Dark Matters: On Race, Capitalism, and the Whiteness of the Screen
American Artist, Zainab Aliyu
March 20, 2022 to May 22, 2022
Section 1: Sundays, 1-3pm ET
Section 2: Sundays, 4-6pm ET
Applications closed on
February 25, 2022
In this critical theory course, ‘Dark Matters: On Race, Capitalism, and the Whiteness of the Screen,’ we reframed the history and future of computation to center its oversights, biases, and errors. Together we uncovered computation’s relationship to colonization, critical race theory, capitalism, incarceration and beyond. We discussed in small and large groups how we can use computational systems to create the matrix of our dreams while holding these systems accountable to their origins. By reading critical texts, viewing artworks and interacting with professional guests we learned how these structures are compromised so that we can begin to imagine what an outside to them might look like. This class relied on an expanded notion of study, where we challenged one another to think outside the box about what learning is and ultimately can be. We also looked at the practices of contemporary artists critiquing (and expanding the imaginary within) technology as examples of how radical imagination can be evoked through artistic practice. By the end of the class we created a project with contributions from each member of the class.
Images courtesy of teachers.
Course of Study
- Week 1: Orientation — History of SFPC, community agreement, learning objectives, about the final project, meet the participants
- Week 2: Transparency — We will be looking at the origin of computer interfaces and how they obscure reality, compared to a traditional model of ideology.
- Week 3: Ground — This discussion will focus on the origins of settler colonialism in the Western United States and the preface to modern-day Silicon Valley.
- Week 4: Interface — This week begins with a critical reconsideration of computer design, and what a decolonial technology might look like.
- Week 5: Watching — We will begin considering the origins of surveillance technology in the United States, and its roots in racial capitalism.
- Week 6: Being — Building on the previous week, we will unpack how the body as data is related to the legacy of racial slavery.
- Week 7: Calculation — We will learn about the origins of scientific racism as well as the evolution of Ancestral DNA tracing as a commercial phenomenon.
- Week 8: Accumulation — This week’s discussion is an overview of neoliberal economic practices in America, the normalization of debt, and the expansion of policing and incarceration.
- Week 9: Prediction — Building on the previous discussion we will look at how the Military, University, High Tech sector, and Police came together to create a perfect data storm.
- Week 10: Graduation — We will be sharing our work with the community through a Zoom event.
What is expected of me?
- Participants are expected to spend time outside of class on readings and doing assignments.
- Over the course of the 10 weeks, we will be working on a collaborative publication relating to themes discussed in class, and by the end of the class we will publish this as a digital publication containing original contributions from every member of the class. See past years’ publications (Summer 2020), (Spring 2019), (Fall 2018) and (Fall 2019).
By taking this class, you can expect to gain the following:
- The ability to communicate complex ideas through writing and discussion with peers.
- A more conscientious approach to developing new technology and design that reflects our current moment, centering care and longevity rather than efficiency.
- A nuanced critical perspective towards technological objects and their generation of power and control in society.
- A thorough knowledge of the history of surveillance practices in the United States.
- An interdisciplinary understanding of the relationship between art, design, technology, and economics.
Is this class for me?
This class may be for you if:
- If you are an artist or designer who wants to know more about computer technology.
- If you want to engage with critical theory for the first time, or have experience with it.
- If you recently finished a degree program, or are on the fence about whether to enter one.
- If you are a coder or tech worker and you want to think more critically about the social and economic impact of computers.
- If you are NOT a coder or tech worker but you want a deeper understanding of how code affects everything around us.
- If you are a fan of The Matrix (1999).
This class may NOT be for you if:
- If you are only interested in coding or getting better at coding.
- If you think the economic theorist Adam Smith made a lot of good points.
- If you want people to believe that the cloud is in the sky.
Meet the Teachers
American Artist makes thought experiments that mine the history of technology, race, and knowledge production, beginning with their legal name change in 2013. Their work engages anti-Black state violence, surveillance, and criminalization, such as predictive policing. Artist is a 2022 Creative Capital and United States Artists grantee, and a recipient of the 2021 LACMA Art & Tech Lab Grant. They have exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art; MoMA PS1; Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Kunsthalle Basel, CH; and Nam June Paik Center, Seoul. They have had solo museum exhibitions at The Queens Museum, New York and The Museum of African Diaspora, California. Their work has been featured in The New York Times, Artforum, and Huffington Post. Artist is a part-time faculty at Parsons, NYU and UCLA and a co-director of the School for Poetic Computation.
Zainab "Zai" Aliyu is an artist and cultural worker whose work is about the material affect of the "immaterial." She contextualizes the cybernetic and temporal entanglement embedded within societal dynamics to understand how all sociotechnological systems of control are interconnected, and how we are all implicated through time. She often dreams, experiments and inquires through built virtual environments, printed matter, video, archives, writing, installation and community-participatory (un)learning. Zai is currently a 2022 fellow at NYU Tisch's Future Imagination Collaboratory, design director for the African Film Festival at the Film at Lincoln Center in NYC and a co-director of the School for Poetic Computation.
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