Curators who will have Impact
an interview with Mark Coeckelbergh

“I’m a philosopher thinking about new technologies, what they mean for our lives and how they may change society. In my work I connect with artists and curators, since I think artistic research can help to bring in different forms of knowledge and experience to discuss these questions. I’m a professor at the University of Vienna, but I also connect to many people outside academia, in the worlds of technology and art.” – Mark Coeckelbergh

Etienne Verbist on behalf of ARTDEPENDENCE MAGAZINE: Who are you and WHY do you do what you do? 

Mark Coeckelbergh : I’m a philosopher thinking about new technologies, what they mean for our lives and how they may change society. In my work I connect with artists and curators, since I think artistic research can help to bring in different forms of knowledge and experience to discuss these questions. I’m a professor at the University of Vienna, but I also connect to many people outside academia, in the worlds of technology and art.

AD:  What’s your goal?

MCK: I want to better understand how how technologies change human experience and existence, and how they could change society for the better

AD:  What is your dream project?

MCK: I’d love to help building a more permanent platform and (infra) structure at an international level that brings philosophers, scientists, and artists together to think, experiment with, and explore new technologies and media that could transform human experience and change the world. And write a new book that significantly contributes to that project 🙂

AD: What themes do you pursue?

MCK: I’m currently especially interested in the theme of automation. For example I’ve written a book Money Machines about new financial technologies. What does happen if we let algorithms and robots do tasks usually done by humans? What does it mean for the humans, for our practices, for society? I’m also interested in human enhancement (see my book Human Being & Risk)

Since it raises the question how we are coupled with technologies. I also think about how humans relate to non-humans. I want to understand how we think about the moral status of non-humans, for example, or about nature. I’ve argued for a non-romantic relation to the environment, and for a relational and patient moral epistemology which does not nail down and strip non-humans but keeps an openness and an uncertainty in which their otherness can appear.

(see for instance my book Growing Moral Relations  and my recent keynote in Lisbon). Recently I’m thinking more about art and technology. I’m just back from a workshop on art and technology in Italy where I argued that there is a poetics in innovation, a kind of knowledge making that is similar to art.

In this book I argue that even if we might become more posthuman in the future, we will always remain vulnerable, but then in new, different ways.

AD: Why do you do what you do? What motivates you?

MCK: I care about the future and about humans.

AD: What role does the artist have in society?

MCK: Artists often feel and perceive better than many other people if there is something going on, you know, that there is something changing in the world. And they also actively contribute to that change by disrupting established ways of thinking and practice, and by showing and exploring new future possibilities most people have never considered. Artists can also remind us of the important role material objects and technologie play in human lives (the 8 new technologies): our smartphones, but also all kinds of simple objects like pens and cloths and technologies that are part of the infrastructure we don’t even think about, for example the wires and the houses / living machines we inhabit.

AD:  What’s your favourite art work?

MCK: That’s a really difficult question, I have very broad interests. De Bruyckere I like, for instance, or the work of Angelo Vermeulen. Just to name two Belgian artists. But currently I’m also looking at DIY type of art work. For example I just visited Roböxotica, from Günter Friesinger (portrait below), Art festival with machines making drinks and other stuff.

And I’m going to performances. Here are some artworks I like: I’m very interested in movement, moving bodies, moving people, clashes, entanglements:

This dance work is what inspired my interest in dance with robots  (Thomas Freundlich, choreographer and dancer, Human Interface, see also this video) It’s a dance of two people with industrial robots. I’m interested in how humans respond to these robots, what they experience, and whether we can consider what the robots do as “dance”. (See also my paper on machines and creativity.) I know the artist, studied the footage etc. Look also what’s going on between the humans. It’s really human/human/machine.

And this is “CPR Practice”, which I saw in Vienna (Austrian premiere) by Geumhyung Jeong , South Korean choreographer and performance artist. It’s also about interactions between machines and the human body, and with all kinds of objects actually, not only  the machine. CPR is used to reanimate people. The doll is used for training, normally. It simulates breathing and then the breathing stops. The artist is naked. She goes to the doll and tries to reanimate. Again and again. But fails. Who is moving? Who or what is alive, who or what is death? We have to keep moving. Borders are crossed Keep breathing!

Here is an impresion of the sound, and the beginning and end, but not most of the performance. when she is busy with the dummy and the objects.

Here’s another work of her:

Then there’s contemporary dance, without robots, but I like the intensity, the clashes, and the earthly character of it. It’s Wim Vandekeybus, with Ultima Vez: look at this:

for example this film Blush, I like especially the scene in the forest where there is so much dynamics and struggle and competition, humans clashing, bodies clashing: ATTRACTION –

and this dance, which I’ve recently seen: it’s called In Spite of Wishing and Wanting,

This is beautiful, isn’t it? It’s like a paiting, compare with De Aardappeleters of Vincent van Gogh, but that’s more static:

The Potato Eaters, Nuenen, April 1885. Oil on canvas, current location The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Karina Layman / May 23, 2017

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