This website presents artistic and scientific projects in the field of Experimental Informatics and its teaching at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM). It tries to open up the aesthetic potentials of (digital) technologies and to develop new perspectives beyond the usual polarity of techno-euphoria and techno-skepticism. Its predecessor was the lab III website.
The starting point is the conviction that humanity, while increasingly dependent on technology and its smooth functioning, is at the same time „spiritually not in control“ of it. A different understanding, new experimental-aesthetic approaches and, last but not least, new language games are necessary to dissolve the insufficient dualism of euphoria over technology and pessimism over culture that still dominates the discourse.
Our seminars and project work focus on algorithms as artistic material, their aesthetic reception, production and reflection. But the own „making“ is the starting point for everything! By freeing (digital) technologies from their usual purpose orientation in the prevailing alliance of economy-technology-science and focusing on the experimental exploration and aesthetics of technical possibility spaces, the fundamental importance of technology and design for the formability of our own (technical) future becomes visible in the first place. We learn that the horizon of our world, in which we orient ourselves, move and act, is always already significantly determined by our poietic capacity (fiction, design, imagination, making) and that we cannot delegate the responsibility for it.
Between poetry and poiesis: Another focus is the examination of language and text. What does language mean at a time when most of the texts that surround us are read and written by computers? What literary potential do algorithms—which are themselves signs and texts—offer, and how can we use them artistically, for example, to reveal the structures of natural languages and enable new experiences of language? What language, concepts, and literary forms are suitable for promoting other thinking, other narratives, and other poietic practices (i.e., other practices of making, technology, production, architecture, design, etc.) so that other futures become imaginable?
The notion of ground zero has its origins in military language. It marks the point on the ground directly below a nuclear detonation. In a more general sense, the term is also used in relation to earthquakes, epidemics, and other disasters to mark the point of the most severe damage or destruction.
So, to which catastrophe are we referring here? Actually, we could reference the forthcoming break in human existence and the great transformation associated with it. A transformation caused by an amalgam of climate change and environmental destruction, by artificial intelligence and other digital technologies, by synthetic biology and nanotechnologies, by globalization and advancing urbanization, by an untethered financial industry and democracies in crisis, and so forth. We could (once again) declare a zero-hour, which does not place emphasis on what is already lost, but on what is opening up. The emergence of new possibilities and of new risks at the same time. Similar to the artists’ group ZERO, ground zero could refer to the zone in which an old state transforms into an unknown new one.
Against this background we could easily justify why we do research and artistic projects on algorithms and digital technologies and why we are convinced that a new attitude towards technology, progress and innovation is needed. We could use this to give reason for rethinking the concept of cognition and to show we lack reflection on what language means in a time when most of the texts around us are written and read by machines. It could be grounds for considering what it means for our society and also for the arts that the digital systems that manage and execute the transformation are invisible and based on very abstract concepts and formal procedures. We would thus be referring to a field where aesthetic concepts based on the physical appearance of phenomena run into the void and artists have to search for new ways and strategies.
But this would be more an a posteriori justification for using a phrase with negative connotations. In fact, I just picked it up. Our colleague Julia Scher once guided guests through the Academy and tried to explain to them what actually takes place in our laboratory. A problem that I know very well. How do you explain something whose main component is code? Something that you cannot show, because it’s more a way of thinking, about abstract signs and a way to access reality that is not bound to a certain location or a thing that you can grasp and watch from different perspectives. Instead it is something that takes place in the net, under the surface of society, that lives in our ideas as well as in the machines. Struggling for an explanation, Julia finally said: “For me this place is the ground zero of the KHM”. I somehow liked it, so why not. It actually doesn’t mean much—what we deal with and the way we do it is more important.
Professor of experimental informatics
Development of alternative views on (digital) technology.
Critique of algorithmic rationalities and their social significance.
Academic / artistic staff aesthetics and new technologies
»Nobody cares how it works as long as it works«
Practical and theoretical work on the reciprocal shaping of humans, machines and our common environment, mainly through algorithms.