Celebrating our Sesquicentennial 1867-2017
University of Illinois Quadrangle
Celebrating our Sesquicentennial1867-2017

Technocultural Futurisms: Code, Hack, Move



The 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois as a land-grant institution, founded on what was then a radically new vision of technical and agricultural education for ordinary US citizens, offers a moment to reflect on the central role technology plays in the way we imagine the future. This symposium places this notion of technological futurity in conversation with work in critical race, gender, sexuality, transnational, and indigenous studies. “Technological Futurisms” are artistic and political movements that challenge existing visions of technology and dream up alternative futures. Our subtitle--Code, Hack, Move--foregrounds modes of active intervention, gesturing towards critical engagements that seek not to break or replace current regimes but to re-make and re-direct them. “Code” is the language through which our contemporary world is being articulated; “hack” suggests one possible way we might intervene in it; and “move” marks its affective potential, its ability to transform.


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African American Studies

American Indian Studies
Asian American Studies

College of Fine and Applied Arts
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
College of Media

Gender and Women’s Studies

Latina/Latino Studies

National Center for Supercomputing Applications
Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research




Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson (Keynote Speaker)

        • Alondra Nelson is president of the Social Science Research Council. She is also professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science. An award-winning scholar of science, medicine, and social inequality, her recent books include The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History,and Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. Nelson has contributed to national policy discussions on inequality, and about the social implications of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, direct-to-consumer genetics, and human gene-editing. She is chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology and is an elected member of the Sociological Research Association.

        Title: The Social Life of DNA: Racial Reconciliation and Institutional Morality

        • The use of genetic ancestry testing in the United States has grown exponentially since its emergence about fifteen years ago. In this same period, U.S. colleges and universities have increasingly uncovered and confronted their ties to the history of racial slavery. Although genetic ancestry tests are principally sought to provide genealogical information, these data have been marshaled into a wider range of social ventures, including the politics of remembrance and reconciliation. In this presentation, Alondra Nelson examines the recent use of genetic ancestry testing by the descendants of nearly three hundred enslaved men and women owned by Georgetown University, whom the institution’s Jesuit stewards sold to Southern plantations in 1838 in order to secure its solvency. The case of the GU 272 will be explored as a “reconciliation project”—a social endeavor in which DNA analysis is put to the use of repairing historic injury.

Lisa Nakamura

Lisa Nakamura

        • Lisa Nakamura is Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor in the Department of American Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  She is the Coordinator of Digital Studies at the University of Michigan and serves on the Steering Committee of the FemTechNet Project, a network of educators, activists, librarians, and researchers interested in digital feminist pedagogy. Her recent books include Race After the Internet (Routledge, 2011), Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet (University of Minnesota, 2007) and Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet (Routledge, 2002). Nakamura has written extensively on issues of race, gender, and sexuality in digital media. Drawing on social media, video games, online avatars, and other mediated visual representations, Nakamura’s work investigates how identities are negotiated in the contemporary digital milieu. She has been writing about digital media since 1994. She has faculty affiliations with the Departments of English, Women’s Studies, and Asian and Pacific Islander Studies.

        Title: The Racial Empathy Machine: Discourses of Virtual Reality in America After Trump

        • The first virtual reality gold rush occurred in the mid-nineties.  The second time around it has returned with new technological and cultural features.  Contemporary V.R. enthusiasts claim that the medium corrects racist thoughts and feelings by producing racial empathy.  This presentation analyzes V.R. texts that exploit what Sam Gregory, program director of the activist media organization Witness terms "co-presence for good."  V.R.'s reframing as a racial curative signals a return to old-fashioned technological determinism borne of hope and desperation.  It's rise is part and parcel of the digital industries' attempts to defend themselves against increasingly vocal critique on numerous fronts.  V.R.'s claims to efficiently address the resurgence of overt racism in the U.S. both parallel a cultural shift towards overt forms of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny and reflects it. This presentation will trace V.R.'s old and new forms of digital embodiment in order to understand the means by which racism and sexism are managed by these "empathy machines."

Dave Gaertner

Dave Gaertner

        • David Gaertner is a non-Indigenous Instructor in the First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program at the University of British Columbia, where he teaches and researches Indigenous studies, digital humanities, and Indigenous new media. He is the co-editor of Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island (Wilfrid Laurier UP) and the author of Towards Truth: Troubling Reconciliation in Canada (forthcoming from UBC Press). He lives and works on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territory.

