Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a transdisciplinary artist and educator who is interested in art as research and critical practice. Her controversial biopolitical art practice includes the project Stranger Visions in which she created portrait sculptures from analyses of genetic material (hair, cigarette butts, chewed up gum) collected in public places. Heather has shown work internationally at events and venues including the World Economic Forum, the Daejeon Biennale, the Guangzhou Triennial, and the Shenzhen Urbanism and Architecture Biennale, the Van Abbemuseum, Transmediale and PS1 MOMA. Her work is held in public collections of the Centre Pompidou, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the New York Historical Society, among others, and has been widely discussed in the media, from the New York Times and the BBC to Art Forum and Wired. Heather has a PhD in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is an artist fellow at AI Now, an Artist-in-Residence at the Exploratorium, as well as Science Center, and is an affiliate of Data & Society. She is also a co-founder and co-curator of REFRESH, an inclusive and politically engaged collaborative platform at the intersection of Art, Science, and Technology.
Last weekend, Eric Slatkin, founder of High Beam Media and co-founder of the Disposable Film Festival, sat down with me to discuss his current projects and technology’s effect on our culture. Below, you will find our conversation. Please share your on thoughts on the subject, check out Heart 2 Heart (and consider submitting your conversation, and, most importantly, enjoy! 🙂
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Dorothy Santos (DS): Regarding the Heart 2 Heart project, what did notice in the video submissions? Specifically, what did you notice in people’s’ speech?
Eric Slatkin (ES): For one thing, it’s hard for people to say ‘you’. The project aims to anthropomorphize our phones, though calling it out directly, is a challenge for people. To give something that credence, there needs to be an interaction, a back and forth. But we often just think of the one-sided nature of our phones, and that keeps us from thinking of the idea of a relationship. But once we admit that there is a discourse there, it opens up some interesting ideas, like what we, ourselves, give back to them.
DS: We give back to them?
ES: I’m talking on the lowest level. Touching it. Talking into it. Stroking it. Looking at it. Thinking about it. All of those things, when applied to some sentient being, that would equal a relationship. And sure, it’s just an object, so we don’t think to attribute any emotions to it. But the sophistication of what we do with it, what it does for us is constantly being built upon, and with Siri, it shows that when then you can have a conversation with it, we have to take into consideration the idea of it ascending to some sort sentient level. I think a lot of people think it’s crazy that we might have a relationship as meaningful with a friend as we do with our phones – but I think it’s coming. And I think it’s important to have conversations about how we relate to it, vice versa, and what kind of understanding we can come to. As Kevin Kelley says, technology are introduced, and we are guinea pigs, making mistakes, learning from them. We saw that with Facebook privacy issues, as people lost their jobs, got divorced, didn’t get into colleges, all because they didn’t understand the implications of who they were sharing their social graph with.
And so Heart 2 Heart is a project in some senses about negotiating our relationships with our devices.
DS: Do you think technology is a right or an enabler?
ES: Saying that it’s our right I feel, begets the idea that somehow, it has a theological grounding. That it’s a part of the constructs of how we’re evolving. I don’t believe that though. It just enables people to do things. It’s impartial, and what we do with it determines it’s opinions.
ES: With all technology, there is a quantity over quality argument. Technology solves problems and makes things easier so it opens us up to do other things. But that kind of logic is easier to stomach when it’s a machine that makes car parts, rather than when it compromises our need to do something like memory recall. But eventually (and we already see it coming) it will just make more sense not to remember anything because the phone /device will do it for us. I’m a little upset about that idea but it’s one of those things, where the jury’s out on whether in social evolution of things, it will still be thought of as integral in the future. If we don’t have to limit ourselves to 8 bits of memory/information, then we can obviously accomplish a lot more. But before any of this happens, with Heart 2 Heart and my other projects, I’m trying to elicit the conversation of the implications of that kind of transition.
DS: What kind of sacrifices have you made for technology?
ES: There are tons. They’re no different from anyone else’s though. I miss writing with a pen. Writing with a pen is intimate to me, closer to what I’m really thinking than when it appears on a screen – not to mention the different kind of real-time editing you do by backspacing – deleting and replacing, than with a simple strike through with a pen.
DS: It’s organic.
