Telepathy and New Labor

Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V.
Curated by Warren Neidich, Susanne Prinz, and Jacquelene Drinkall
July 24 – August 21, 2021

Participating artists include Kathryn Andrews, Simon Denny, Suzanne Dikker and Marina Abramović, David Horvitz, Agnieszka Kurant, Jonathan Monk, Gianni Motti, Lorenzo Sandoval, and Suzanne Treister.

“Galaxy Brain” by Erik Morse on ARTFORUM

Telepathy and New Labor is the final of three acts in an exhibition-play that unpacks and explores the potential of an activist neuroaesthetics.

We are in the midst of a transition from an information- and knowledge-based economy to one that can be described as neural- or brain-based. Just as the burgeoning industrial economy subsumed craft and agricultural economies, and the information and knowledge economies of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries subsumed the industrial economy, this imminent brain-based economy will subsume those that preceded it. The result will be that real subsumption in which life itself becomes work will be transformed into neural subsumption wherein our conscious and unconscious thoughts and impulses will become work.

Here, the brain not only refers to the intracranial brain that resides inside the bony skull but also to the situated body and the extracranial brain composed of the socio-cultural-technological milieu in constant evolution. Today these two systems are situated and intertwined with Big Data and what Shoshana Zuboff describes as the Big Other, “a ubiquitous networked institutional regime that records, modifies, and commodifies everyday experience from toasters to bodies, communication to thought, all with a view to establishing new pathways to monetization and profit.”1Shoshana Zuboff, “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization,” Journal of Information Technology 30 (2015): 81, This Big Other is found in what is referred to as Google Bubbles in which clicks of a mouse and online searches can directly affect our attitudes and political affiliations.

In this context, imminent telepathic neural technologies will advance telemetric technologies already in use to intercede between the intracranial brain and the extracranial brain. As Slavoj Žižek describes in his book Hegel in a Wired Brain, the “‘Wired brain’ refers to a direct link between our mental processes and a digital machine, a link which, while it enables me to directly trigger events in reality with a mere thought . . . also enables the digital machine to control my thoughts.”2Slavoj Žižek, Hegel in a Wired Brain (London: Bloomsbury, 2020), 19. These technologies are appearing on the horizon in part due to advanced digital contingencies that require new speeds of mental laboring and levels of attention in order to produce increases in the surplus value of intellectual labor. As Elon Musk has said, “It’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output” in regards to this merger.3Arjun Kharpal, “Elon Musk: Humans must merge with machines or become irrelevant in the AI age,” CNBC, February 13, 2017.

[PDF] Edited by Jacquelene Drinkall and Warren Neidich.

Telepathy and New Labor is an attempt to make known the implications of the wired brain and its relations to new forms of labor. We ask: What might the effect of online searches (like those that feed into the system of the Big Other) be as a result of conscious and unconscious choices mediated by wired brain apparatuses? Furthermore, what new capacities might future assemblages of this kind have to intervene in the brain’s neurophysiology by directing the shape and form of its neural architecture through directly pruning its neural plasticity? And what role can artistic interventions play in both increasing awareness and creating dissensus against the imminence of neural subsumption?

Agnieszka Kurant’s A.A.I. (System’s Negative) No. 6 (2016) was created by pouring molten zinc into termite mounds in Namibia in order to make tangible the invisible architecture and collective work of insect societies. A.A.I. in the work’s title is an acronym for “artificial artificial intelligence” in reference to human digital labor forces that mine personal data to be sold for profit. Here, one’s digital profile – like the termite mound or insect mind—is an extended phenotype of one’s activity online in the virtuality of cyberspace. With Kathryn Andrews’s Wheel of Foot in Mouth No. 5 (Game of Twelve) and Wheel of Foot in Mouth No. 2 (Rubik’s Early Work) (2019), the viewers can manipulate two sets of circular gears that jut out from the work’s circumference. This playful “roll of the dice” nods to contingency and chance, suggesting game theory as part of a complex assemblage of mindedness and self-reflexivity.

Gianni Motti believes that “putting our minds to use is a true revolutionary act today.”4Maxime Der Nahabédian, “Gianni Motti, New Variant Exhibition,” Crash Magazine, Motti’s long interest in the topic resulted in a series of telepathic séances at Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich with the audience invited to participate by bringing a unified mental attention to attempt to influence or destabilize their governing organizations. This work is represented by the documentary photo Telepathic Session (2019) and a selection of six Faraday Caps (2021). Nearby, David Horvitz’s Contact by Telepathy Only (version 2021) is an invitation to telepathy in the form of a business card. With this very simple gesture the artist reveals the complex imbrications of social capital, forms of value, and art. For further questions, please contact the artist.

In the video Neuroscience Experiment I: Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze (2011) Suzanne Dikker and Marina Abramović restage The Artist is Present (2011) as an interactive art installation and neuroscience experiment with the goal to investigate the relationship between human connectedness and brainwave synchronization, Similarly, Jonathan Monk’s Translation Piece (2002) documents a series of successive translations of a description of Robert Barry’s immaterial Telepathic Piece (1969) (“During the exhibition I will try to communicate telepathically a work of art, the nature of which is a series of thoughts that are not applicable to language or image”), so that, after passing through a number of commercial agencies, the final confused statement becomes gibberish, albeit one that introduces consciousness and the soul into the text.

Returning back to contemporary aspects of new labor, Simon Denny’s Document Relief 3 (Amazon Worker Cage Patent) (2019) features a patent granted to in 2017 that resembles a cage created to contain the e-commerce laborer within precarious working conditions. In the back room, Lorenzo Sandoval’s A Federative Mind (2019/21) is a newly commissioned work for the Telepathy and New Labor exhibition. In this freestanding video sculpture, Sandoval assembles a genealogy that connects the developments of technology towards telepathy within California Ideology and its biased construction of cybernetic culture, which influences Silicon Valley until today. A Federative Mind proposes divergent sources – including anarchist organizational diagrams from the 1930s and textiles-as-text from Peru and Mali – for the future development of the algorithmic technology behind telepathic systems in order to imagine a possible federated mind.

This project is made possible with support from Hauptstadtkulturfonds, Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V., and private donors.