How does technology transform culture and creativity?

This question was addressed this week by TNW, a tech conference, taking place in the industrial north of Amsterdam.

Due to the incredible amount of people, initially, I could not enter the wooden sphere built for the sessions on the art of tech. Driven by curiosity, I looked inside from the open space between the door and the wall. The screen was presenting a quote from The Cyborg Manifesto, written by Donna Haraway in the early 80s.

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction….The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possibility of historical transformation.

Both machines and organisms share the observable material reality. If we consider the imaginative nature of both the social reality and technology, how could we not integrate them? Donna provides an explanation:

In the traditions of “Western” science and politics — the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture; the tradition of reproduction of the self from the refections of the other — the relation between organism and machine has been a border war.

I just talked with my mum, who is an IT teacher and not really a Westerner nor a male body, and she said: “The human is controlling the machine.” Probably most would agree with her. I know this because my mum’s pragmatic thinking is rooted in the acceptance of the mainstream paradigm.

Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility.

My quest for liberation and social change, however, encourages me to continue reading the manifesto and write about my experience.

It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the super savers of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories.

Back at TNW conference, next to the cold water separating Amsterdam north and south, I met Jarl Schulp — the speaker who mentioned the manifesto. Genuinely sad for missing the talk, I asked him for some information. He is the founder of Fiber — an organisation “dedicated to present and initiate artistic productions at the intersection of audiovisual art, digital culture and electronic music” . Check out their promo video for more insight:

Showing me visuals from a project about reproducing the experience of an earthquake with the use of a machine I thought about how this could be translated into a dance improvisation. The conversation then led us to the growing local culture of ecstatic dance. Ecstatic dance is a free form of expressive movement usually accompanied by a mixture of rhythms of electronic beat and tribal music. Being especially popular in New Age festivals, Bali and Tulum, you might guess what culture is attached to it. Yes, I am referring to the growing spirituality, shamanism and queer movements.

Joining the waiting queue way in advance, I managed to attend the following session with Madeline Gannon, also known as the “The Robot Whisperer”. She earned this nickname with her latest work on human-robot relations where people interact with machines, or let me say machines interact with people. What attracted my attention during the presentation was the usage of “HER” as a reference to Mimus — the machine. In my native language, objects are gendered and a machine is indeed feminine. In English, though, we usually call them by “IT”. I couldn’t help but ask her why did she decide to gender it. Before responding, I already knew the answer. IT is indeed neutral but also de-humanising.

Madeline & Mimus, Image source: dezeen

Looking at the video where she is moving and Mimus is following and responding, my imagination was triggered by the idea of dancing with a machine, exploring our intersubjectivity.

Donna Haraway finished the cyborg manifesto with:

Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.

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