ES: It’s what you’re creating. You’re creating what shows up on the page. There’s this whole other system when you’re on a laptop such as spell/grammar check and it fixes it for you. You feel less involved in the process. I write poetry and it’s all by hand, at first because if it’s on the computer, it feels further along in the process, when all I’m trying to do is get my thoughts down. But I always edit them on my computer – there’s no way, I’d write multiple drafts by hand.
DS: Since you discussed converging with technology and seeing it as a form of mutualism, I’m curious what you mean by that?
ES: I add a level of sentience behind these devices already. We give to it. It gives to us. In any kind of relationship. In our gut, there’s a world of bacteria, mostly helping us. And many people, like Ray Kurzweil, believe that our mutualism with technology will eventually get deep enough, so that it actually becomes part of us, just like bacteria (think Google searches right from our brain or turning house lights on and off just by thinking about it).
DS: What do you think about accessibility to technology? There is a lot of the world that is not hard-wired in the way people are within a city or urban landscape. It definitely separates people.
ES: It’s a socio-economic privilege. If, one day, there is an implanted chip in someone’s head, they’re gonna probably have a better chance at getting a job than someone who cannot afford. Even within our smaller cultural spheres, there are going to be those discrepancies. I don’t think it’s distinct than the historically having access to an education or books versus growing up without those abilities. I think that technology does a great job of helping to bridge the gap and democratizing knowledge – but I don’t think it will create a perfect society where everyone is on the same level – some will still have access to certain technologies, while others will not.
DS: Do you want everyone to be connected?
ES: I don’t know.
DS: Does it matter?
ES: It’s hard to say – you either don’t know, or if you do, base all your other experiences on it. It feels like why Thoreau left Walden – because he knew what was on the other side … I waffle between technophobia and technophilia, but ultimately I want to be, just like I assume other people want to be, part of society – and to do that, now, means to be connected.
DS: Should everyone be connected?
ES: It seems a little self-righteous to say yes, they should, or no, I want to think that there are people still living in the wilderness. It’s a choice that EVERYONE should make themselves.
DS: Most of your projects, you seem to want the viewer/participant to use technology in moderation. Would you say that’s true?
ES: I think the purpose of all these projects, is to make people take a step back. Think about your relationship with technology, so that we can have a conversation about their implications. And to ultimately, find a balance.
I’ve been playing around with different ways to blog and coming up with ways to stay connected to friends and family that have expressed a profound interest to know more about art (of any kind). Well, I’m hoping some of you latch on to this idea of Breaktime posts. Think about it, how long is your break at work? About 10-15 minutes, right? Now, instead of wasting the time engaging in some virtual stalking of the person you like/admire/dislike, why not watch or read something during those 10-15 minutes and delve into something you may have never seen or known before. I’m serious. If you look at infographics about how much time, collectively, we all spend tweeting and facebooking (now, you know we do this A LOT if those very words have become not only part of our lexicon but we use them as verbs), you will understand how much time we spend watching, viewing, reading, not-reading, and engaging virtually. Okay, off the soap box! Watch the video above on Typography. A little secret (which isn’t much of a secret now): I went to art school for a couple of years and studied graphic design and illustration. I’m a SUCKER for typography. And, um, if you’re wondering, creating an original typeface is hard. Very challenging. More difficult to design great and effective type than you think. Trust me (or do it yourself – and NO, changing Arial font on your gDoc from regular to bold and italicizing it DOES NOT count). All right, go forth and enjoy your break time!! 😉
In reference to the emerging media of his time, theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote, “Today we’re beginning to realize that the new media aren’t just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression.” Writing code is one gateway for realizing these new forms. Learning to program and to engage the computer more directly with code opens the possibility of not only creating tools, but also systems, environments, and entirely new modes of expression. It is here that the computer ceases to be a tool and instead becomes a medium.
~ Form + Code: In Design, Art, and Architecture by Casey Reas, Chandler McWilliams, and LUST
I cannot put this book down. It’s been a great resource in learning the emerging media and how artists, designers, and architects are working within a fast paced digitally laden environment. Please click on the image above to visit the Form + Code site. This book is certainly for anyone interested by new media arts and computational aesthetics.
In 2012, I’m going to try and create my own data visualization. Of what? Not sure…feel free to throw out some suggestions. Need an idea of what data vis looks like? Please click on the image above to learn more about it. Inforgraphics curated by datavisualization.ch