Infrastructural Futures : Speculation, Crisis, and Media Technologies
Location M211
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 16:00
Sessions 1


  • Orit Halpern (Concordia University) email
  • Jamie Allen (Critical Media Lab Basel) email

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Short Abstract

This panel brings together artists, designers, and scholars to examine the complex relationship between infrastructure and futurity in a myriad of situations. Our intention is to reconfigure the study, and production, of infrastructures in terms of emergence and not merely emergency.

Long Abstract

Recent concerns with global warming, security, and population, not to mention with discourses on creativity and 'freedom', have turned the focus of investors, planners, academics, designers and artists toward "infrastructure" as fruitful concept, source of value, and potential salvation. Infrastructures act as projective filters, presupposing and determining what is possible, orienting and enabling the invention of world(s).

This panel will examine this complex contemporary relationship between infrastructure and futurity in a myriad of situations. Bridging anthropology, media and technology studies, architecture, design, art and history of science, our intention is to reconfigure the study, and production, of infrastructures in terms of emergence and not merely emergency; to interrogate the complex interactions between "hard" and "soft" or "smart" and "stupid" infrastructures; and to reevaluate how we discern between failure and success, control and freedom — the considerations that condition our present and shape our future. Most importantly, this panel will examine the stakes attendant to reframing creativity, economies, cultures and political agency in terms of "infrastructure" and design; what work does the current attention the concept is receiving accomplish? And what strategies are deployed by different agents to make infrastructures available (or opaque) to others? Finally, as a panel we hope to workshop and suggest new modes of practice and research by which to intervene in, revise, and re-imagine our contemporary attitudes to technology, speculation, and planetary "crisis".

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Infrastructural Imaginaries: Resilience, Reverie, Response-ability

Authors: Jamie Allen (Critical Media Lab Basel)  email
Orit Halpern (Concordia University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper asserts the importance of how technological infrastructures are imagined in relationship to both catastrophe and potentiality through the discussion of a set of historical and contemporary artistic, engineering, and architectural projects.

Long Abstract

In our present, "infrastructure" has become a dominant discourse in many fields, as an attempt to name confluences of technology and human action at global scales; but to what ends and effects? What potential futures and temporalities are emerging through this integral term, "infrastructure"?

For urbanists, architects and policy makers, infrastructure is often about resilience, optimization, and speculation, while for media and cultural theorists and artists, it examples both violent and emancipative potencies that make manifest the tension between technological imaginaries and their actualities. This tension now shapes countless catastrophic and utopian modes of thought, aesthetics, and futurity. Arguably, infrastructure hold us within a "reverie", a state of suspension in regard to the future.

This paper discusses the potentials, risks, and temporalities of these differing concepts of infrastructure ranging from the apocalyptic to the utopian, by engaging with a series of epistemological, territorial, and sensory projects traversing architecture, design, technology, and art. We will creatively address case studies ranging from the Japanese Metabolists, to Fluxus artists such as Paik and Beuys, to contemporary artists such as Bjork. What groups all these cases together is that they respond to seemingly catastrophic events at grand scales and envision different forms of life. We will do so to examine a genealogy of infrastructural imaginaries, to engage in how different aesthetic and pedagogical practices deploy "infrastructure" in multiple ways and to different political and ethical ends; and to investigate how different practices produce alternative understandings of human relations to technology and to the futures of life.

Infrastructures of Sensation: Making up People in the "Sensor Society"

Author: Chris Salter (Concordia University)  email

Short Abstract

Using examples of selected artistic works, this talk examines the manner in which a new kind of “sensory order” is arising in which new technologies of the senses involving both forms of quantification and organization of sensory affect increasingly “make up” (Hacking) new sensing subjects.

Long Abstract

In "Making Up People," Ian Hacking famously argued that the human sciences through counting, correlation and quantification "create new kinds of people that in a certain sense did not exist before." Currently, we might gesture to a similar set of trends within the infrastructural framework of "the sensor society" (Andrejevic) "in which the interactive devices and applications that populate the digital information environment come to double as sensors" and […] "emerging practices of data use that complicate and reconfigure received categories of privacy, surveillance, and even sense-making." Yet, unlike Hacking's 19th century statistical models, our increased habitation within these new sensory infrastructures produces a strange double bind where we are torn between different forms of subject-hood - becoming "new objects" of sensory inquiry (to update Hacking). One form relies on measures gathered by sensors that track biophysical data to provide a portrait of the self as "quantified," and "conductable" (Foucault) while the other exploits new experiences of sensory-based affect produced by encounters with new multi-modal, real time haptic, visual, acoustic, olfactory and other technologies that organize "the sensory order" (Hayek) in previously unprecedented ways. From worn haptic devices to the tracking of sense modalities understood only through statistics and algorithms, such "technologies of the senses" are exploited to "make up" new people with heightened sensory awareness. Using examples from recent art practice that critically examine this double bind, this talk explores the construction of a new form of "sensory reason" where experience is increasingly shaped and produced by external technological infrastructures

Mind the Gap: imaginary infrastructures of deep neural networks

Author: Johannes Bruder (Academy of Art and Design FHNW)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents an infrastructural take on deep neural networks like Google’s DeepMind and examines the imaginary potential of the entanglement of research and engineering in contemporary Artificial intelligence.

