About Activist Neuroaesthetics

Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V.
Curated by Warren Neidich, Susanne Prinz and Sarrita Hunn 

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of artbrain.org, Activist Neuroaesthetics was a festival of events curated by Warren Neidich, Susanne Prinz, and Sarrita Hunn including a symposium, three-part exhibition, conference, screenings, and publications. It was developed by lead institution Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V. along with various local partners and took place online and at different venues on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin over the course of 2021.

The first Activist Neuroaesthetics Symposium was followed by a three-part exhibition (Brain Without Organs, Sleep and Altered States of Consciousness, and Telepathy and New Labor with guest curator Jacquelene Drinkall) at Kunstverein am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V., on view May through August. In July, an Activist Neuroaesthetics Conference took place in collaboration with Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art. Along with the earlier symposium, this conference formed the basis for the forthcoming book An Activist Neuroaesthetics Reader, as well as the forthcoming companion volume, Becoming Activist Neuroaesthetics: 25 Years of artbrain.org, which focuses on the twenty-five-year history of artbrain.org and the three-part Activist Neuroaesthetics exhibition.

About Activist Neuroaesthetics

Under cognitive capitalism, the brain and mind are the new factories of the twenty-first century. We are no longer proletarians working on assembly lines, but cognitarians generating behavioral data that is bought and sold on futures markets. This data is not passive, but constitutes a new distribution that polices the sensible, perceptible, and cognitive through apparatuses of control such as Google Bubbles and Meme Magic. Just as the pioneers of cognitive capitalism realized the coming digital economy would create a crisis for labor and the production of subjectivity, so too another crisis is brewing exemplified by neural-based technologies (and their corporate counterparts like brain-computer interfaces and Neuralink) that focus upon the brain’s plasticity as its locus for capitalist speculation.

Activist neuroaesthetics is a generalized theoretical and aesthetic approach that refutes the dogma of what is known as positivist neuroaesthetics. Positivist neuroaesthetics is a reductionist methodology that attempts to explain the aesthetic field and its production (artworks) by referring to neuroanatomical models aided by technology (for example, neuroimaging). Its goals are to explain artworks, such as paintings, through their effects upon the brain’s neural processing itself rather than as something happening independently or outside of the material brain’s jurisdiction. It refutes the importance of the history of art as a causal factor in art production and conspires with capitalism to recuperate its most radical claims in order to make it palatable and normalized.

Activist neuroaesthetics, on the other hand, concerns artists using their own histories, techniques, apparatuses, materials, and theoretical constructs to investigate the same fields of knowledge as cognitive neuroscience. Activist neuroaesthetics produces an alternative discourse concerning perception and cognition, where events going on inside and outside the brain coevolve together and our cognitive abilities are expanded rather than normalized. Here the brain not only refers to the intracranial brain consisting of neurologic matter but also to the situated body and the extracranial brain composed of gestalts, affordances, linguistic atmospheres, and socially-engaged interactions. Activist neuroaesthetics refuses the cynicism of Big Data, neural consumerism, and DARPA-generated technologies (such as optogenetics) and instead promotes an ethics of neural plastic emancipation and neural diversity to produce artistic facts—rather than scientific ones—that are organized into a generalized paradigm of resistance.

Read The Manifesto of Activist Neuroaesthetics for more information.

About artbrain.org
Over the last 25 years, artbrain.org has developed alternative vocabularies and practices with which to rethink the fields that describe sensation, perception and cognition. Founded in 1996, artbrain.org consists of The Journal of Neuroaesthetics and Chaoid Gallery and was established by Warren Neidich and Nathalie Angles with an online launch in 1997. Since 1998, Neidich has continued the project and developed the term Activist Neuroaesthetics to describe an enactive approach to neuroaesthetics that not only understands the importance of neural plasticity in the material brain, but recognizes art as a generator of diversity which has the capacity to induce complexity and variability – which in turn is an important factor for understanding, and consciously enacting, social and political transformation.

See artbrain.org for more information.

This project is made possible with support from Hauptstadtkulturfonds.