For the Impakt Festival 2014 “Soft Machines”, Impakt has appointed a curatorial team consisting of four New York-based experts: A.E Benenson, Ken Farmer, Leah Kelly and Noah Hutton. This 25th edition of the Impakt Festival explores affective machines: the simulation of emotions by technology but also, more generally, the expression, communication, and modulation of affect over their networks and systems. The festival takes an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together scientists, artists, and cultural theorists for critical dialogues spread across a range of mediums and registers.
We’re pleased to give an introduction to the program plans of our curatorial team.
IMPAKT’s 2014 festival “Soft Machines” explores the intersection of affect and machines, taking the concept of empathy as both its content and form. Here, the discipline of artificial intelligence is redefined as a constant crossing and sharing of paths, where technology adopts the ethical and emotional burdens of humans and our own emotional world is reshaped by the demands of technology. Machines made soft, and soft flesh codified as machines.
From this comes a new diagram for understanding how technology changes our lives: not the straight line of “progress” but the figure of the X, describing both a convergence and a short-circuit, a target and its negation, simultaneous vectors moving forward into the future and backwards into the past.
Between October 29th to November 2nd, the Impakt Festival “Soft Machines” traces the criss-cross of the X across discussions, screenings, performances, interactive public art and an exhibition. This is a festival of connections drawn amongst diverse trajectories, an investigation into how we exchange feelings with and through technology, but also a moment for interdisciplinary exchange that brings together artists, cultural theorists, and scientists.
Though much of the work of artificial empathy still lies in the future, we already know that there no single kind of affective bridge is being built between humans and technology and that their emerging forms are both stranger and more pervasive than we expected. That is, if the smiling robot is still confined to experimental labs and the sci-fi imagination, out there in the world drones strike at our homes, algorithms negotiate our healthcare, and networks script our relationships.
And so as much as “Soft Machines” points towards work not yet done or only just begun, speculations on the future are tempered with a critical perspective on the present that acknowledges the importance of this early moment full of missteps and uneasiness; its ethical problems, disappointments, and outright failures become opportunities for revealing our own aspirations, fears, and ideologies.
Ultimately, to engage any given media moment–past, present, future– is to look at both specific ideas about affective technology and to look more generally at feelings about technology: anticipation, reflection, optimism, disappointment. In this way, by moving towards an understanding of what it means for a machine to feel, we find ourselves doubled-back upon the course of self-understanding instead, borne by the route of the X back to a renewed sense of what it means to feel human.
The curatorial team of 2014:
A.E. Benenson is a writer and curator based in New York. He received his master’s degree in critical and curatorial studies of Modern Art from Columbia University. Through essays, artist monographs, lectures, and exhibitions he has explored contemporary revisions of art and history through network theory, media studies, and the politics of digital culture. In 2013 he was a curatorial fellow of the Art and Law Program at Fordham Law School. He is currently a curatorial resident for the 2014/15 season at 221A in Vancouver and a curatorial researcher at the Artist’s Institute in New York City.
Ken Farmer is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Nuit Blanche New York, a public art presenter based in New York CIty. His collaborative interventions serve to activate urban space, and creatively reimagine public art as a democratic medium. Farmer has cultivated a unique curatorial style through which contemporary art and new media serve as catalysts for social and communal experience. His ambitious vision and place-making sensibility have led to innovative new works and site-specific adaptations with many renowned visual artists, including Vito Acconci, Rita Ackermann, Jonah Freeman, Justin Lowe, Marilyn Minter, and Guido van der Werve.
Farmer’s recent activities include the Ada Project with Conrad Shawcross–an ongoing exhibition and performance series which has shown at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. She’s Crafty, a short residency program through which female artists exhibited their creative processes in the New Museum’s lobby window; The Autumn Bowl, an audio-visual series in a former rope factory and skating bowl on the Brooklyn Waterfront; installations for the Red Bull Music Academy New York Performance Series; Kairos, an exhibition at the RBMA Studios, and the premiere of Marco Brambilla’s Megaplex trilogy in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
Dr. Leah Kelly is a neuroscientist based in New York. She obtained her PhD at UCL using electrophysiology to study molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity. In 2009 she started her Postdoctoral Fellowship at Rockefeller University where she uses electrophysiology and optogenetics to map the neural circuitry underlying feeding behavior.
Outside of the lab she has consulted on various projects at the intersection of art and science for the Palais de Tokyo, Serpentine Gallery, Drawing Center, Watermill Center, Rubin Museum, Villa Gillet and the feature film I-Origins. She and has written about neuro-aesthetics for Science and proprioception for Corpus Magazine and is a member of the New York writing group NeuWrite. She is currently making a short film about synesthesia.
Noah Hutton is a curator, filmmaker and writer who has studied neuroscience and art history, and is the founder of the website The Beautiful Brain. He has directed award-winning documentary films (Crude Independence, 2009 SXSW Film Festival) and is currently working on a ten-year documentary about several of the most prominent neuroscience endeavors in the world, including The Human Brain Project and the U.S. BRAIN Initiative. Hutton was recently awarded a two-year fellowship at the Wellcome Trust in London, part of an interdisciplinary group of scientists, poets, and visual artists investigating the balance of rest and busyness in the modern world. He previously curated Subjective Resonance Imaging, a group show of science-based artwork for the 2013 Human Brain Mapping summit in Seattle.