Previous events:


The Automation of Life: Engineering Negative Feedback Control
29 July 2022 in SymbioticA 10am-12:00pm AWST
Warren Mansell
Professor of Mental Health
School of Population Health Curtin University

I recently moved to Perth and took up my post at Curtin University after 16 years at University of Manchester, UK. This talk will combine my interests in mental health, engineering, society, the arts, and the natural world. Beyond my work within the mental health sphere, I research and disseminate the interdisciplinary science and practice of perceptual control theory, bringing together authors from a spectrum of disciplines. I edited a handbook on this topic that was published in 2020, including chapters on robotics, organisational psychology and sociology, and an additional volume of this handbook is due for 2023, including chapters on forum theatre, human action control and cultural anthropology.

In this talk, I plan to demonstrate and explain the process of negative feedback control and show how it is fundamental to life and to many of the technological advances of the last two centuries including steam power, electric signal transmission, temperature regulation and plane flight. Ironically, it has not been robustly or widely applied to human psychology or artificial intelligence. I will explain how it may be applied in these domains through perceptual control theory, and expand upon the societal implications of doing so. Importantly, negative feedback control is automatic, yet I propose that it underpins the development of consciousness in combination with a number of other principles, which I will describe.


SymbioticA’s Automated Cultures Digestion

Date: 10th February 2022

Venue: PS Art Space, Fremantle/Walyalup Western Australia

This was the closing panel of SymbioticA’s one-day in-person meeting entitled The Contestable Food Systems Symposium: an interdisciplinary meeting on the future of food.

This panel discussion with Tarsh Bates, Sarah Collins, Dale Tilbrook and Ionat Zurr moderated by Oron Catts, explored and contested some of the fantasies surrounding tech based future food systems. It focused on the attempts to optimise and standardise food production by removing uncontrollable variables such has sunlight (shorthand for seasonality and weather) and soil (or more generally, what we used to call nature…). In AgTech’s narrative, the means of production are growing ever distant from nature. In a sense AgTech calls for a metabolic rift; a state when a broken nature can no longer provide us with means of existence.


Orkan Telhan Automated Cultures Reading Group session

Speaker: Orkan Telhan

17 Dec 2021

“My talk will be centered on my recent work on Istanbul’s public gardens. I have been trying to unpack these historical gardens from the perspective of the biodiversity in their soil, not vegetation, and what we can learn from a process called “microbial ethnography.” During the talk, I will mainly address the scientific processes for identifying species and comment about the sequencing technologies and how “automation” is shaping the epistemological frameworks of what we imagine a garden is and what else it can be.

I provided Kaldijan’s text to give the audience a brief context about Istanbul’s gardens (which are called “bostans” in Turkish. I will relate to Hartigan’s text as an alternative methodological epistemic approach to relating nonhumans (in his case plants and gardens, in my case microorganisms). And finally Murphy’s text will provide a brief backdrop on my take on what “economization” of life means from a nonhuman perspective. I relate but also diverge from Murphy”.


Automation or Divination: David Tudor the Instrument and his Instruments
Speaker: Pia van Gelder (ANU)

David Tudor is mostly known as the pianist who performed compositions by John Cage but in 1964 he made a deliberate transition from pianist to electronic composer some years after he had formalised his commitment to the Anthroposophical Society, an esotericist group based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner. In this paper I will discuss how Tudor consistently tested the role of the instrument and automation in his performance, interpretation and composition of music by looking specifically at Tudor’s performances of John Cage’s compositions Music of Changes (1951) and Variations II (1961) and Tudor’s own Fluorescent Sound (1964). In the 1950s he became known as “David Tudor the Instrument” for what was understood to be a unique ability to interpret complex and challenging compositions through a virtuosic relationship with the piano. Tudor’s archive reveals that he identified as an instrument both musically and spiritually. Guided by the ideas of Ferruccio Busoni and Rudolf Steiner, to name a few, Tudor saw music as something that could be divined. While his earlier role as a pianist pushed the boundaries of the instrument and performer through the agency that he was afforded by the composers who worked with him, his later approach to “composition inside electronics” gave agency to electronic circuits to perform acts of creative labour. In order to understand the roles of divination or automation in Tudor’s work I examine the creative labour or energies that take place in these works from acts of performance and interpretation with the piano and himself as instrument, to electronic circuits down to their very parts, with vacuum tubes, their ballasts and magnetostriction.

Bio

Pia van Gelder is an electronic artist, researcher and historian. Her art practice and scholarship investigates historical and contemporary conceptions of energy and how these shape our relationship with technology, bodies and our environment. Her recent work has concentrated on the influence of esotericism on electronic instruments of the 20th century. Van Gelder is a lecturer in the School of Art & Design at the Australian National University.

