Text size
  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large
  • Standard
  • Blue text on blue
  • High contrast (Yellow text on black)
  • Blue text on beige

    Full Synopsis

    EVA Copenhagen 2018 - Politics of the Machines - Art and After

    Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark, 15 - 17 May 2018


    Morten Søndergaard, Aalborg University, Copenhagen and Laura Beloff, IT-University of Copenhagen

    The POM - Politics of Machines conference series was co-founded by Laura Beloff and Morten Søndergaard. The first edition, Politics of Machines: Art and After was hosted by Aalborg University Copenhagen 15-17 May, 2018, and organized in collaboration with the IT-University of Copenhagen. Furthermore, the POM2018 was realized in collaboration with the EVA-London conference series and the British Computer Society under the name EVA-Copenhagen, or EVA/POM2018.

    With more than 100 speakers selected from nearly 220 submissions, the conference consisted of 10 thematic tracks, an exhibition of art projects, performances and student work by Erasmus Master in Media Arts Cultures’ students. It also hosted a Ph.D. workshop organised in collaboration with POM, IT-University and CATCH - Centre for Art and Technology.

    One of the aims of the conference, worth of mentioning, was to foster also a dialogue between academic and non-academic researchers. This was achieved by providing a quota of free-registrations for people without academic affiliation and funding.

    Introduction to the POM conference-theme and-series:

    The question of how the machine impacts and contextualizes artistic production and perception is the general umbrella topic for the conference/-series. Recent research on the impact of machines and technology on art has located the machine to a central position, which is visible e.g. in the work of scholars such as Matthew Fuller (on ‘ecologies’), Jussi Parikka (on ‘archaeologies’), Katja Kwastek (on ‘aesthetics of interaction’) and Andreas Brockmann (on ‘techno-ontology’). The growing interest in describing the phenomenon of the computer as the electronic machine has risked to keep both the computer and technology more broadly trapped within a logic, in which technology appears as our transcendence from which we cannot escape. Whereas the matter of technology should always be approached critically; the common focus on considering machines as digital and electronic hides the alternative, experimental and different ontologies and materialities of the machinic culture and also correspondingly different epistemologies they may operate in. Throughout his scholarly work, Bruno Latour, has developed a thinking based on the notion of the politics of things, which gives humans’ relation to machines a less immaterial and semiological bias. How are the relationality and operationality of machines being negotiated into cultural and social ontologies? With this conference we want to address the politics of machines and the inescapable technological structures, as well as the critical infrastructures of artistic production in-between human and non-human agency. Where do experimental and artistic practices work beyond the human:machine and human:non-human dualisms towards biological, hybrid, cybernetic, vibrant, uncanny, overly material, darkly ecological and critical machines?

    The presenters at this conference take a fresh approach to the politics of the machine, and exemplify, analyse and contextualize alternative and experimental ontologies and epistemologies of artistic practices beyond dualisms.

    The papers in the proceedings include long academic papers as well as short artistic papers from the POM2018 reflecting on the general conference-theme. The papers are addressing the topics of the 9 tracks that were part of the original call for participation, and which were defined together with the thematic chairs (names listed below). Short summaries of the track themes:

    Emotional Machines

    In the future, emotional machines can implement emotion recognition and processing in interfaces that are designed, modelled and customized with personalities supporting the user emotionally. These machines, counting social robotics, smart assistants and tracking technologies, are getting to know our feelings and emotional responses through tracking, analysing, and categorizing e.g. our facial expressions, vocal intonations, and skin conductance. Machine learning, human-computer interaction, affective computing, and artificial intelligence are already revolutionizing the ways emotions are detected and developed. Today we are confronted with an era where emotions are standardized, controlled, and designed in the quest for creating relatable machines that are dynamically adaptive to the user. What are the politics and aesthetics of emotional machines?


    Cyborgs have been made to represent fantasies of immortality and superiority as well as anxieties deeply rooted in the modern terrors of technological power and the Frankenstein monsters, Replicants or Terminators of our time. A cybernetic organism, might be understood as connected to organic life through mechanisms of feedback, or in other ways exists in a hybrid stage connecting the technological and the biological. And further it might be understood more broadly as a both political real and mythical, discursive subject, making it possible to understand and question the fusion with the machine in broader terms. Today, cyborgs and hybrids are found within medicine, the military, in sports, in the arts, in body modification, in popular culture, in space, and in cognitive science. The cyborg and the hybrid, both as beings and as temporary assemblages, cross the very boundaries that we often draw when trying to define what is biology and what is technology; what is body and what is machine?

    Religion, Technology, and Art

    How technologies, particularly technologies that impact us through the arts, affect religious beliefs and activities. This includes ways in which technologies can enhance religious experiences and ways in which technologies produce experiences that intervene in and even compete with religious beliefs and practices, fulfilling the same needs as, up until now, religions have fulfilled exclusively. As an example, we have typically understood religion to be anchored in metaphysics and technology in physics. But in tribal cultures, there are no absolute boundaries between actions resulting from technology and religious magic. Also the Great Awakenings of 19th-century America promoted the idea that technologies such as the telegraph could connect humans not only to one another but also to the divine. Religion’s characteristic effects include moving people outside of their everyday concerns; mediated experiences seem increasingly capable of doing this without adhering to a specific religious tradition-or any religious tradition at all. How do different communities understand the boundaries between manifestation, enhancement and deceptive illusion? Might technologically mediated experiences replace religion altogether?