        Title: A Landless Territory? Theorizing Indigenous Futurisms through New Media and Digital Storytelling

        • How do we locate Indigenous literature, so often grounded in land, space, and place, within cyberspace, a space without place, a landless territory? Since it was first announced in William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, cyberspace has provided—in both content and form—evocative ground for world building and storytelling from a wide range of authors. Indigenous writers and artists have made fundamental contributions to cyberspace from its inception, both in its development as a literary trope and as a medium to create and share stories. As a notional environment, however, cyberspace is still largely considered a space without place, which, for many, calls into question its applicability in Indigenous worldviews. Given the centrality of land in Indigenous epistemologies and the ongoing threats to traditional territory by settler colonial governments, precisely what a “landless territory” might mean for Indigenous writers is an evocative and pressing issue, particularly as more and more Indigenous storytellers and programmers take to the Internet to create and share stories. In this talk, I offer a critical, yet affirming theorization of Indigenous cyberspace that emphasizes the work created by Indigenous futurists, such as Skawennati and Jason Lewis. I argue for a more complex, nuanced understanding of cyberspace and illustrate the ways in which Indigenous programmers are connecting it to land, place, and bodies.

Patrick Jagoda

Patrick Jagoda

        • Patrick Jagoda is Associate Professor of English and Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Chicago. He is also a co-editor of Critical Inquiry and co-founder of both the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab and the Transmedia Story Lab. He specializes in new media studies, twentieth and twenty-first century American literature, digital game theory and design, and science studies. Most recently, he is the author of Network Aesthetics (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and co-author with Michael Maizels of The Game Worlds of Jason Rohrer (MIT Press, 2016). He is currently working on his next book, Experimental Games. Additionally, he has published over thirty essays in humanistic journals such as American Journal of Play, American Literary History, American Literature, boundary 2, Critical Inquiry, differences, Modern Philology, PMLA, and Social Text; multimedia journals such as Audiovisual Thinking, hyperrhiz, and Kairos; and scientific journals such as Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, Journal of STEM Education, and Sex Education. Jagoda has also worked on several projects in the fields of game design, digital storytelling, and new media learning. For more on this projects and writing, please visit: http://patrickjagoda.com.

        Title:Videogame Worlds, Future Hypotheses

        • Gamification, a term that derives from behavioral economics and design culture, is the use of game mechanics in traditionally non-game activities. The competition, repetition, and quantified objectives that make up gamified designs correspond with and fuel aspects of neoliberalism, including its mechanics of extrinsic motivation, subject formation, and world making. As I contend, beginning in the 1940s, economic game theory established a theoretical framework for rationality that, by the 1970s, the program of neoliberalism has extended from mathematics and economics to broader social consciousness. Continuing this process, behavioral economics, in its emergence as a prominent field in the 1990s and 2000s, offered a crucial corrective by introducing methods for integrating even the most inconvenient irrational human behaviors into an empirical techno-rationalism that offers practical techniques of intervention for building a neoliberal world. All of these economic fields are already substantively informed by the metaphor and form of games. Nevertheless, it is only through the conjunction of these economic forces with the cultural and technological affordances provided by the contemporaneous medium of video games, which have developed from the 1960s to the present, that the paradigm of gamification gained a substantial foothold by the 2010s and became a major framework for imagining social and political life in the present. In addition to the work of critical history, this talk explores some of the ways that video games can make us aware of the everyday mechanics of neoliberalism, and also contribute to differently experimental modes of hypothesis generation and world creation in our time.

Joana Moll

Joana Moll

        • Joana Moll is a Barcelona/Berlin based artist and researcher. Her work critically explores the way post-capitalist narratives affect the alphabetization of machines, humans and ecosystems. Her main research topics include Internet materiality, surveillance, social profiling and interfaces. She has lectured, performed, and exhibited her work in different museums, art centers, universities, festivals and publications around the world. She is the co-founder of the Critical Interface Politics Research Group at HANGAR in Barcelona and the co-founder of The Institute for the Advancement of Popular Automatisms. She is currently a visiting lecturer at Universität Potsdam and Escola Superior d'Art de Vic [Barcelona] / http://janavirgin.com

        Title: Deep Carbon

        • Our so-called networked society has failed so far to transpose the logic of interconnectedness into our lives. Citizens are becoming increasingly machine-like and dependent on data, threatening the connection between humans and their natural habitats. Although most of our daily transactions are carried out through electronic devices, we know very little of the apparatus that facilitates such interactions, or in other words, about the factory that lies beyond the interface. The Internet is the biggest “thing” that humanity has ever built. Its massive infrastructure is composed of billions of computers and thousands of kilometers of submarine and inland cables. This immense infrastructure rests on the shoulders of invaluable supporting technologies, largely unnoticed by its audiences; namely human labour, intangible legions of algorithms, and a vast consumption of natural resources. In 2008, the Internet was already responsible for the 2% of CO2 global emissions, exceeding those of the entire aviation Industry. The amount of users and network connections has increased at a whopping pace ever since. Yet despite the growing number of Internet users and information flows, the material representation of the Internet remains blurred in the social imagination.

