The Future of Indeterminacy: Datification, Memory, Bio-politics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Contemporary Art Practice


The future is no longer seen as open. It is seen as precarious on the one hand and technologically over-determined on the other. Economic uncertainty, the rise of the risk society, the culture of fear and neoliberal necropolitics - the politics of 'making and letting die' (Mbembe 2003) - are seen as a serious threat. While the risk society attributes all hazards to human decisions, the culture of fear cultivates the tendency to catastrophise. Neoliberal necropolitics welds technology to the exploitation of natural and social reserves in an irreversible way creating a sense of closure and doom. Instead of lamenting the uncertainty of a 'cancelled future' (Berardi 2014) or the 'end of free will' induced by big-data's predictions (Han 2017), this interdisciplinary project reverses the question. It asks: what is the future of indeterminacy?

Initially derived from Gödel's undecidability and Stengers and Prirogine's non-linear dynamics in which order emerges spontaneously from chaotic systems, indeterminacy is a self-perpetuating dynamic of change. It has no beginning or end, no spatial or temporal constancy. It upsets the existing structures and ossified power regimes, which is why it was embraced as a liberating force by the 1960s, and, again, by the 1990s artists and theorists such as Cage, Fluxus, Xenakis, Derrida, Guattari, Hayles and Varela, all of whom sought to implement indeterminate procedures, in thought and action, in their respective fields.

In the digital age, in accelerated, informational capitalism, the situation is very different. First, permanent change is the rule. Second, art, culture, and politics are no longer separate; they are fused in the cultural sphere located in the infosphere. Consisting of the internet, cultural production, datification, algorithmic predetermination, symbolic as well as affective regimes, the infosphere has modified the language and forms of thought and action. It has also modified the structure of reality. Re-mobilisin Poggioli's concept of the avant-garde as inherently reproducible in other art forms and, importantly, in mainstream culture (1972), this project will develop a new understanding of the relationship of artistic indeterminacy to current cultural practices via four distinct research activities:

1. Case studies of the 1960s and 1990s indeterminate practices (Fluxus, Situationists International, etoy and Knowbotic Research) that disrupt semantic, visual, aural and kinaesthetic ordering and normativity in order to understand the full impact of their methodologies on present-day artistic and cultural practices.

2. Comparing these analyses to the 2010s indeterminacy that sabotages tracking and dataveillance, namely: glitching, obfuscation, databending and dissipative networks found in the work of such artists-activists as Nissenbaum, Cardenas, Cates, Menkman, Norby, Szauder, Biggs and Fujihata, which reconfigure (virtual and actual) existential spaces by dis-ordering cultural memory. Here case studies will be combined with hands-on workshops.

3. Forming hypotheses about the relationship of the (rapidly changing) digital unconscious to future media ecologies as related to media's profound somatic, social and cultural working via a series of art-science talks, an international conference, and a special issue of Leonardo (MIT Press).

4. Re-evaluating artistic indeterminacy's deconstruction of the cause-effect, parts-and-wholes relationship in light of its 'big questions', questions that have persisted from Surrealist Craven's 1920s practice of 'impulsive living' to Davis's 2018 work with chance-operated genetic coding, namely: Is sequence (linear, circular or patterned) the only way of constructing knowledge? Is the constant linking of events to the experience archive - personal and cultural identity - a necessity? Or, can we engage heterogeneity independently of any whole-ness and constancy? These questions will be explored in a monograph.

Planned Impact

This project offers excellent opportunities for a wider social, cultural and educational impact as, for many, the very word 'indeterminacy' denotes an obscure academic field, much like 'intermedia' is often mistakenly taken to be a niche concern of nerdy artists. This project has five pathways to impact. The first three will enable the broader public, adults and young adults, to understand, appreciate and take part in past and present indeterminate artistic practices. The second two will benefit emerging and existing art practitioners and teachers. In addition, all five will enable cultural organisations, journalists, writers, art practitioners and lay audiences to participate in a debate about one of the most pressing issues of our times: digital (un)freedom: the increasing use of data tracking and biometrics to unclear and, in some cases, problematic purposes.

The general public:

1. The Digital Archive: the above-mentioned case studies will be thematically grouped in a thoughtfully curated, historically imaginative digital archive that draws on the work of one of the groups researched in this project: the Situationists International. The SI focused on the spontaneous, inventive engagement with the (physical) environment and the working of personal and social memory. The digital archive will be an interactive virtual territory where audiences of all ages will come into contact with the most well known indeterminate practices. It will be co-hosted, on a separate website, by the University of Dundee and Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee's foremost art centre, and launched in January 2021. In addition to exhibitions, films and talks, DCA specialises in wide-ranging educational and informal learning programmes that connect adults and children to the making and processes of cultural artifacts and wider cultural history.

2.Workshops and Public Talks: contemporary indeterminate practices will be explored via hands-on workshops with the following artists-activists: Ajana, Cates, Cardenas, Fuhijata, Menkman and Nissenbaum. These workshops will focus on the hands-on legacy of past indeterminate practices adapted for the contemporary context, for example, data tracking and farming, and how to subvert or divert it. They will take place throughout 2020. The workshops will take place in the University of Dundee's newly refurbished Digital Research Studio; the talks will be hosted by DCA. Both will be open to non-academic participants, adults and young adults and jointly advertised on the U of Dundee and DCA's website and social media.

3.Two Café Science events in which I will pair up with mathematician Tasic, who is also a literary writer, to deliver two presentations that will clarify indeterminacy from the mathematical, literary and artistic perspectives. The first of these talks will take place in Dundee in late March 2021, the second in London in early April 2021.

Practitioners and Teachers:

1. A platform for emerging artists will be organised in November 2020 as part of the international conference in collaboration with the Northeast of North Festival (henceforth NEoN). The aim of NEoN is to advance the understanding and accessibility of digital and technology-driven art forms and practices. The purpose of the platform is to host and fund up to 5 high-quality proposals for new indeterminate artistic works from emerging artists. These works will be presented within the NEoN Festival, featured on the NEoN website and on their advertising materials.

2. Teaching materials with a hands-on, DIY approach will be compiled from the above-mentioned case studies and workshops and made available online, on the same website as the digital archive, at the end of the project, in May 2021. These teaching materials will be available to all; amateurs and professionals, emerging and established artists from all artistic backgrounds.


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