Long Abstract

Demis Hassabis' brainchild DeepMind is considered a leap so big in the universalization of information processing models for Artificial intelligence that Google has recently acquired these algorithms for its photo search engine and for employ in Youtube user recommendations. DeepMind enacts processes that supposedly govern how episodic memory occurs at the crossroads of remembering and imagining "deep" in the human brain.

"Cherry-pick[ing] the key principles behind how we think the mind works," Hassabis and his colleagues have been bypassing the reconstruction of the brain's physical architecture, focusing instead on the flat algorithmic infrastructure of deep neural networks for machine learning and data mining. "Learning from nature, but not too much," such approaches entangle distinct images of mindful infrastructures and layered processes.

This paper will examine the often conflicting discourses of memory, physiology, and machinery that produce the metaphorical and material entanglements that make up contemporary Artificial intelligence in order to excavate imaginary infrastructures and alternative futures buried in the seemingly pragmatic production of this contemporary technology.

Modeling Eco-Capitalism. Infrastructural Obscenity and their Future Perfect

Author: Shintaro Miyazaki (Uni. of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland / Academy of Art and Design)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will inquire into aspects of the commodification of natural resources, such as trees. It will examine the media-based infra-, socio-epistemic suprastructures, models and circuitries eco-capitalism is based on and tentatively propose alternative strategies of practice-based critique.

Long Abstract

Drawing from Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval's critique of neoliberalism this paper will tentatively inquire into aspects of competitiveness, in the context of the commodification of natural landscapes, ecologies and resources such as trees or air. It will excavate, examine and analyze the media technological infrastructures (sensors, networks etc.), socio-epistemic suprastructures and the models (business, network, logistical, data-based, cybernetic, cognitive) architectures, networks and systems of eco-capitalism are based on. Historical and media archaeological methodologies will be blended with approaches by Bruno Latour, Karen Barad, Andrew Pickering, Peter Haff or Keller Easterling. The paper will tentatively propose alternative strategies of practice-based critique in the fields of experimental design and artistic research that interprets eco-capitalism as a matter of concern (Latour). It will do this by exploring, misusing, re-appropriating and re-modeling the affordances and circuitries the infra- and suprastructures of this mindless and greedy form of neoliberalism offer.

Sensor networks and the involved mechanisms of transduction are theorized as derived from laboratory settings, more or less freed from political issues into highly politicized and valorized fields such as eco-capitalism. In the paper it is argued that although experimental systems and transductive apparatuses have their own sociopolitical protocols (Galloway), it is only the highly volatile environment of late capitalism that perpetuates and accelerates harmless feedback systems into the obscene and catastrophic circuitries of eco-capitalism.

Sovereign Media and the Ruins of a Logistical Future

Author: Ned Rossiter (Western Sydney University)  email

Short Abstract

Sovereign media are primed to exploit the ruins of a logistical future. Drawing on artistic experiments, my interest in this paper is to think how infrastructure of communication operate as a form of sovereign media, bringing the singularity of the state as a sovereign entity into question.

Long Abstract

Sovereign media are apparatuses of indifference. They are a negative media of subtraction. "Unlike the antimedia, which are based on a radical critique of capitalist (art) production, sovereign media have alienated themselves from the entire business of politics and the art scene" (Adilkno). Sovereign media are not consciousness raising machines. They hold no megaphones. Immanent to media of ubiquity, the dull surface of sovereign media are ideal hosts for the practice of anonymity. They involve a game of tinkering with parameters of the given. They operate within formats of familiarity and flourish when systems short-circuit. Sovereign media are primed to exploit the ruins of a logistical future.

My interest in this paper is to think how infrastructure of communication operate as a form of sovereign media, bringing the singularity of the state as a sovereign entity into question. Sovereign media are not a return to the politics of exodus, but a way to scale autonomy beyond tactical media as demonstrated by WikiLeaks, among others. Part of such work involves unleashing alternative blueprints, prototypes, and test cases for a future that arises out of infrastructural ruins. This paper surveys artistic strategies for hacking infrastructure, ranging from broadcasting planetary acoustics using demilitarized radio satellite systems in post-Soviet Latvia to the collective reengineering of financial technologies to devise parasitical enterprises that generate financial resources for cultural, social, and political projects. The sovereignty of infrastructural ruins includes a reformatting of the world after the orgy of capital accumulation and exploitation.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.