Van Gelder’s work has been shown at the Black Mountain College Museum (NC, USA), Kyoto Art Centre, SuperDeluxe Tokyo, ISEA, Langgeng Art Foundation and iCan in Yogyakarta. Her work has been commissioned by Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Performance Space and Carriageworks. Her practice often involves designing and building electronic instruments that are presented in performance and interactive installation contexts. Van Gelder performs live at events and festivals including Liquid Architecture with a number of different sound and audio-visual projects. She curates and facilitates events and artist run initiatives including Dorkbot Sydney, which she founded in 2006, Moduluxxx, a festival of modular synthesis and Serial Space, an experimental art space that she codirected from 2010 to 2013. Often traversing the spaces of transdisciplinary and speculative art, her work has been discussed in recent critical texts including Prudence Gibson’s The Plant Contract, Art’s Return to Vegetal Life (Brill, 2018), Peter Weibel’s Sound Art, Sound as a Medium of Art (MIT, 2019).

Her writing has been recently published in the Journal of Sonic Studies (16, Materials of Sound), with Caleb Kelly, she has co-authored a chapter of the forthcoming 3rd edition of Nicolas Collins, Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking (Routledge) and coedited a forthcoming collection Feminist, Queer, Anticolonial Propositions for Hacking the Anthropocene: Archive (Open Humanities Press), with Jennifer Mae Hamilton, Sue Reid, and Astrida Neimanis.

Falling
Speaker: Sean Dockray (ANU)

Falling is, perhaps, the most fundamental form of automation in creative practices. In Robert Morris’s 1970 essay, “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: The Search for the Motivated,” he describes Donatello’s use of gravity in _Judith and Holofernes_ as an early precedent for automated art-making. Falling emphasizes the moment after motivation tips over into action, when external forces take over, the world is let in. My presentation will jump off from Morris’s treatment of automation in this essay and the way in which falling opens up to the possibility of both an unfortunate accident and a virtuosic “controlled loss of control,” and it will land, perhaps awkwardly, in dance. Morris was the ex-husband of artist, dancer, and choreographer, Simone Forti, whose sense of kinaesthetic awareness allows for a richer understanding of control through choreographic delegation. I am hoping that spending some time thinking about falling can unsettle the resigned feeling of participatory inevitability that automated algorithmic culture often gives me.

Bio

Sean Dockray is an artist and writer whose work explores the politics of technology, with a particular emphasis on artificial intelligences and the algorithmic web. He is a founding director of the Los Angeles non-profit Telic Arts Exchange, and initiator of knowledge-sharing platforms, The Public School and AAAARG.ORG. Sean is on the Board of Directors of the Melbourne non-profit arts organisation, West Space.

Recent exhibitions include Eavesdropping at City Gallery, Wellington (2019); OPEN SCORES: How to program the commons at panke.gallery, Berlin (2019); and Part of the Labyrinth, 10th Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (2019). Recent performances and presentations include “Patent Futures” at the Automated Culture Symposium (2019), hosted by Monash’s Culture Media Economy group; and “Automation Takes Control” at the University of Melbourne’s Data, Systems and Society Research Network conference on unstructured data (2019).His written essays address topics such as artificial intelligence (Artlink), online education (Frieze), the militarisation of universities (in Contestations: Learning from Critical Experiments in Education), book scanning (Fillip), traffic control (Cabinet), and radio (Volume).

The Public School (for Architecture), in partnership with common room, was awarded The New York Prize Fellowship by the Van Alen Institute and was supported by the performance biennial, Performa. As a research fellow at the Post-Media Lab at Leuphana University, he explored the physical infrastructure of the sharing economy, focusing on Facebook’s northern European datacenter. His practice-led PhD at the University of Melbourne, Performing Algorithms: Automation and Accident investigated how artists might stage encounters with the algorithms driving our post-industrial, big-data-based, automatic society. Through a series of expanded lecture performances, it sought to discover ways in which to advance new critical positions within a totalizing technical apparatus whose very design preempts it. Between reappraisals of generative art and glitch – two approaches favored by technologically engaged artists – the project identified “not working” as both accident and a condition of labour under automation. The research offers an expanded notion of the essay, understood not as a form confined to the printed page but as a methodology expanded to lecture performances, installations, videos, chatbots, and neural networks, where writing, scripting, and coding interweave. Such essays collapse distanced description in order to set the algorithmic machines into motion.


