Incredible Machines 2022: Model Is the Message

  • Discussion
  • October 1, 2022

    Location: The New Centre for Research & Practice

    Above: Justin Lincoln, Modulating Ramp, 2022

    The New Centre for Research & Practice, in collaboration with Richmond Art Gallery, will host the Incredible Machines 2022: Model Is the Message on October 1 and 2, 2022. The event will be followed up with the publication of a volume on the topic by the conference guests.

    The original Incredible Machines conference was a two-day live, in person and online gathering on March 7-8, 2014, in Vancouver, Canada. Conceived as a transdisciplinary event for discussions about the transformative role of computational technologies, it brought together a large group of thinkers and artists in a new presentational format that challenged conventional thinking about technology inside and outside the world of contemporary art. Organized by Mohammad Salemy and Access Gallery, Incredible Machines 2014 was the first academic conference with both online and IRL presentations. It featured guest speakers and a sizable audience from different parts of the world and set the stage for the establishment of The New Centre for Research & Practice in the following September as an online platform with year-round programming dedicated to the questions of technology and futurity, now in its 9th year of operation.

    While keeping the discussions of the original event in the rearview mirror, the Incredible Machines 2022 will be looking at the technological developments of the last decade in the broadest sense, especially those with ontological roots in scientific, social, cultural, and political technologies. Our current epoch is marked by techno-capitalism’s instrumental logic and unsatiated thirst for human attention, leaving less and less time for us to produce, contemplate, or even value original and extensive explanations, reflections, and critiques of the existing world.

    If the declining value of meaningful content in the postwar world was summarized by Marshall McLuhan’s famous words that “the Medium is the Message,” today, we are confronted with a changing world in which, according to the Philosophers of Technology Benjamin Bratton and the computer engineer Blaise Agüera y Arcas, “The Model is the Message.” Can a shift from the medium to modeling enable us to circumvent observations and critiques to instead arrive at alternative modes of operation that bring forth consequential interventions in the world?

    Models are characterized by their deep foothold in the techno-scientific world and their prevalent role in executing tasks. They emblemize the interplays and tradeoffs between representational fidelity and practical constraints. Models not only signify the friction between our theoretical and practical resources versus reality but also navigate conflicts and conformities between various theoretical and practical frameworks.

    In this sense, models are not mere idealizations, useful fictions, or indirect ways of talking or acting upon the world but encapsulations of know-whats and know-hows inherent to theoretical and practical commitments pertaining to framing and unframing the world, namely knowing and acting upon it. Given their entanglement with the suppositions and partialities—implicit or explicit—embedded in theoretical and practical frameworks, models can either reveal or surreptitiously carry and reinforce these elements. They create what is often called black box systems or black box societies in which programmatic schemes of operations have been not only automated but kept away from our awareness and intervention.

    Incredible Machines 2022 will also examine the possibility that the fields of design and architecture via model making can function today as a space of refuge for artists and thinkers to embed their own descriptive and critical observations directly as speculative yet practical and implementable models. This approach might allow us to reformulate the function of models not just as developmental blueprints but as technologies to protect innovative ideas for their future access and implementation.

    The project will feature contributors from the original conference and others whose research and interests coincide with our investigation. The guests include Jean-Pierre Caron, Ross McElwain & Jay Springett, Ed Keller, Katerina Kolozova, Anna Longo, Cecile Malaspina, Mattin, Reza Negarestani, Judy Radul, Stephanie Wakefield, Mi You, and Daniel Young. The complete list will be posted on on September 15.

    Incredible Machines 2022 is conceived as a space for experimenting with new ideas through meaningful interactions between conference guests and researchers from multiple fields of knowledge. Thus, the number of attendants will be limited, and observers will be shortlisted based on their research interests and fields of practice.

    If you are interested in being an observer, please complete this form, and we will contact you soon with instructions for attending the conference.

    Above: Justin Lincoln, Modulating Ramp, 2022


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