Art buys us time to think about the embodied technological experience.
Art helps us keep the options open. (1)
Sensing practices involve various technologies – it is not only scientific or ecological approaches and methods but the experimental ones by artists, amateurs, animals such as fish and even plants like moss… all of them becoming a part of a growing “revealing ecosystems” that are made visible through sensing projects. Art projects are the only way, the editor of Sensorium argues, that we can keep up with the meaning of vertigo-making speed of technological developments.
If we take half of our fascinations with “sensors” and making “things smart” to the side, the sensing practices by artists – (instead of being closed down in just an artistic practice) become an important revolutionary, disruptive operation that crosses into the social, political, media environment. Sensing can be seen as a citizen’s disobedience practice – providing specific data that also mobilize communities.
The politics of today demand a conscious culture, rather than a counterculture – not Timothy Leary’s “dropping out”, but maybe dropping in to sample artists’ edgy sensorial art and learn from our own response (2).
Pigeon Blog and Air Quality Egg
From the 1960’s onwards there was something about the senses and political activism. From literal flower power people to powering the flowers in the 70’s biosensing experiments to the pigeons and Bjork herself, we can draw a line between sensing the environment, computational art and (whether intended or not) political and social output.
In the inherited Cartesian framework, having senses tell you stuff is intrinsically a form of rebellion. The Pigeon Blog has
Citizen sensing Air Quality Egg shows how a DIY project from a maker’s lab can become an agent of political change and/or provocation. Dressed in the startup-like, crowdsourced-project way, the call is on for the citizen scientist. This practice is largely made available by computational equipment (open source hardware and software) becoming cheap and easily distributed (out of just the official labs) and creating amateur scientists everywhere. The project website reads:
With the Air Quality Egg learning system, everyone can easily conduct real scientific experiments using real-time air quality data that you, and others from around the world, collect and share. Help us to make the air we breathe more visible. Become a citizen scientist and join our 24/7 global science project.
These practices are revealing the nature of data – its accessibility, its “emptiness” and its readiness to be filled with or given meaning. There is also a question of the urgency of producing these data and information and ways in which they are distributed (open source vs the private ownership). (3)
Making it more visible for the sake of awareness- what would Bjork say?
It is not “just about” using the ever developing technology in your work – it is how you are using it as an artist (as Caroline Jones says in the Sensorium: “making it strange again”) that makes a difference and creates a possibility for awakening and staying put to the coming machines overflow.
We are in this entangled relation with our environment and our posthuman situation comes out in various ways affecting the lives of “others” in violent, mutilating ways – there are eels close to the House of Parliament especially high on cocaine! The other day we had a lively discussion during class on Computational Arts-Based Research and Theory – do we need to open up these practices to be commercial and available to everyone for the sake of awareness (running a risk to be eaten up by corporate interest, as Mark Fisher warns) or should we keep them as a closed, small experiments that have the grassroots, underground activists; approach. Have a look at
The new sensorium is seductively alive. Composed as it is of what Haraway dubs our “technoscientific naturecultures”, its liveliness does not depend solely on organic compounds, but links prosthetically and aesthetically to silicon-based machinic (4).
The blog post was created as a reflective piece upon reading the essay by Beatriz da Costa: Reaching The Limin. When Art Becomes Science and discussions in class Computational Arts-Based Research and Theory led by Dr.Helen Pritchard during the MA in Computational Art, Goldsmiths 2019.
(1) (2) (4) Caroline, Jones A. (editor) Sensorium. Embodied Experience, Technology
(3) Costa, B and Kavita, P. (editors), 2008, Tactical Biopolitics. Art, Activism and Technoscience, MIT Press
Cover image by Rave Heart Music on tenor gif