katherine behar: this.construction();

artist statements

Matter Over Mind  -  2008

In an age of ubiquitous computing, saying we are immersed in digital media has become a cliché. But what does it mean to share our world with advanced technologies? How can we best coexist with the inanimate world? Lay users typically leave these questions to specialists, but in my case they provide the subject for my work. With art, I try to impart a perverse counterpoint to prevailing mores about human-machine companionship.

Most researchers approach this problem by striving to engineer machines that might be perceived as being similar to the humans who use them. In the field of Human Computer Interaction, this motive drives everything from the design of intuitive interfaces to the development of artificially intelligent systems. I share the impulse to highlight commonalities between biological and technological forms of being. But I believe that computer science is dominated by hubristic design principles and that most research aims at an intellectualized version of anthropomorphism that winds up privileging all of the wrong human qualities.

Artificial Intelligence enthusiasts are eager to co-opt obdurate mechanical parts into the sapient realm. Interface designers are bent on sublimating if not erasing our sites of contact with machines to favor anticipatory, subconscious cybernetics. Complex systems engineers seek to program unpredictable, "lifelike," emergent behavior with simple lines of code. Each in their own way, these endeavors would create machines in the image of a human that amounts to a brain in a vat.

As an artist, not a scientist, I approach the problem of human-machine compatibility with reversed priorities: I am concerned with meeting my potential silicon siblings halfway. To that end, I try to show how human beings might become more inert, more materially fungible with other entities in the physical world. Being stuff is a trait common to biological and technological entities. Moreover, being stuff shows how humans are machinic: we are organized matter that staves off entropy and functions causally.

We need systems that remind us of our fallibility and of our own physical presence in the social, technosocial, eco-, and political systems we engage. My performances assert baseness and materiality as a common denominator shared by inorganic and organic machines. Placing matter over mind, I try to portray the condition of living sensuously in digital media and to promote camaraderie with the physical armatures that uphold bits and bytes.