A symposium hosted by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST)
April 21-22, 2017
MIT Samberg Conference Center, Building E52
50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139
In 1995, MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte predicted that “being digital” would have us entering a realm increasingly unconstrained by the materiality of the world. Two decades later, our everyday lives are indeed ever more suffused by computation and calculation. But unwieldy materiality persists and even reasserts itself. Programmable matter, self-assembling structures, 3D/4D printing, wearable technologies and bio-inspired design today capture the attention of engineers, scientists and artists. “BEING MATERIAL” will showcase recent developments in materials systems and design, placing this work in dialogue with kindred and contrasting philosophy, art practice and critique. Panels on the PROGRAMMABLE, WEARABLE, LIVABLE and INVISIBLE—along with a concert, AUDIBLE—will explore new and unexpected meetings of the digital and material worlds.
Stefan Helmreich, Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology and Program Head
Leila W. Kinney, Executive Director of Arts Initiatives and MIT CAST
Skylar Tibbits, Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture and Co-Director, Self Assembly Lab
Rebecca Uchill, Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer, Department of Architecture
Evan Ziporyn, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor; Chair, Music and Theater Arts; and Faculty Director of MIT CAST
Please direct questions to
Friday, April 21, 2017
1:00- 3:00pm: Programmable
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Followed by a reception
8:00pm: Audible, A Concert
*Timing of individual sessions subject to change
Friday, April 21, 2017 / 1:00 – 3:00pm
To program something is to impart a set of executable instructions into a medium to perform that process. From Ada Lovelace’s first hand-written program to today’s algorithmically animated robots, clothing, and living material, programmability has expanded its purview to embrace everything from the digital to the physical, from the synthetic to the biological, and from the scientific to the artistic. How have ideas about creativity, craft, and matter transformed in the process? What novel science and art emerges when material becomes programmable?
Kevin Slavin, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and the Benesse Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Benjamin Bratton, Professor of Visual Arts and Director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics, University of California, San Diego. Bratton is an architect and design theorist best known for his theories on global computation and algorithmic governance.
Ben Fry, Programming Language Designer. Fry is an expert in data visualization and information design. He is a co-developer of Processing with Case Reas.
Nadya Peek, Research Assistant, Center for Bits and Atoms, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Peek is a researcher best known for her work on machines that make machines and object-oriented hardware.
Manu Prakash, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, Stanford University. Prakash is a scientist and physicist working at the intersection of physical biology and computing. Manu also developed the Foldscope, a dollar microscope, and is a pioneer of the frugal science movement.
Casey Reas, Professor, University of California, Los Angeles. Reas is a computational artist and co-developer of Processing, a programming language geared towards the visual arts.
Image: Casey Reas, Process Compendium 2004-2010.
Friday, April 21, 2017 / 3:30-5:30pm
The integration of the human body and clothing with technology has propelled art, computationally enhanced fashion design, and materials science far beyond visions of the cyborg proposed in the 1960s. This session explores the multiplicity of these developments, from the emergence of conceptual fashion design and wearable computing in the 1990s to current experiments with electronic and reactive textiles and portable sensing systems that provide data feedback to monitor health or enhance physical performance. It asks what it means today to be “human, not so human.”
Azra Aksamija, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, and Assistant Professor, Art, Culture and Technology Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Christina Agapakis, Creative Director, Ginkgo Bioworks. Agapakis is a biologist, artist, writer and creative director at Ginkgo Bioworks, an organism design company that is bringing biology to industrial engineering. She explores the aesthetics of biotechnology and has made cheese from the artist Olafur Eliasson’s tears.
Hussein Chalayan, Fashion Designer. For more than twenty years, Hussein Chalayan has used clothing as platform to display materials that change state and transform themselves. His work is characterized by an adventurous, bold incorporation of technology and an ability to address conceptual issues—such as disembodiment, metamorphosis, mobility and forced migration— through fashion. Chalayan’s experimental practice has turned the runway show into a sophisticated, multi-media form of performance art.
Michelle Finamore is Penny Vinik Curator of Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she recently curated the #techstyle exhibit. She is the author of Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in America.
Lucy McRae is a sci-fi artist, film director and self proclaimed body architect. In films, music videos and installations, she places the human body in complex, futuristic scenarios and designs prosthetic extensions that confound the boundaries between the natural and the artificial.
Natasha Schüll, Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University. Her next book, KEEPING TRACK: Sensor Technology, Self-Regulation, and the Data-Driven Life, which will appear in 2017, concerns the rise of digital self-tracking technologies and the new modes of introspection and self-governance they engender.