    Algorithms and Intelligence in Art After Aesthetics

    We are still in the early stages of the journey set by Duchamp of augmenting intelligence through and within Art. His interest in the Science of his time and in particular that of the 4th dimension of space-time, led him to re-establish art as an intellectual practice and moved art from its focus on visual aesthetics, beyond the retinal, and onto the ‘idea’, the concept of the work. Today we continue to create, build mimetic machines, systems and processes to emulate our thinking towards autopoiesis and a higher AI. However, there are limits to state-of-the- art AI that separates it from human-like intelligence. Humans can learn, remember and develop a new skill, but current AI algorithms are poor at retaining previous knowledge for re-use and self-improvement. Through the Arts and creative practice put together with the factual findings of the sciences and advances within Artificial General Intelligence, we can consider a future life to counter any dystopian view that has arisen from our Lacanian death-drive towards cosmic stupidity. C.P Snow’s Two Cultures are perhaps synthesized via Science-Fictions where what we can think up eventually occurs and the hopeful search for extra-terrestrial communication continues. But to what extent can art practice and appreciation bring us out of any downward curve and halt its seemingly collective self-destructive tendency of our species?

    Machines of Atmospheres

    Air surrounds and permeates our bodies, buildings, and cities; its flow is regulated by a patchwork of technologies and natural processes: wind, breath, windows, pumps, vents, pneumatics, air locks, etc. Across these spaces air carries particles, bacteria, heat, smells and information; on the wings of gases travel messages, memories, and miasmas. Air is essentially an aggregate and a carrier. The partitioning of air is therefore a constant matter of concern, its governance at once impossible and paramount.

    Atmospheric phenomena, its qualities and compositions, are to a large extent made perceptually available through scientific instruments, imaging technologies and information systems. Scientific assessments have been crucial in demonstrating the that pollution and CO2 emissions are causes of climate change. To an increasing degree machines and technology now structure our perception and understanding of atmospheres.

    This sub-theme solicits epistemic, technological, and artistic approaches that critically interrogate machines of air and atmospheres. Its aim is to investigate and reflect upon how air is measured, mediated, produced, manipulated, resourced, partitioned, experienced, and governed. From observations of the earth through satellites to production of sensory and aesthetic atmospheres through artistic and scientific instruments, this sub-theme will consider how atmospheres - pockets of air that are saturated with matter and meaning - operate as spaces of inclusion and exclusion of ways of being and knowing, of people and of life.

    Wet Machines

    The category of machines has been widened in recent years to include wet machines that are constructed from living matter with biotechnological methods or which host and support biological and biotechnological processes. These machines often include various combinations of hardware, living organisms and computation (hardware, software and wetware).

    The historical basis for today’s developments can be seen e.g. in the development of genetics. For decades, genetics has been using the metaphor of “genes as code”. In molecular biology, scientists and engineers have developed a perception on biological organisms as machinery. Today this is visible for example in the development of synthetic biology and of course in the very idea that life can be engineered. We are confronted with an era where living organisms are designed, standardized, controlled, and prevented from unwanted mutations. Both synthetic and systems biology can increasingly be done on a computer, which adds complexity to the discourse of wet machines. Evolution can take place in computational as well as biological media. Wet machines is an emerging area that is investigated by various actors and fields - including artists, scientists, designers, philosophers, societal actors and DIY activists. Some are experimenting with the offered possibilities, whereas others seek to critique the inadequacy of the biological machine discourse and argue that life will ultimately resist our efforts to control it.

    Robots in art

    This track focused on robots in art in general, with three main areas of interest:

    • Robotic and non-human performers through the lens of performance and performativity (Mackenzie; Barad; Fischer-Lichte) with special focus on features of robot and non-human theatrical performances including embodiment, materiality, programming, and dramaturgy.
    • Neo-Cybernetics. Embedded into contemporary questions of non-human agency, object orientation and new materialisms seems to be a revival of cybernetic thought. This may be explicit, as in Pickering’s work on “New Ontologies,” or in the cognitive science debate of enactivism. Often this is implicit, as the circular entanglement of people, objects and actions (or: subjects and objects) is discussed within a variety of frameworks. We are looking for proposals that re-consider the central cybernetic tenet of feedback and circular causality as a model to understand non-human agency and new materialisms in the light of the technological shifts taking place since the early 20th century, suggesting a non-binary alternative to outdated dualisms, such as man/machine or technology/society.
    • Parliament of Robots. We look for proposals addressing speculative scenarios in robotics and politics from various theoretical and practice perspectives.

    Returns of the machine, including Sonic Machines

    There are not only different conceptions of machines as e.g. mechanical, mathematical or symbolical apparatuses, but such conceptions have also changed over time. In this section, we want to investigate the genealogies and cultural diversity of “machines”, and the ways in which they have been articulated and reflected by theorists and artists. We are particularly interested in contributions that look at artistic critiques of existing technologies, historical or current, or at speculative artistic practices which seek to reconsider technological paradigms altogether.

    Institutional Presentations

    Institutional Presentations looked at communities working on matters related to POM Conference themes seen from the perspective of institutions such as galleries, museums, NGOs, networks, schools, and companies to introduce themselves and relevant initiatives to the community, as well as discuss e.g. organizational, financial, and curatorial matters.

    Conference Introduction