#rp18 speaker Orit Halpern; photo credit: private
Our next speaker, Orit Halpern, is a hypermodern renaissance person: She is co-director of the Speculative Life Research Lab at Milieux – Institute for Technology, Art and Culture, takes on future-oriented goals involving interaction design and theory, sociology and anthropology, while using her multidisciplinary education, combined with cold, hard numbers and science fiction scenarios, to focus our society’s attention on the kinds of future “extremes” that could be lying in wait for us all.
She pays special attention to the power “big data” has on the individual and society. Cybernetics – the study of control systems – plays a large role in her deliberations and, with it, the question of how digitisation is changing our way of thinking, behaviour and interpretation of reality. PoP (Power of People), this year’s motto, also unifies the wide variety of observations concerning the history of “intelligence” and its relationship to the ideal of self-organisation in the humanities, digital media and design.
One thing becomes very apparent when scrolling through the headlines in today’s newspapers and journals: Disasters and catastrophes seem to define the human situation in relation to the environment, to each other and the other species that populate our planet – and the only thing that we have in our arsenal to take on these daunting problems is the magic word “resilience” (see ‘Hopeful Resilience", E-flux). Resilience has become a new logic that enables the mathematical measurability and representability of the planet and its inhabitants, allowing for new forms of technical manipulation and operations. That leaves us living in a kind of permanent technosocial stress test.
In one of Halpern’s two new book projects, “Extreme Futures”, the professor takes this current state of affairs as the jump-off for investigating how design and construction techniques, on the one hand, and actuarial methods, on the other, can help make (ostensibly) non-representable and unpredictable environmental, financial and security catastrophes manageable for us.
Last summer, she played this all out in one of the most exciting thought experiments we’ve seen in a long time – the Planetary Futures-Summerschool. As most of us aren’t enrolled in university (anymore), we’ll finally be able to get an inside view when Halpern takes to the stage to gaze into the future (after she unfortunately had to cancel at short notice last year).
In her first book, “Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945”, Halpern already presented a genealogy of interactivity and our modern obsession with “big data” and data visualisation. In her second book project, “Smart Mandate”, which she is currently finishing at the IKKM Weimar, she examines the history of smartness. The book’s narrative covers a wide thematic spectrum from finance to the theories behind the guerrilla warfare tactics used in the anti-colonial struggles in Algeria and Vietnam; the management of forests and animal populations, all the way to present-day “smart cities”. Using these examples, Orit Halpern individually elaborates how collectives, from insect societies to crowds of people, have undergone a definitional shift: from their assessment as dangerous, paranoid, fascist or communist, to a definition as a resource, as a site of political possibilities or of financial use, as an “obtainable” information carrier, as a medium through something like “crowdsourcing”, or as an “extractable” raw material as in the case of data mining.
Simultaneously to the shift in perspective on the population as an informational medium, we also saw the rise of ecology and a reformulation of the environment in terms of communication and relationalism. We hope that you’re getting ready to join us for an intensive hour on Stage 1, covering ecology and cybernetics since the 1960s – so that, together, we can ask ourselves what these fields have to do with new tactics and approaches for discussing issues such as race conflicts, sex, decolonisation and environmental catastrophes.
How do we imagine a future that is more pluralistic, diverse and fairer than the current state of resource extraction and power, propagated in the name of security, technological progress and growth?
As an introduction into the topic, we suggest the Livestream on the “Ways of Knowing Cities” event on 9 February. Next to Orit Halpern, both Wendy Chun Wendy Chun and, #rp guest from last year, Trevor Paglen will also be speaking!