Image: Hussein Chalayan, Autumn/Winter 2007.
Saturday, April 22, 2017 / 10:00am-12:00pm
“Life” — and livability — is informed by the biotic and the social. Land art of the 1960s and 1970s developed in tandem with new discourses in ecological science and environmental politics. The 1990s saw the rise of “bioart,” as artists worked with bioengineered genes, cells, and organisms as new materials with which to query the possibilities and politics of biotechnology. Exploring questions such as, how does today’s art, science, and economics of the “livable” elaborate these concepts into projects of biological design, networked ecology, and environmental remediation? This session documents and imagines new forms and approaches to “livable material.”
Bettina Stoetzer, Assistant Professor, Global Studies and Languages, MIT. Stoetzer is an anthropologist interested in the intersections of ecology, globalization, and urban life.
Tal Danino, Director, Synthetic Biological Systems Laboratory, Columbia University. Danino is a synthetic biologist engineering some of the smallest forms of life, in the form of “programmable” bacteria.
Bill Maurer, Dean, School of Social Sciences and Professor, University of California, Irvine. Maurer is a cultural anthropologist of law, property, and finance, examining how new kinds of monetary practices (around BitCoin, mobile banking) commoditize unexpected aspects of social, biological, and ecological life.
Claire Pentecost, Professor, Department of Photography, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Pentecost is an artist who researches the living matters of food, agriculture and bio-engineering; her Soil-erg project of 2012 considered the material of soil as a commodity, proposing a soil-based currency system.
Image: Claire Pentecost, soil-erg, dOCUMENTA(13), 2012. Photo credit: Fabian Fröhlich.
Saturday, April 22, 2017 / 1:30-3:30pm
Material things bear the traces of their conditions of production and circulation. Sometimes these traces are visible — as carbon footprints or carbon offsets, as contaminated or reclaimed geographies, as toxic waste or as renewable energy. Other times, such signs are invisible, out of everyday view or otherwise occluded. This panel considers today’s shifting lines between the visible and the invisible. Panelists will discuss cloaking, “operational” machine seeing, clandestine or surveillance media, and other technologies that change what it means to see and be material.
Sandy Alexandre, Associate Professor, Literature Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Alexandre writes on black American material culture — particularly literature and photographs — examining how histories of black displacement, invisibility, and vulnerability haunt and energize the ways black lives matter now.
George Barbastathis, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Barbastathis is a mechanical engineer known for creating an optical invisibility cloak, a calcite crystal system that may make possible hiding objects in plain sight.
Michelle Murphy, Professor, History Department and Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto. Murphy is a historian of science who studies often invisible infrastructures of environmental toxins, reproductive technologies, and compromised environments.
Trevor Paglen, Artist. Paglen is an artist and geographer who explores and documents invisible infrastructures, ranging from secret corporate and government sites to networks known through technologies of non-human, machine vision.
Lisa Parks, Professor of Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Parks is a media theorist who writes on television, satellites, drones, and infrastructures of surveillance.
Image: Trevor Paglen, “Mid-Atlantic Crossing (MAC) NSA/GCHQ Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean”, 2015.
Saturday, April 22, 2017 / 8:00pm
MIT Kresge Auditorium, Building W16
48 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
In a concert that brings together the themes discussed during the symposium, musicians will perform works in tribute to the late composer Pauline Oliveros, the first female electronic music pioneer. Performances feature the Mellon Distinguished Visiting Artist at CAST Maya Beiser performing on cello whose sound will stimulate self assembling materials developed by Skylar Tibbits, and Grace Leslie whose brain waves will stimulate and change the music performed by her mind-body music practice with Maxwell Citron (HOMHOMHOM). Other featured performances will include work by Evan Ziporyn.
Maya Beiser, Mellon Distinguished Visiting Artist at MIT CAST, cellist and producer, defies categories while passionately forging a career path through uncharted territories. She has dedicated her work to reinventing solo cello performance in the mainstream classical arena.
Grace Leslie and Maxwell Citron: Grace is an electronic musician and music cognition researcher. She develops and performs with Brain-body Music Interfaces and conducts neuroscientific studies of music engagement and sound experience through sound art and interactive music electronics. Max is a Chicago-based media artist and founder of the HOMHOMHOM label.
Evan Ziporyn, Professor, Music and Theater Arts, MIT and Faculty Director of CAST. Evan Ziporyn is a composer/clarinetist and Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music at MIT. He is Faculty Director of CAST and Section Head of Music & Theater Arts.