Kate O’Riordan comments at the plenary discussion: Biodigital Paradoxes (symptoms of the biodigital)

The closing plenary of the workshop generated considerable buzz and many of you asked me for ways in the material presented. Pasted below is a draft of Kate O’Riordan’s commentary, entitled Biodigital Paradoxes (symptoms of the biodigital), copied from her research blog Biodigital Life. In due course, we hope to publicise the other contributions in some format.

Linking questions about sustaining knowledge in feminist art and activism and with work on emerging technologies:

I’m interested in the biodigital – the coming together of life itself and information systems – the convergence of biology and information sciences – life modulated through digital culture – the biodigital is on the one hand a descriptive term and on that basis might have an ontology and a lexicon – but it is also a tool of analysis or diagnostic and as such it has symptoms. Symptoms alert us to what has befallen us and provide the grounds for change.

Three symptoms of the biodigital are unreal objects, medium knowledge and impossible worlds:

1) Unreal objects
We see a huge and ongoing investment of time, money and institutional resources in unreal objects e.g. genomes, smart grids, precision medicine, networks – at the same time as we see a disinvestment in lives – in the arts, humanities, education, health and welfare. These things are hinged together – unreal objects undo subjects – e.g. smart grids have no humans, the human genome project was about information, investments in technoscientific projects at best distract and at worst detract from people in their everyday life contexts where they are more concerned about how existing basic health care and education can be accessed rather than the next global science project.

2) Medium knowledges
Digitization and networks; media culture/media life; unreal objects are made in media forms; genomes inhere as digital artefacts; smart grids are about strangely human-less ecologies with objects communicating through an exchange of signals – like the internet of things; or ubiquitous computing environments with new hierarchies of servitude. Medium knowledges—formed in the social media paradigm—both proliferate and cannibalize.. We compulsively seek to share with one another as our actual bodies are networked, photo-shopped and plastic surgeried out; the press release is the news and the audience is the advert; medium knowledge is Wikipedia and Google, and their biomedical allies; the receding of book publishing and of professional writers, the reduction of access to formal education at the same time as the explosion of writing, teaching and knowledge and media making in everyday life.

3) (Under)whelming worlds
The vision of the cloud is an underwhelming world – a paradigmatic object par excellence of unreal objects and medium knowledges – it promises to hold the underwhelming world of an indefinite excess of big data (for which the question of human scale meaning is endlessly deferred) – and networked everything – in its heavenly haze. At the same time it demands resources for server farms, deforestation, strip mining, mountain top removal, war, fossil fuel extraction, nuclear power, industrial farming. These all provide the substrate for worlds which are rapacious in their demands for resources.

A second, much more obscure but non-the-less paradigmatic project of these biodigital symptoms is de-extinction. The concerted effort to bring back extinct species in the pursuit of both reparation for – and the promotion of – technoscientific business as usual. From the impossible human-free eco-imaginaire of clouds, smart grids and cloned tigers and other big science dreams – to the actual impossibility of sustaining the pursuit of happiness in times of economic disaster and the threat to life of a superheated planet – underwhelming worlds are a symptom of the biodigital. Funding is poured into big science projects that promise revolutions and technological fixes, whilst exacerbating inequality and demanding resources. At the same time money cannot be found for the lived experiences of everyday life – for cushioning against the viciousness of precarity – for a livable life for all, for education and for health.

The axes of these biodigital symptoms – materiality, knowledge, worlds – are also the concerns of feminist media art and activism. The paradoxes of the symptoms of the biodigital are that reparation does revolve around the same axes –– the space of unreal objects is also generative of creativity and an invitation to make things up – to invent – or make up: but also to make up in the other sense of to make up for: reparation – the imaginative and the ethical conjoined.

This takes me to medium knowledges that exploit the audience as advert but also invite us to promote things worth knowing – media making offers an opportunity to create new institutional dynamics through media platforms and re-inventions of the social in a time in which those institutions that have done the work of marginalization and destruction of the social themselves are threatened and revised. Medium knowledges become a platform for possibility.

Underwhelming worlds – both imagined and experienced – can be reworked and the life of the mundane and everyday can be connected to the ecological, and the global

In this paradoxical landscape of biodigital symptoms it is possible to both work with emerging technologies and their big (un)real and destructive dreamscapes and to take something from them to work with the everyday, the creative and the marginal. In this context we are making a small intervention with the construction of SusNet a feminist network that couples itself with the technoscientific dreamscape of unreal objects, medium knowledge and impossible worlds. On the one hand it is a utopian impulse towards a network of people that is also a media platform, that sustains knowledges and enables connection. However, on the other hand it is also a small group of people, a small amount of money and a set of actual practices that ask people to reflect on their own practices and histories of collaboration and connection and motivations in order to materialize the rather utopian unreal object of a network, create medium knowledge, and re-institute a kind of worlding through an account of feminist media art and activism and its connections and solidarities as well as disconnections and antagonisms – (in the context of biodigital symptoms.)

