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New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas around SPECULATION

Cover Image:

Members of Metropolarity reading as part of Curatorial Fellow Anthony Romero’s “Erasures” at Vox Populi AUX, Philadelphia in January 2015

On Sunday June 14, the participants of New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas will host a public program featuring media theorist Orit Halpern, writer and designer Edward Keller, and the sci-fi collective Metropolarity (M. Eighteen, Ras Mashramani, Rasheedah Phillips, Alex Smith), growing out of the group’s twelve-week-long investigation into the Spring 2015 R&D Season’s thematic, SPECULATION.

The Seminars operate as a peer-led initiative, gathering approximately fifteen multidisciplinary thinkers together on a weekly basis at the New Museum to investigate seasonal topics developed over multiple platforms (performances, exhibitions, educational programs, etc.) by the Museum’s Department of Education and Public Engagement and the Season’s artists in residence. The course of study for the Spring 2015 Season was devoted to speculation in its many valences, including efforts of monetization and financialization in the art field; the emergence of “speculative realist” philosophies, understood as a diverse range of frameworks in which human thought and consciousness do not function as the primary arbiters of (or influences on) material realms; and ongoing conversations about how it might be possible to imagine—or speculate—oppositional movements or alternative futures for politics and social life. Brought together by mutual, if not always compatible, interests in SPECULATION, this Season’s group of participants was made up of artists, archivists, curators, educators, researchers, scholars, students, and others. Some of the publications studied in the Seminars are available for purchase at the New Museum bookstore.

The SPECULATION semester will culminate with a public program that emerges out of our study. Not really a conclusion as much as a train of thought, this event will enable further exploration of science fiction, media theory, and social life and will open up some of the research by the Seminars group to a broader public by putting us in conversation with writers, artists, and scholars who are addressing future-oriented speculative thought through fiction and design work..

Orit Halpern is a historian of science who works on histories of cybernetics in design, art, and the human sciences. She is currently working on a history of “smartness” that examines multiple fields from finance to neuroscience to create an account of our contemporary obsession with ubiquitous computing. Her most recently published book is titled Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015). Her work has also appeared in numerous publications including Public Culture, Journal of Visual Culture, Configurations, and C-Theory, and at venues such as ZKM in Karlsruhe Germany.

Halpern’s talk, “The ‘Smart’ Mandate: From Neural Nets to Ubiquitous Computing,” will offer a short, speculative exploration of the relationship between highly visible contemporary smart city developments, such as Songdo in South Korea, and mid-century initiatives to merge cybernetics, design, and the human sciences. Asking how bandwidth, as rates of bits transmitted over a unit time, come to be equated with the sustainability of life itself, Halpern will argue that few discourses have gained greater popularity in our present time than the idea of “smart” cities and responsive environments as an answer to contemporary concerns about the future of human populations, security, economy, and ecology. Extending from this rather unintuitive merger of computation and life that is linked to a history of cybernetics, design, and the human sciences, she will discuss the new logic of the computational “test-bed” or “demo” that has now come to preoccupy our ideas of how to manage life under conditions of real and imagined environmental, security, and economic uncertainty.

Ed Keller is Director of the Center for Transformative Media at the New School and Associate Professor at Parsons, the New School for Design in New York. His current research seminars at Parsons include Post-Planetary Design and The Radical Future of Guitar. Prior to joining Parsons, he taught at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University (GSAPP) from 1998 to 2010 and at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCIArc) from 2004 to 2009. In addition to his teaching career, Keller is a designer, writer, musician, and multimedia artist. With Carla Leitao, he cofounded AUM Studio, an architecture and new media firm that has produced residential projects, competitions, and new media installations in Europe and the US. Keller’s work and writing has appeared widely in publications including Punctum, Praxis, ANY, Architectural Digest, Arquine, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Architecture, Precis, Wired, Metropolis, Assemblage, Ottagono, and Progressive Architecture. He has spoken on architecture, film, technology, and ecology internationally. Keller has also been an avid rock climber for over thirty years.

Keller’s talk, “Science Fiction and the Post Planetary imagination,” will address science fiction–related themes that have been catalysts for his teaching, research, and design work, and will investigate what is at stake at the post-planetary scale. What new aesthetics, politics, ethics, and economies, and new modes of individual and collective sovereignty have emerged as humanity takes ever larger steps to leave the earth?

Metropolarity describes itself as “a collective of speculative fiction writers/artists who are queer, trans, poor and working class/low income, survivors, mothers, professionals, non-academics, glorious and weird nerd space and city folk of the African, Caribbean, ‘Latino,’ mestiza, and European diasporas.” The collective was founded in the summer of 2012 and is based in Philadelphia. They’ve written that they “believe that those without power must take advantage and control of the media outlets that we have access to. We choose science fiction as our lens to create new worlds, identities, self paradigms, and to destroy old, harmful ones.” In 2015, Metropolarity was a featured artists group during curator Anthony Romero’s AUX Curatorial Fellowship at Vox Populi in Chicago, and a Special Guest at the Rhode Island Independent Publishing Expo. The collective is made up of M. Eighteen, Ras Mashramani, Rasheeda Phillips, and Alex Smith.

M. Eighteen is a connector and broadcaster, handles production operations, and was a 2014 Leeway Foundation Art and Change grantee. Eighteen’s specialties include cyborgs, AOL RPG, and anime.

Ras Mashramani originated the idea to form Metropolarity and is a gatherer, internet poet, and a former fiction editor for the free Philadelphia-based literary magazine APIARY. Mashramani’s specialties include girlhood, unsupervised internet, and horror.

Rasheeda Phillips is the author of Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Stories) (2014), the director of the organization the Afrofuturist Affair, and the cofounder of the Black Quantum Futurism Collective. Phillips’s specialties include experimental time order, new paradigm construction, and quantum physics.

Alex Smith is responsible for the “Laser Life” queer sci-fi reading series. Smith’s writing will be featured in the upcoming Samuel Delany tribute anthology Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany (2015). Smith’s specialties include comics, superheroes, and fashion.

Metropolarity will read excerpts from their recent publications, such as Herald and a collective response to “Is Sci-Fi Political?” Following that, they will speak to the real life repercussions that the intentional act of creating and performing their speculative fiction has had on their surrounding communities and networks. For example, they will consider the implications of the business and tech sectors that increasingly look to science fiction for “ideas” and inspiration, often problematically consulting with old guard/cyberpunk science fiction authors.

Spring 2015 SPECULATION Seminars participants include: Alison Burstein, Johanna Burton, Tyler Coburn, João Enxuto, Taraneh Fazeli, Andrew Kachel, Chelsea Knight, Melanie Kress, Jordan Lord, Erica Love, Joseph Lubitz, Laura McLean-Ferris, Amanda Parmer, Elise Rasmussen, Alicia Ritson, Amber Hawk Swanson, Kendra Sullivan, Ryan Tracy, Mimi Winick, and Constantina Zavitsanos. A conversation following the afternoon’s public presentations will be moderated by Seminars participants João Enxuto and Erica Love.

Sponsors

New Museum Seminars are made possible through the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Additional support is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Generous endowment support is provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Skadden, Arps Education Programs Fund, and the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education Programs at the New Museum.

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