SOFT CONTROL: Art, Science and the Technological Unconscious

International art exhibition, conference, workshops, lectures
November 14–December 15, 2012

Curated by Dmitry Bulatov (RU)

Artists in exhibition:

Marina Abramović (RS/US) with Suzanne Dikker and Matthias Oostrik (NL) / James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau (UK) / Tuur Van Balen (BE) / Brandon Ballengee (US) / Guy Ben-Ary and Kirsten Hudson (AU) / Boredomresearch: Vicky Isley and Paul Smith (UK) / David Bowen (US) / Ursula Damm (DE) / Joe Davis (US) / Louis-Philippe Demers (SG) / Stefan Doepner and Lars Vaupel (SI/DE) / Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha (NL) / Andrew Gracie (UK/ES) / Floris Kaayk (NL) / Kuda begut sobaki (RU) / Seiko Mikami (JP) / Neurotica (AU-US) / Leo Peschta (AT) / Maja Smrekar (SI) / Stelarc (AU) / The Tissue Culture & Art Project: Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr (AU) / Polona Tratnik (SI) / Bill Vorn (CA).

Science and technology constitute the visible embodiment of our ability to discover and make use of the laws of nature through the workings of our rational mind. But why have we chosen this path? What methods do we turn to, and how might this pose a potential threat to our existence? Although science and technology are usually considered tools dependent on practical and utilitarian concerns, in fact the motivations driving technological progress are much less straightforward. Before these tools and techniques are woven into the fabric of social life, the logical judgements lying at their foundation (generated by our rational capabilities) must pass through the complex labyrinth of the psyche. To what extent do the discourse and contexts of contemporary techno-culture depend upon the anthropological matrix that has traditionally united belief and ritual, the real and the imagined, the subject and the object?

The SOFT CONTROL: Art, Science and the Technological Unconscious exhibition reveals to us today’s “technological unconscious”, which encompasses mythological imagination, apocalyptic visions and utopian dreams. SOFT CONTROL shows how the language and ideas of our modern post-biological society are capable of altering and reconfiguring the boundaries of our reality and our very identities. By focusing our attention on works of art created using the latest 21st century media – robotics, IT, biomedicine and nanotechnology – the artists featured in this exhibition attempt to reveal the sources of the modern technological myth, which insists on the permanent value of efficiency, control, unrestrained technological development and economic expansion.

We begin with the axiom that science and technology are not simply instruments to be used in the achieving of certain designated goals. On the contrary, the autonomy of technological systems and their active penetration into all spheres of human life allow us to conceptualize technology as an autotelic ontological entity that plays an ever-greater role in defining human development. The question arises of how one should understand the nature of control, the nature of the compulsion that forces the human to participate in the making of technological systems that, with time, will become not only inseparable from the biological organism, but, in the long term, will surpass it. Is structuring by technologies a manifestation of distinct, abstract “machinisms” that fill our unconscious, or is it a hidden “formatting” influence of the basic elements of medial carriers that possess their own materiality and reality?

In this environment, certain artistic strategies acquire increased significance: those strategies directed towards the formation of a new human right, the right to reinvent and rewrite the very foundations of the technological myth. This right assumes the possibility of creating new forms and new identities in a completely sovereign, artistic manner – not, however, as the protagonists of a historically determined narrative, but as the creators of that narrative. This practice bears witness to the capacity of the artists – and in the final account, of the viewers as well – to become the authors of their own constructed past. By demonstrating the logic of the appropriation and alteration of the technological myth, SOFT CONTROL articulates the primary task of the individual living in an age of new technologies: the construction of a living future (that is, a future that endows us with freedom), rather than a dead and mechanised future being built without our participation.

Concept for the exhibition, conference and the educational program is developed by Dmitry Bulatov, 2011.
Dmitry Bulatov is an artist, curator and art theorist. His research focuses on different aspects of interdisciplinary art media (sci-art, techno-biological arts, etc.), as well as on submediality aesthetics. He has curated about more than twenty major international exhibitions and publishing projects in Russia and abroad. Since 1998 Bulatov is the senior curator at the Baltic Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts (Russia).