Ben Grosser

Ben Grosser (New Media)

        • Ben Grosser creates interactive experiences, machines, and systems that examine the cultural, social, and political implications of software. Recent exhibition venues include Arebyte Gallery in London, Museu das Comunicações in Lisbon, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and Galerie Charlot in Paris. His works have been featured in the New Yorker, Wired, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Libération, and Der Spiegel. The Chicago Tribune called him the "unrivaled king of ominous gibberish." Slate referred to his work as "creative civil disobedience in the digital age." His writing about the cultural effects of technology has been published in journals such as Computational Culture, Media-N, and Big Data and Society. Grosser is an assistant professor of new media at the School of Art + Design, and co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

        Title: Less Metrics, More Rando: (Net) Art as Software Research

        • How are numbers on Facebook changing what we "like" and who we "friend?" Why does a bit of nonsense sent via email scare both your mom and the NSA? What makes someone mad when they learn Google can't see where they stand? From net art to robotics to supercuts to e-lit, Ben Grosser will discuss several artworks that illustrate his methods for investigating the culture of software.

Ricardo Dominguez

Ricardo Dominguez

        • Ricardo Dominguez was a founding member of Critical Art Ensemble (1986) and a co-founder of The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) (1998), a group who developed virtual sit-in technologies in solidarity with the Zapatistas communities in Chiapas, Mexico, in 1998. His recent Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab project (http://tbt.tome.press/) with Brett Stalbaum, Micha Cardenas, Amy Sara Carroll, and Elle Mehrmand, the Transborder Immigrant Tool (a GPS cell phone safety net tool for crossing the Mexico/US border) was the winner of “Transnational Communities Award” (2008). The project was also under investigation by the US Congress in 2009-2010 and was reviewed by Glenn Beck in 2010 as a gesture that potentially “dissolved” the U.S. border with its poetry. Dominguez is Associate Professor and the MFA Director of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego; he is also a Hellman Fellow; he has received two Society for the Humanities Fellowships at Cornell University (2013/14 and 17/18) and he was recently was awarded the Rockefeller Arts & Humanities Fellowship 2018/19. He is Principal Investigator of b.a.n.g. lab at the California Information Technology 2/QI at UCSD. He also is co-founder of *particle group*, with artists Diane Ludin, Nina Waisman, and Amy Sara Carroll, whose art project about nano-toxicology entitled *Particles of Interest: Tales of the Matter Market* has been presented in various venues: http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/particle-group-intro. ​His essays and plays can be found at: https://ucsd.academia.edu/RicardoDominguez/Papers

        Title: #FearlessGestures: In the Ruins Yet To Come

        • How can one mobilize the futurity of the ruins yet to come in order to activate the present otherwise? Our #FearlessGestures must now enact manifold methods of withdrawing from the politics of acceleration and the neo-liberal takeover of transparency as a way to configure the present-future. Instead we must disturb the ruins of the present-to-come here and now with moments of hyper-inertia and translucency that can draw-out the anti-anti-utopian shapes and possibilities of the aesthetic. Ricardo Dominguez will consider trans-border-bodies as one life-form whose #FearlessGestures unmake and re-make the smooth ruins being built now.

Alexander Galloway

Alexander Galloway

        • Alexander R. Galloway is a writer and computer programmer working on issues in philosophy, technology, and theories of mediation. Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, he is author of several books on digital media and critical theory, including The Interface Effect (Polity, 2012). His collaboration with Eugene Thacker and McKenzie Wark, Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation, has recently been published by the University of Chicago Press. With Jason E. Smith, Galloway co-translated the Tiqqun book Introduction to Civil War (Semiotext[e], 2010). For ten years he worked with RSG on Carnivore, Kriegspiel and other software projects. Galloway's newest project is a monograph on the work of François Laruelle, published in October 2014. Galloway has given over two hundred talks both across the U.S. and in ten countries around the world. His writings have been translated into eleven languages. He is recipient of a number of grants and awards including a Creative Capital grant (2006) and a Golden Nica in the 2002 Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria). The New York Times has described his practice as "conceptually sharp, visually compelling and completely attuned to the political moment." A member of the NYU faculty since 2002, Galloway has also held visiting posts at the University of Pennsylvania (Spring 2012) and Harvard University (Fall 2016).