[this is a draft of material for today’s roundtable https://www.facebook.com/pages/Queer-Feminist-and-Social-Media-Praxis-Workshop/434729706593342]

About the plenary:

Radical art practices, feminism, new technologies and performance

Maria Chatzichristodoulou (a.k.a. Maria X), Kate O’Riordan (UCSC/Sussex), Joanna Zylinska (Goldsmiths)

Discussant: Sally-Jane Norman (Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts)

This plenary aims to enable discussion about new technologies, digital and other, in relation to gender, sexuality and the body – and to weave some common threads across art, science and theory. At the same time, it seeks to enable a space for experimentation and performative mode of action, as it summons its own publics, initially in the physical space of the workshop and later in its digital materialisation (in the SusNet platform).

The framing question to the participants of this plenary aims to find some common ground between them and to also identify differences: How do digital technologies shape your artistic practice, politics and/or research?

The more specific question aims to link the plenary and the workshop as a whole to the larger project of sustaining networked knowledge production, which is the EPSRC/CCN+ funded network project SusNet: What are some challenges to and opportunities for radical, alternative or critical knowledge production (in its different modes, e.g. art, theory, or other modes of practice) within institutionalised contexts today (including digital ones)?



Speaker profile: Kate O’Riordan at the Queer, feminist social media praxis workshop, Sussex, 17 May 2013

Middle1We are glad to announce that Dr Kate O’Riordan will be participating in the closing roundtable New technologies, radical art & feminism, of the workshop Queer feminist social media praxis (University of Sussex,  Friday 17th May).

Kate O’Riordan is Reader in Digital Media and Associate Professor of Art at the University of Sussex and the University of California Santa Cruz respectively. She is the author and editor of three books, most recently The Genome Incorporated: Constructing Biodigital Identity. Her interests and expertise range from gender, sexuality and digital culture to human cloning, genomics and other biodigital symptoms. She is currently engaged in work at the intersections of art, science and media about in-vitro meat, biosensors and smart grids and questions about sustaining knowledge in feminist art and activism.

She blogs about Biodigital Life here.

Speaker profile: Joanna Zylinska at the Queer feminist social media praxis workshop, Sussex, 17 May 2013

joanna_zylinska3_webWe’re happy to announce that Joanna Zylinska will be participating in the plenary session Radical art practices, feminism, new technologies and performance, of the workshop Queer feminist social media praxis (University of Sussex,  Friday 17th May).

Joanna Zylinska is Professor of New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. The author of four books – most recently, Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (with Sarah Kember; MIT Press, 2012) and Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009) – she is also a translator of Stanislaw Lem’s major philosophical treatise, Summa Technologiae (University of Minnesota’ Press, 2013). Together with Clare Birchall, Gary Hall and Open Humanities Press, she runs the JISC-funded project Living Books about Life, which publishes open access books at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences. Zylinska is one of the Editors of Culture Machine, an international open-access journal of culture and theory. She combines her philosophical writings with photographic art practice. Her current projects involve photographing media entanglements and serving as Artistic Director of Transitio_MX05 ‘Biomediations’, Festival of New Media Art and Video in Mexico City (September 2013). She is also working on critical vitalism, nonhuman photography and ‘a big theory of media’, while trying to outline a minimal ethics for the anthropocene.

Maria Chatzichristodoulou (a.k.a. Maria X) – plenary session Radical art practices, feminism, new technologies and performance

We are pleased that Maria Chatzichristodoulou (a.k.a. Maria X) will be participating in the  plenary session Radical art practices, feminism, new technologies and performance, which will close the workshop Queer feminist social media praxis (University of Sussex,  Friday 17th May). Maria is a cultural practitioner (curator, producer, performer and writer). She is Director of Postgraduate Studies and Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at the School of Arts and New Media, University of Hull.

In London, Maria has co-directed and co-convened the festival and symposium Intimacy: Across Digital and Visceral Performance (London, 2007), the symposium From Black Box to Second Life (Scarborough, 2009), and the conference Live Interfaces (Leeds, 2011). She is also co-convener of the Theatre and Performance Research Association working group on Performance and New Technologies. Maria is co-editor of the volumes Interfaces of Performance (Ashgate, 2009) and Intimacy Across Visceral and Digital Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). She has lectured and published widely, including invited lectures at Yale University, MIT Media Lab and Georgia Institute of Technology (USA).

Maria holds a PhD in Art and Computational Technologies from Goldsmiths Digital Studios, University of London. She has taught at the University of London colleges Goldsmiths, Birkbeck and Queen Mary, and Richmond the International American University. She also worked as a Community Officer at The Albany (South London). Maria was co-founder and co-director of the international media art festival Medi@terra and Fournos Centre for Digital Culture in Athens, Greece (1996-2002). She has performed with Diplous Eros Ensemble and director Syllas Tzoumerkas (Greece).