RESEARCH SERIES #30
The 17th edition of Sonic Acts Festival took place in February. Under the title The Noise of Being, the festival revolved around the exploration of what it means to be human in the present time. This Research Series edition is a collection of lectures and panel discussions that were recorded during the second day of the conference programme of the festival. Read about the first day of conference presentations here.
The second day of the conference looked at how technologies shape our political and social interactions, and asked: how can we imagine a different future? To answer this question, speakers turned to alternative ways of navigating the world, the art of storytelling, and knowledge from non-Western and indigenous cultures, for cues in support of a different conception of humanity. Contributors to the second day of the conference included David Roden, Rick Dolphijn, Sarah J. Whatmore, Ben Russell, Erika Balsom, Helen Verran, Armen Avanessian, Jennifer Gabrys, Noortje Marres and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun.
The first panel of the day was Cracking the Contemporary, which examined new concepts that ask us to reconsider the relations between humanity, nature and culture. Based on the premise that philosophy and art have the power to reveal new openings, the panel aimed attention at the idea (and impact) of the catastrophe, and the political potency of nature in 'more-than-human' terms.
David Roden's talk was an attempt to tackle the role of the aesthetic in thinking about the posthuman. Roden firstly argued that the actual nature of the posthuman is epistemologically wide open, as none of our a priori systems can put constraints on the nature of the subject itself. He introduced the idea of a ‘hyperplastic’ subject as a way of postulating incomprehensible forms of agency. Roden used aesthetic models to reconcile the idea of a technologically transformative encounter 'at the edge of the human'. Ultimately, he suggested, we can only relate to the future through the initiation of catastrophes, including those of being enmeshed in a technological system that we cannot ultimately control and cannot ultimately predict.
'Our epistemological framework for thinking about the deep future is very austere; it's very minimal'. – David Roden
Sarsh J. Whatmore approached the topic from a different angle, as she dealt with the cracks that open up as a result of catastrophic events in a more earthly and everyday sense, namely, as a result of natural hazards. Referring to the question of how we can both imagine and make futures, Whatmore looked at the various ways in which the geopolitics of natural hazards are being remade. Specifically, Whatmore argued that, in the event of hazardous and unpredictable disturbances, nature becomes ‘molten’, which increases the potential for reforming its complex configuration with the human. Rick Dolphijn cited the notion of the ‘wound’ to illustrate a cracking of the contemporary, and proposed that we think about the wound and its relation to time from a posthuman perspective.
'Today, environmental hazards and disasters like flooding generate a whole set of different political responses.' – Sarah J. Whatmore
Associating the wound with, in particular, an injury to sensibilities, the conference transitioned to the topic of the senses; the panel Sensible Imagination
presented alternative ways of negotiating the entanglements between humans and non-humans, words and things, and argued for the necessity to conceive of the world in radically different ways and to recolonise the modern world view.
'I want to think about sensible social properties of humans and nonhumans working together in collectives; sensible social properties like gestures, words, imaged forms, odours, proximity, tactile qualities, aural forms.' – Helen Verran
Helen Verran looked at how children in Yoruba elementary school classrooms, and Yolngu Aboriginal Australians move consciously between differing forms of world-thing entanglements; Ben Russell presented an audiovisual compass marked by the seemingly opposite poles of psychedelia and ethnography as a way of navigating ourselves in the world; while Erika Balsom examined the ways in which documentary affords access to the world and, in particular, what it means in our contemporary moment.
'We are living through a time marked by a threat to the truthfulness of images and to their grounding in reality.' – Erika Balsom
Finally, the panel Updates Available?
focussed on philosophically negotiating the idea of 'moving forward' and examined how the implementation of new technologies is enmeshed with the transformation of politics. Armen Avanessian proposed that the 21st century marks a new dimension of time itself, with an increasing occupation not with what has happened
or is happening
, but what could happen
. Avanessian argued that the prominence of various preemptive phenomena, such as preemptive strikes, preemptive personalities and preemptive policing indicates that the direction of time has shifted.
'Are we moving in time or is the future coming towards us?' – Armen Avanessian
Jennifer Gabrys reviewed the effectiveness of citizen sensing practices that monitor and measure environmental problems, such as air pollution; she investigated whether the rise of citizen sensing practices and technologies re-inscribes potentially reductive approaches to citizenship and political engagement. Meanwhile, Noortje Marres discussed how threats to democracy in the form of surveillance, third-party data ownership and asymmetric value extraction have been taken on in street trials of ‘intelligent’ vehicles. Marres examined whether and how initiatives of technological innovation open up different answers to the question of what counts as democracy.
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun looked askew at the new and argued that obsessing about what lies on the 'bleeding edge of obsolescence' blinds us to the ways in which things remain in and through our infrastructure, and in and through our muscle memory. According to Chun, 'we embody the obsolete', as 'the past lives on atemporally and habitually through our personal actions and choices'. To make this point, she focussed on the feedback loop between virtual and physical segregation.
'Racism and inequality have never gone away, so it should be no surprise that they are embedded in our network algorithms.' – Wendy Hui Kyong Chun