• Report: ICT meets the Arts with Douglas Rushkoff and Ellen Pearlman 

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    Posted: 1 December 2020

    An online event organized by Baltan Laboratories in the context of RegionArts

    Reflections on the role of art & tech in an increasingly polarizing landscape

    On November 24th, Baltan presented the ICT meets the Arts event in the context of the RegionArts project. In a series of events, the RegionArts consortium presents projects linking ARTS & ICT and activities that expunge the boundaries between the two sectors to stimulate creativity and innovation. Baltan presented a project from 'creative technologist' Louis Ferreira and two video lectures by Ellen Pearlman and Douglas Rushkoff.

    Picture credit: LivingLab Eindhoven by Luis Ferreira


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    ICT meets the Arts. Douglas Rushkoff and Ellen Pearlman

    The event started with an introduction about Baltan Laboratories and its’ successful collaboration policy deriving from the publication A blueprint for a lab of the future (2011) which stated: Labs working on the intersection of Art & Technology, should not invest in the latest technologies but instead collaborate closely within the ecosystem, to bridge creative and high-tech communities. Eindhoven, known as the Brainport Region, consists of many companies and start-ups, consequently creating an ideal climate to unfold such strategy. With this premise, Baltan developed their policy for implementing art, science and technology trajectories between different stakeholders in- and outside the region. Within the RegionArts program Baltan reflects on the role, value and impact of Arts & Tech Collaborations by critically interrogating what is needed to structurally support these collaborations on a policy level in the city of Eindhoven.

    The introduction program was followed with a presentation and short video by Louis Ferreira, who calls himself a creative technologist. His project unfolds a data-driven generative-design tool to find new purposes for the use of public data collected by public sensors at Stratumseind in the city of Eindhoven. An area that is known for its nightlife, and which has been assigned as a dedicated area for testing surveillance technology. With the toolkit Luis simulates the trails of passengers which consequently are visualized and displayed as architectural data-paintings. A project he hopes to further develop in the future.


    LivingLab Stratumseind

    The session continued with two keynotes in which both speakers were invited to reflect on the notion of art in our tech-dominated society. The first keynote lecture by Dr. Ellen Pearlman 'Imagining the Unimaginable and Performing the Unthinkable', showed some of her artistic projects such as NOOR, an immersive interactive brain wave opera in a 360 Degree theater. Noor asks; is there a place in human consciousness where surveillance cannot go? In the opera a performer wears a Brain Computer Interface (BCI), that measures her EEG brainwaves and four emotions: Interest, excitement, frustration and meditation. Her brainwaves launch a database of video and audio that reflect her emotional state as she interacts with the audience. The project talks about the enhanced induce of surveillance and if there will come an imagined time when surveillance can see into our innermost thoughts and dreams.

    The next project Ellen presents is AIBO, an emotionally intelligent, artificial intelligent brainwave opera. There are two characters. Eva, a human who wears a Brain Computer Interface attached to a body suit of light, showing four emotions, and a Brain Computer Interface that launches emotionally themed visuals and sound. The second character is AIBO, a cloud-based AI entity, constructed with a skewered database to make it perverted. AIBO responses are analyzed through sentiment which means synthetic responses of an AI which are analyzed through synthetic emotions. The emotions are portrayed as colored light: green for positive, red for negative, and yellow for neutral. The opera investigates the potential uses and misuses of an AI.

    Ellen’s work revolves around the question: Can Artificial Intelligence truly understand humans? In her project she connects brainwave activity, emotion detection, pattern recognition and machine learning to stretch the boundaries between technology and human perception. Ellen is also interested in epigenetic memory, memory stored in our DNA without us being aware. Besides developing her own artwork, Ellen initiates artist residence projects as the director of ThoughtWorks Arts. The recently held masterclass Synthetic Media and Deepfakes was organized together with Baltan Laboratories and ThoughtWorks Art.

    The presentation was followed by Douglas Rushkoff with the keynote 'Artists in a Digital Society: Programmers or De-Programmers?' In his keynote Douglas Rushkoff argues that technology is slowly but surely shifting our world towards a (digital) society, in which everything is controlled, predicted and quantized. Can digital art still have an impact in this world? Rushkoff somehow remains optimistic, despite his critical reflections concerning the implications of digital technology which emerged, the past decades. It started in the Renaissance with the invention of empirical science. Douglas refers to scientist Francis Bacon, who said: “Science allows us to take nature by the forelock, hold her down and submit her to our will, quote-unquote”. This is literally a rape phantasy in which nature is being quantized, Rushkoff argues. This notion equals the reduction of 'possibility'.

    The COVID crisis amplified our detachement from nature, as many of us are withdrawing in our so called 'digital wombs' with VR goggles and family pods. An ideal setting for tech companies because their algorithms are like little demons, looking for exploits in human beings, trying to increase the accuracy of our predictive behaviour. According to Rushkoff, these companies are aiming for reducing the 20% of people who are doing 'something weird, anomalous, different, strange or artistic,' because the more predictable we are, the more money can be extracted, in digital capitalism. The more we ‘autotune’ people, the more we start looking at human beings as the problem and technology as the solution. It’s not about using technology on people, but what people do with technology. In a recent discussion with Transhumanists, Rushkoff argued that humans deserve a place in the digital future, to which the Transhumanists responded: ‘You just say that because you are human’. "Fine, I am guilty, I am on Team Human".

    Rushkoff continues with a reference to Darwin's evolution theory and points out nature's key strategy for mutual survival is setting the perfect example. In nature it's all about collaboration. In times of scarcity, trees provide for each other. Looking at the status quo in society we can learn from nature. The latin root of con spire means ‘breathing together’. However, conspiracy is now widely understood as something dark, evil and strange. Rushkoff points out that art is not about answering questions, it’s about creating paradoxes; music is an opportunity to resonate together; theater and literature is about the in-between spaces, something we don’t yet understand. Narrative is not about reaching to a conclusion, it’s about openness and connecting new dots, doing pattern recognition. It’s about enhancing our intuition. Instead of building a ‘digital womb’ and insulate ourselves, we should take back reality and reclaim it for 'Team human'.

    Afterwards the session continued on ZOOM with a lively discussion between the online audience and both speakers being present. Questions posed about the use of technology and AI were critically assessed and recontextualized.

    We would like to thank all participants, organizers and speakers for their contribution in making this event possible.

    About RegionArts
    RegionArts partners are convinced of the need of integrating arts in ICT for SME innovation and competitiveness. As regional authorities, business development agencies and creative clusters, they have been working on promoting these cross-overs for the last years. It is the program’s objective to improve the implementation of funds in the partner regions, through adapting or designing one support scheme in each region that promotes the collaborations between artists and ICT companies.

    RegionArts is a multiyear program (2018 - 2023), funded by Interreg Europe.

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