There are no words to describe how grateful and fulfilled I feel after these five weeks of exchange, working together with the San Francisco Bay artists — Stephanie, Jenny, Sharmi, Erik, Marlys, Avital, and Parul. It has been a great pleasure to meet and work with them despite the approximate 6000 miles of physical distance between Vienna and the Bay Area; I have the odd and delightful feeling that I've actually met them in person.
Within the framework of international exchange, I had the pleasure of designing and leading online sessions with the mission of exploring and addressing the social challenge, "In “Search of Truth.” Using feminist hacking strategies as a top-down methodological ground, informed by Post Humanism and New Materialism theories and practices, we rose to the challenge of collaborating, discussing, brainstorming, analysing, creating, imagining, speculating, dreaming, and inventing alternative interfaces to unravel and demystify our perceptions of truth.
In the first three weeks we had six intensive group sessions, each focusing on a particular problem and perspective regarding the main topic, "In Search of Truth.” In session 0, we reviewed codes of conduct and focused on methods and strategies in tackling the theme — we discussed hacking as well as critical and diffractive thinking as possible ways to unravel our perceptions of truth.
In Session 1, we attempted at “Touching the Truth” by asking ourselves, “What to believe?” and “What do I wish to be true?” We accomplished this mission by examining and questioning models of machines that were designed with the purpose of leading users to a certain belief and understanding of truth. Starting with the idea that any search for truth is prompted by a desire for change, we searched for open source tools that might be useful in empowering our wishes. This challenge was our launching pad into practice mode, which was followed by a couple hours of hands-on work to physically build a “touch” sensor made of recycled material.
Session 2 was devoted to the idea of “Demystifying What is True,” with a particular gaze at the truth behind new technologies. Using a more phenomenological approach, we bounced between individual and common situations, from human to non-human perspectives, and back to one of the matters that might establish common ground: water. Hovering on feminist hacking ground, we discussed the importance of caring in re-thinking and repairing the world. The discussion led us to make a DIY electronic circuit that, with the help of an Arduino microcontroller, enabled us to listen to the electricity in each other's bodies.
Session 3, with the title “Touch/Pinch to Believe,” led us to the core of perception and its relevance to the individual and/or collective conception of truth. By looking into the complexities of the proprioception system, we recognised the importance of touch and haptic stimuli in differentiating reality from virtuality. With the use of microcontrollers and vibration motors, we attempted to touch each other, if only virtually.
In Session 4, we speculated on truth, thinking outside the box, brainstorming on apparatuses for the future, and ways of expanding interfaces that might be helpful in hacking our perceptions of truth.
In session 5, participants presented their project ideas and feedback to each other. I want to highlight the solidarity and mutual help between the participating artists. At the end of the session, we made sure that everybody was in contact and organised a mutual help-and-assistance network. It was extraordinary for me to observe that even despite the physical distance, participants were able to reach out and empower each other. At this point, by observing the common and safer space we established together, I started to shift my attention from focusing on the final result to the collective effort, mutual support, and work-in-process mentality employed by the participants. What a joyful and rewarding moment!
Not even two weeks had passed and participants were already “ready” to document and present their projects. Together with the amazing web-designer Maya Hilbert, we set the stage to showcase participant projects — the virtual exhibition. Maya Holm and Shamsher Virk joined our working forces and organised the documentation of the projects as well as the text review. Again, another very good example of a successful collective effort. A super-mega-thanks for everybody's support!!!
The live showcase event took place on October 9th and was marked by the presence of panelists Dasha Ortenberg, Rashin Fahandej, and Vanessa Chang, who kindly offered feedback to the exchange artists. Their contribution was central and crucial: along with very positive feedback, they tackled some sensitive points that were not perceived before and brought new perspectives that had not yet been considered. We were all very grateful and honoured by their participation in the event.
The new media art works-in-progress displayed in the exhibition "In Search for Truth" are statements and essays on how truth is perceived differently within multiple distinct contexts and points of view. A common theme is the wish to unravel the truth by enveloping otherness — whether that is through the self-other or collective-other — which is an aspect that emerged from the deep solidarity within the group. The exhibition expresses a collective concern towards an excessive trust, dependency, and reliance on new technologies in the digital age, either by tackling some of its troubles — such as the digital self, artificial intelligence and mobile tracking — or by speculating on "true" presents and futures. Either way, we confirmed the impossibility of a one-and-only reality, and with that, the urgent need to constantly re-situate ourselves and become aware of the other side of “truth.”
I feel very honoured for the opportunity to work with these talented artists and for being able to follow their process until this stage. Many thanks and congratulations to Stephanie, Jenny, Sharmi, Erik, Marlys, Avital, and Parul!
I would also like to thank Maya Holm and Shamsher Virk for their amazing guidance and support during this journey. I sincerely wish that we keep on searching for the truth together, perhaps in other exciting future projects.
How can a “true conception of reality” be established contemporaneously, and how does it influence us as individuals and as a collective? Is our truth an individual perception or a common belief constructed by the masses? How does truth affect where we are and the way we care for each other (as humans and non-humans)? Is unraveling the truth a way to trigger social change? What makes us wish for change and what are we able to change on our own? Which personal tools or senses do we resort to in order to distinguish truth from falsity? Will the pursuit of truth emancipate us? Ultimately, can technology be an asset in the pursuit and repair of truth, even if used within fictional scenarios?
These are just some of the questions I look forward to discussing and elaborating on with some amazing Bay Area participants during the upcoming four-week online exchange. The workshops will surely challenge us to collaboratively dialogue, brainstorm, analyse, create, invent, imagine, dream, and speculate on alternative interfaces as tool kits to unravel and demystify complex systems (such as the perception of truth). These questions will also help to position us critically towards what has changed, what is changing, and what can be changed in that regard.
Since 2006, I have been teaching and offering hands-on workshops on media art, inspired particularly by the idea of demystifying and "demythifying" the apparatus. My practice is grounded in hacking philosophy and along with many other post-internet artists, I have a lot of fun with subverting the system, reverse engineering, hacking creative processes, defending access, and openismus. One of my main topics of interest is interactive haptic visuality. In my artistic practice, I seek to subvert visuality as a primary mode of experience, playing with technology as a means to expand and stimulate corporeal perceptions.
I also feel very privileged to be part of a feminist hacking community based in Vienna, Austria — Mz* Baltazar’s Laboratory. With the folks in this Hackerspace, I have learned to break with feminine gender scripts, transgress gender norms, and embrace technological challenges through feminist lenses. Feminist hacking is about fostering a culture of fearless making, activism, and provocative thinking from a queer, non-binary, and female* perspective. I believe that these are very strong and necessary tools for individual and collective emancipation that will guide us through this cultural and social international exchange. I am looking forward to learning and hearing from all the participants and hopefully, with a feminist touch, touching some of the truths we wish to unravel.
We will keep in touch!
Feature image credit: Patrícia J. Reis, The Wishing Machine Project (2016). Still frame from dual-channel video installation. Still courtesy of Patrícia J. Reis.