Lunch Bytes Helsinki #2
Structures and Textures: The Status of the Object
The term internet of things has recently become a buzzword in discussions about developments in networked technology. It describes an advanced connectivity between objects that allows them to talk to each other.
Ordinary objects are assigned machine-readable identifiers and sensors, so that they may be remotely monitored and controlled by digital technologies. In this way, all kinds of things can become carriers of digital signals, while the computer – to quote the architect and writer Keller Easterling – 'has left the box'.
Technologists enthusiastically enumerate the many possibilities of this development: a heart monitor implant talking to the central computer of a hospital, streets with built-in sensors to switch the street lights on and off just in time for approaching cars, or a fridge that is able to order a new carton of milk online once the old one has been finished.
All these things are becoming reality with this new technology. But if this form of intelligence is on the rise, what does this entail? How does this affect our relationship with the objects we engage with? What happens when formerly inanimate objects 'come to life' and show signs of agency, producing and distributing information and reacting to their environment? Who, in fact, is controlling them?
These technological developments can be related to recent work in philosophy that reassesses the status of the object, most notably Graham Harman's Object Oriented Ontology. One of the central claims in Harman's thought is that the object's reality, or its truth, far exceeds our knowledge or experience of it. In other words, we can never fully grasp the essence of an object, as it always remains partly hidden from us: the object is there, but it is not there for us.
This encounter is an aesthetic one, we can feel this quality, rather than understand it. Connecting this argument to the objects of art, it can be argued that this is precisely how artworks function and what makes them so appealing: they seem to always be slightly out of reach, difficult to master, and they thrive on this very ambiguity. Moreover, human object interactions are considered as just one special case within the more general field of object-object relations.
Linking these two developments – the internet of things and the current philosophical interest in the status of objects – Lunch Bytes event asked how we can think about objects in today's digital media-saturated world, situated somewhere between rigorous technological control (internet of things) and radical autonomy (object-oriented ontology). Both strands, however, highlight the connections between objects, as they similarly describe the objects that surround us as part of a buzzing field of exchange, humming without our awareness.
To put it with Steven Shaviro, an American culture critic: "Vitality is unevenly distributed, but it is at work everywhere." Artists who work with technology and have an intimate yet complicated relation to objects are invited, along experts, to think about the present and future of the object, inquiring into how it both affects and perpetually eludes us, addressing how objects relate to one another and what role technology plays in this relational, vital field.
Lily Díaz, Professor and Head of Research in the Department of Media at Aalto University
Cécile B. Evans, artist, Berlin
Marcus Steinweg, philosopher, Berlin
Jenna Sutela, writer and artist, Helsinki
Moderated by Melanie Bühler, curator of Lunch Bytes, Amsterdam
The event took place on September 2014 in Gallery Sinne, Helsinki. It was co-curated by Jenna Sutela and Melanie Bühler, as a collaboration between the Goethe-Institut Finland, Checkpoint Helsinki, Sinne, Pixelache Helsinki and Frame Visual Art Finland.
This is Lunch Bytes
Lunch Bytes is a series of public discussions, which examine the consequences of the increasing ubiquity of digital networked technologies in relation to artistic practice. Each event is dedicated to a different topic and brings together artists, media scholars, designers, curators and intellectuals.
Lunch Bytes was initiated in 2011 by the Goethe-Institut Washington, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and Pro Helvetia in Washington DC. In 2014, the series is launched in Europe as a project by the Goethe-Institut in Northwest Europe. In close collaboration with local partners, the Goethe-Instituts in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, Helsinki, London and Stockholm will set up discussions about art and digital culture throughout 2014. The events will refer to four major themes: Medium, Structures and Textures, Society, Life. The project will culminate in an international symposium to be held in Berlin in 2015.
Lunch Bytes is curated by Melanie Bühler, in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut and the following partner institutions: Foam in Amsterdam, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Kunstforeningen GL STRAND in Copenhagen, Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Checkpoint Helsinki, Frame, Pixelache and Sinne in Helsinki, Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, Arcadia Missa, Goldsmiths, University of London, Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm.