranda’s video, “Stealing One’s Own Corpse” (2014). Above is a video of Aranda speaking about her video, which debuted last year at the Berlin Biennale.


Woodard also contrasted versions of futurity in Hegel and Schiller. Edge of Tomorrow was described as a Schillerian take on time, emergent in that respect, in which alien viruses contaminate the present and help navigate loops of recursive video-game presents. I hope I am not misrepresenting Schiller here in the example.


Antonia pouring a glass of Coke out of a half empty 3 liter European bottle, Truly classic!


Antonia Majaca: presented what she called “a couple of threads that might interlace research on the incomputable and the notion of creativity.” Majaca mentions her reservations on the term: it might be reactionary to evoke creativity a modernist and romantic trope—and what I would say a current silicon valley trope as well. Majaca questions “Why connect the computer and the incalculable with artistic creativity?” In the face of algorithmic governmentality we might need to reinvent art. To this end, a governmental, data-mining imagination is characterized as a paranoid imagination searching for the “unknown unknown” (a proposition by scientist William Graham afterwards famously appropriated by Donald Rumsfeld, who shrunk the initial scope of the theory and making it about defense and warfare prediction/preemptive strategies). An artistic or creative imagination, on the other hand, might have more to do with what Deleuze identified in What is the Creative Act? as art’s refusal to communicate (and thus, I am wondering, propose perhaps an uncomputable of sorts?). If I am not mistaken, Jodorowfsky’s Dune was referenced as well in relation to this second type of creative imagination on “unknown unknowns.” (beyond the Rumsfeldian capture). Although there are transdiciplinary theories of creativity such as Kessler’s General Theory of Creativity, Majaca proposes to look at a relationality and mutual recognition such as that that Lenin proposed in What is to be done? That is, how do we keep the whole reciprocity of human machine in mind?


Ekaterina Zavyalova speaks next about reimagining the city in light of innovations in technology. The market drives the production of platforms like AirBnB and Uber, which distort geographies of public and private. While our cities have been shaped to accommodate cars, technological innovations such as Google’s self-driving cars would imagine a variation on that geography. She quotes Steven Shaviro in e-flux journal:

“(The) political economy today is driven by resonating loops of positive feedback. Finance operates according to a transgressive cultural logic of manic innovation, and ever-ramifying metalevels of self-referential abstraction. This easily reaches the point where financial derivatives, for instance, float in a hyperspace of pure contingency, free of indexical relation to any “underlying” whatsoever. At the same time that it floats off into digital abstraction, however, neoliberalism also operates directly on our bodies. Data are extracted from everything we feel, think, and do. These data are appropriated and consolidated, and then packaged and sold back to us.”

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of the blockchain:

“A block chain or blockchain is a permissionless distributed database based on the bitcoin protocol that maintains a continuously growing list of transactional data records hardened against tampering and revision, even by operators of the data store’s nodes. The initial and most widely known application of the blockchain technology is the public ledger of transactions for bitcoin and the inspiration of similar distributed ledgers known as altchains. Each blockchain record is enforced cryptographically and hosted on machines working as data store nodes”

The Decentralized Architecture Office works a little bit like a blockchain or the rhizomatic network of mycelium, in that it produces other projects in various physical locales. DAO renders all users as traders.


I think both Karenanarchy and Dadabase make important points about Dery’s talk. As a cisgender male, there is no way I could theorize feminism as a woman, and I will always of necessity defer to the insights of women. But I think it is also an ethical imperative, because of my privilege, to continually work to be a feminist, an ally, and to the extent that I am a theorist, to theorize what feminism might mean, even if I can only ever do so only as an ally. As a queer person, I must say I look forward to the day when everyone is a queer theorist, though I hope queer folk still will have a special, sacrosanct, and protected relation thereto, particularly to guard against appropriation. Can a white man theorize Afrofuturism? I think a crucial question is whether or not this is appropriation, or a critique which provides anti-racist struggle with crucial materials. As an ally who also gets white privilege, I am only secondarily able to speak to this, and Black folks can say much better than I can. But as someone invested in anti racist struggle and pedagogy, I found his insights constructive and helpful. I can only speak as a Black ally, and I realize I need to allow POC say. But I think alliance puts the oppressed first while still allowing struggle to be with and in common, towards a more just world in ways which do not collapse differences but also does not reify them and which makes alliance and transformations in the most radical sense possible. Until there is no privilege, however, the oppressed will nevessarily come first.


Well said. I think our next step is to spell out the role and the limitations of being an ally!


Troy Conrad Therrien, Curator of Architecture and Digital Initiatives at the Guggenheim, talks about early computers, which have a very special relationship to architecture considering that they were so large that they were either entire walls or rooms. Ousted from Apple, Steve Jobs created NeXT computers. He transformed the universality of the 360 computer into a universality of networked computers, allowing people to work together remotely via the internet. Designed as one sleek square cube, Therrien says that it was clear at its unveiling that this was the building block from which we could build a new world. The NeXT never achieved a great market share, but it did make plain that Jobs’ drag-and-drop software was superior to Apple’s, and as such, Apple bought NeXT and used its software to create its OSX, still in use today.


Reza Negarestani closing the conference with his brilliant paper on computation.