Dressing Animals, Governing Files, Managing Traffic: Habits of Automation

Speaker: Gunalan Nadarajan

Recorded: 22 October 2021

Historical and contemporary discussions of automation have been overly focused on its technological instantiations, specifically on its mechanical and industrial instances at the expense of the ways in which automation is embedded in and programmed into practices, discourses and materialities that are seemingly ‘non-technological’. It is proposed that automation should be (re)conceived in an expanded way as a constellation of elements through which cultures are produced and structured to predispose specific behaviors and material effects; specifically, as structures and programs for the deferral of decisions and actionsdeferral to other things, other occasions, and other people. Thus, automation is framed as spatio-temporal and socio-technical programming rather than as referring simply and only to its mechanical instances and outcomes. It will be argued that automation historically emerged from and continues to evolve amidst the shifting mobilizations and disarticulations of the biomachinic interface; the different and culturally-specific technological devices, industrial machinations and technical discourses that have come to be associated with automation; the efforts of organizations to simultaneously and sometimes counterproductively appropriate and substitute labor power in the guises of productivity, efficiency, welfare and duty; the changing philosophical, neurological, psychological, legal, and ethical conceptions of intentionality and action including notions of free will, autonomy, intelligence and habit; and the governmental and infrastructural programs that regulate conduct. My research seeks to excavate this expanded notion of automation drawing on and reframing a range of disparate historical and contemporary examples. It is suggested that this revised notion of automation enables a more productive perspective to critically retool and creatively reimagine its possibilities and problems.

Gunalan Nadarajan, an art theorist and curator working at the intersections of art, science and technology, is Dean and Professor at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. His publications include Ambulations (2000), Construction Site (edited; 2004) and Contemporary Art in Singapore (co-authored; 2007), Place Studies in Art, Media, Science and Technology: Historical Investigations on the Sites and Migration of Knowledge (co-edited; 2009), The Handbook of Visual Culture (co-edited; 2012) and over 100 book chapters, catalogue essays, academic articles and reviews. His writings have also been translated into 16 languages. He is on the editorial board of the book series, Technicities, Edinburgh University Press and the journal, Cultural Politics (Duke University Press). He has curated many international exhibitions including Ambulations(Singapore, 1999), 180KG (Jogjakarta, 2002), media_city (Seoul, 2002), Negotiating Spaces (Auckland, 2004) and DenseLocal (Mexico City, 2009) and Displacements (Beijing, 2014). He was contributing curator for Documenta XI (Kassel, Germany, 2002) and the Singapore Biennale (2006) and served on the jury of a number of international exhibitions, like ISEA2004 (Helsinki / Talinn), transmediale 05 (Berlin), ISEA2006 (San Jose) andFutureEverything Festival (Manchester, 2009). He was Artistic Co-Director of the Ogaki Biennale 2006, Japan and Artistic Director of ISEA2008 (International Symposium on Electronic Art) in Singapore. In 2004, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art.


Paul Vanouse: Labor, Bodies, Nonhumans & Identity
26 August 2021

Labor, is a multi-sensory, bio-media artwork, by Paul Vanouse, which premiered in 2019. Labor is an exploration of the microbial (post-anthropocentric) basis of human sweat, something typically considered almost uniquely human. In the artwork however, there are no people involved in making the smell — it is created by bacteria propagating in three bioreactors in the exhibition space. Each bioreactor incubates a different species of human skin bacteria responsible for the primary scent of sweating bodies: Staphylococcus epidermidis, Corynebacterium xerosis and Propionibacterium avidum. Over the course of each exhibition, these disembodied scents are channeled into a central bell jar before diffusing into the room. Human sweat in itself is odorless: it is these bacteria feeding upon the components of sweat that creates volatile, odiferous chemical compounds that we associate with sweat and physical effort. In Labor, humanness was a phenomenon, that was not fundamentally the property of a human subject, but rather of a more complex intra-action between significations of humanness and microbes commonly associating with the human body.

Paul Vanouse is an artist and professor of Art at the University at Buffalo, NY, where he is the founding director of the Coalesce Center for Biological Art. Interdisciplinarity and impassioned amateurism guide his art practice. His projects, “Latent Figure Protocol”, “Suspect Inversion Center” and “America Project” use molecular biology techniques to challenge misleading “DNA-hype”, such as the idea that “DNA Is Destiny”. His work has been exhibited in over 25 countries and widely across the US. Recent solo exhibitions include: Burchfield-Penny Gallery in Buffalo, Beall Center in Irvine, Muffathalle in Munich, Schering Foundation in Berlin, and Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana. His scent-based bio-artwork, Labor, was awarded a Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica, 2019.