For full details about the conference, please visit hastac2023.org
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Saturday, June 10 • 9:30am - 11:00am
We Refuse, We Want, We Commit: Artists, Solidarity, and Building Better Technology

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This roundtable is a conversation between members of the Strategic Transparency Network: a network of artists working to build solidarity and find voice within the structures of Big Tech and surveillance capitalism. The discussion will focus on the role of artists in building better technical systems, and the steps creative practitioners can take to advocate for and build the digital tools we want to see in the world. It will feature seven artists who center technology and society in their work, and will be moderated by Roopa Vasudevan, the initiator of the Network and an artist and researcher examining the entanglements between artists, industry, and conceptions of innovation.

The participants on this panel are all contributors to a book entitled We Refuse, We Want, We Commit: The Manifestos for Creative Resistance in Technology (releasing online in February 2023 and in print (self-published) mid-2023, and supported by the Next Web Seed Grant, an initiative of NEW INC and Meta Open Arts; Vasudevan discusses her participation in this granting initiative in detail in both her PhD dissertation (more below), and outlines the grant and its role within the publication itself). The project contains a collection of manifestos authored during a series of workshops on conceptions of creative resistance and artistic agency, which Vasudevan facilitated between 2020 and 2022. The workshops, begun as part of Vasudevan’s participation in Eyebeam’s virtual Rapid Response for a Better Digital Future fellowship in 2020, offered a space for artists and creative technologists to come together in small groups to reflect on conceptions of “creative resistance”: the ways in which we can meaningfully subvert, engage, refuse, and find agency within dominant technological systems. Artists who participated in the workshops examine what resistance means in their practices, look meaningfully at how these conceptions might cause harm or reinforce oppressive power structures, and make commitments for their work going forward. The workshops incorporated free writing and group discussion in response to the following prompts, designed to encourage critical self-reflection about participants’ own use of and entanglements with technology and its attendant industries and ideologies.

“We are...”
“In our practices, we...”
“We see resistance as...”
“We are concerned by...”
“We refuse...”
“We want...”
“We commit to...”

Each session ended with participants collaboratively writing a “manifesto” outlining who they are, what they are concerned by, and what they envision for their futures. These documents form the core of the book, and outline the principles that these new media artists and creative technologists seek to align themselves to in their future work and processes.

The manifestos exist in the publication alongside new contributions solicited from past workshop participants. These contributors explore notions of virtual space, decentralization and ethics from a diverse array of perspectives—community building, the human microbiome, embodiment, domesticity, climate and more—but they ultimately all offer perspectives and approaches to building the Internet we want to see as artists, not just one that we have to get used to living in. The practices of these artists span a wide variety of forms, methods and approaches—from movement and dance, to extended reality, to meme-making, to creative coding, and beyond. Their contributions, and the publication as a whole, offers a way to reflect on the collective knowledge that has been produced through the workshops and related efforts—and, importantly, devise ways that this knowledge could be used to make things better. We’re hearing so much about new paradigms for the Web, but right now they all threaten to repeat and intensify the inequities and harms that already exist. We’ve been here before, and we’ve experienced the dire consequences of a myopic, profit-driven Internet. What if the ethical foundation for Web3 was set not by monolithic companies seeking to grow and make money as fast as they can, but by the artists who have always been relied upon to lay the groundwork for what could be possible?

The roundtable will bring seven of the book's contributors—plus Vasudevan as moderator—together in a dialogue around themes of ethical technology, cautionary tales from the current Web, and artist approaches to building technology we want to see. This discussion, and the publication it draws from, aims to open up the conversation about how artists and cultural workers can begin moving in solidarity to make meaningful change in technology—with the hope that just maybe, by reflecting on the current state of the Web, we can avoid repeating the same mistakes yet again as we move into its next version.

The Network emerged from Vasudevan's PhD dissertation research into the complex relationships between new media artists—artists who expand, reinvent, or misuse technological expression in their work—and the technology industry, which controls and operates many of the tools and protocols on which these practitioners rely. Drawing from theories of scientific and technical infrastructure (Bowker & Star, 1999; Latour, 1987), “imagined affordances” available to users of technology (Nagy & Neff, 2015), and creative labor (Becker, 2008; Bourdieu, 1993; Kondo, 2018), Vasudevan argues that although new media artists are often assumed to hold an innate mastery over technological tools and systems, they work on top of an infrastructural foundation that has already been established for them by the technology industry. This foundation, often invisible and taken for granted within everyday practices, fundamentally serves to shape decisions, perspectives, and affordances available to artists whose creative work utilizes it—consequently bolstering the priorities of the powers it serves. The workshops and the Network itself have emerged as a mode of practical engagement on these topics with the community most affected by them, and a way of nurturing community care, support, and collective action to find agency within power structures that are intimidating and overwhelming to resist on an individual basis. The project, as it exists now, is a starting point in the process of bringing artists together in open conversations about these issues; moving forward, the group will be a space for connection, collaboration, and ideation about critical projects that can respond to and reflect on tech inequity without reifying these systems.

For more on the Strategic Transparency Network and the Manifestos for Creative Resistance, visit these links: https://strategictransparencycollective.net/manifestos

For more on the publication, you can watch the video here: https://vimeo.com/763002860/a4f10a78c7 and visit this site: https://book.strategictransparency.network/


Roopa Vasudevan

University of Pennsylvania

Tega Brain

New York University, United States of America

Shawn Escarciga

Independent Artist

Caitlin Foley

University of Massachussetts Lowell, United States of America
avatar for Christina Freeman

Christina Freeman

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Hunter College, United States of America

Lydia Jessup

Independent Artist
avatar for Harris Kornstein

Harris Kornstein

Assistant Professor, Public & Applied Humanities, University of Arizona

Saturday June 10, 2023 9:30am - 11:00am EDT
Main 212