        Title: From One to Two

        • In the year 1948 a sliver of memory was a bit and a bit was a pixel and a pixel was a dot and a dot was a keystroke. Like the old techniques of ancient textile weavers, memory had become an image just as images were deployed as memory devices. In this presentation I focus on the development of digital technology and culture from the mid twentieth century to today. With reference to important experiments and new technologies by Frederic Williams, John von Neumann, and Nils Aall Barricelli, we explore the importance of discretization in society and culture, that is, the way in which “the one” becomes “the two.”

Nishant Shah

Nishant Shah

        • Nishant Shah is the Dean of Research at ArtEZ University of the Arts, where he is building a new graduate school that seeks to define and shape the role of art and design in unpredictable futures. He is Professor for Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at Leuphana University, where he teaches and advises research at the intersections of digital technologies, gender and sexuality, and digital humanities. He was the co-founder of the Centre for Internet & Society, in Bangalore, India, which continues to engage in questions of Internet Governance, Digital Activism, and Material Infrastructures of the Internet. He has been a knowledge partner with development aid agencies like Hivos, an advisor on global knowledge networks like digital media and learning at UCHRI and the Network of Centres for Internet & Society, and has authored academic and public writing that he characterizes as radical humanism and persistent digital feminism. Nishant's current preoccupations are around the material histories of computational digital networks, and thinking through conditions of being human in the face of ubiquitous sapience and artificial intelligence.

        Title:Predicted Pasts and Narrated Futures: Politics in the Age of Information Overload

        • One of the biggest promises of the digital turn was that it would replace distance with time, creating temporal proximities over physical intimacies. However, in establishing time as the new currency of connectivity and collectivity, the digital turn has constructed new materialities, vectors, and directions of time that need to be examined through the physical computation network. Especially when it comes to the informationally overloaded subject, the ways in which identities are constructed - freed from the fixity of historical time - and how their futures are imagined - constrained by the scripts of probability thinking, we encounter a new framework of understanding the future of technopolitics through the recalibration of time. Drawing from specific examples of temporal inversion and models of physical computation networks, this talk proposes that we have to cope with an inversion of what constitutes our pasts and futures in order to construct a new politics in the age of information overload.

Lauren McCarthy

Lauren McCarthy

        • Lauren McCarthy is an artist based in Los Angeles and Brooklyn whose work explores social and technological systems for being a person and interacting with other people. She makes software, performances, videos, and other things on the internet. She is the creator of p5.js. Lauren has exhibited at Ars Electronica, Conflux Festival, SIGGRAPH, LACMA, Onassis Cultural Center, IDFA DocLab, and the Japan Media Arts Festival, and worked on installations for the London Eye and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. She holds an MFA from UCLA and a BS Computer Science and BS Art and Design from MIT. She is an Assistant Professor at UCLA Design Media Arts. She is a Sundance Institute Fellow and was previously a resident at CMU STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Eyebeam, Autodesk, NYU ITP, and Ars Electronica

        Title: Things I Follow

        • How do we decide who and what to follow? What happens when we try to become the technologies tracking us? What is the difference between being watched by a person and being watched by a system? This is a talk about tracking friends, following strangers, and navigating timelines.

Peter Bandettini



8:45-9:00 am Introductory Remarks: Susan Koshy (Director,Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory)
9:00-10:30 am

Panel 1: Coding the Future

Chair: Jodi Byrd (English/GWS)
Lisa Nakamura (University of Michigan)
Dave Gaertner (University of British Columbia, Vancouver)
Patrick Jagoda (University of Chicago)

10:45-12:15 pm

Panel 2: Hacking the Future

Chair: Anita Say Chan (MACS/ICR)
Joana Moll (Barcelona)
Ben Grosser (New Media)
Lauren McCarthy (UCLA)

1:30-3:00 pm

Panel 3: Moving the Future

Chair: Trish Loughran (English)
Ricardo Dominguez (University of California, San Diego)
Alexander Galloway (New York University)
Nishant Shah (ArtEZ University of the Arts/Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore)

3:30-5:00 pm

Keynote Address: Alondra Nelson (President, Social Science Research Council/ Columbia University)


10:00-11:30 am Roundtable: Panelists with the Collaborative for the Critical Study of Technology (CCST)
5:30-7:00 pm

Krannert Art Museum 62

Artist Talk with Joana Moll
Artist Talk co-organized by Art + Design/NCSA/Unit for Criticism