American Artist, Zainab Aliyu
Tsige Tafesse, Rashida Richardson, Ingrid Burrington, Stephanie Dinkins, Simone Browne, Zach Blas
May 20, 2020 to July 22, 2020
Applications closed on
May 10, 2020
In this critical theory of technology course, together we considered the racialized history of surveillance and the positioning of white as neutral within interfaces as forms of violence enacted through high technology. We discussed in small groups, large discussions, and one-on-one how we all can use computational systems to create change while holding them accountable for their origins and biases. By reading critical texts, streaming 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. At the end of the class we published a digital publication containing original contributions from every member of the class.
Images courtesy of teachers and guests.
Course of Study
- Week 1: Orientation History of SFPC, code of conduct, learning objectives, about the zine publication, meet the students
- Week 2: Software as Ideology We will be looking at the origin of computer interfaces and how they obscure reality, compared to a traditional model of ideology.
- Week 3: The Land Before Silicon Valley 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: Towards an Unsovereign Technology This week begins with American Artist’s theory of the Black Gooey, and what an unsovereign technology might look like. + Guest Meal
- Week 5: Surveillance Studies We will begin considering the origins of surveillance technology in the United States, and it’s roots in racial capital.
- Week 6:The Birth of Biometrics Building on the previous week, we will unpack how the body as data is related to the legacy of racial slavery.+ Guest Meal
- Week 7: America’s Debt Economy This week’s discussion is an overview of neoliberal economic practices in America, their effect on social life, and the growth of policing and incarceration.
- Week 8: A Recent History of Algorithmic Policing Building on the previous discussion we will look at how the Military, University, High Tech, and Police came together to create a perfect data storm.
- Week 9: Reimagining Justice We will consider the history of light as a tool of oppression and illumination as well as how to proceed in creating an equitable future within technology.
- Week 10: Graduation/Salon We will share our collaborative publication with the community via Zoom event.
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 (Spring 2019), (Fall 2018) and (Fall 2019).
SFPC fosters a collaborative and relaxed learning environment. We value your questions and want to make sure all students feel comfortable engaging with the teachers and material fully. Although we will not be sitting around the same table, we are committed to offer the same level of support and dedication to this cohort of students.
Students will learn:
- The ability to communicate complex ideas through writing and discussion with peers.
- A more conscientious approach to developing new tech and design solutions that reflect our current moment which prioritizes equity.
- 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 understanding of the economy which assumes the possibility of humans being valued as commodities.
- An interdisciplinary understanding of the relationship between art, design, technology, and economics.
- Students should come with an open mind and an interest in helping one another to learn by providing a welcome learning environment.
- Be open to questioning things we take for granted as normal. How can we destabilize and decenter power structures considered normal to everyday life?
- Please be prepared to dedicate up to 5 hours of additional study (readings and assignments) and work time to the class outside of the 3 hours of class time each week.
- It is suggested that students purchase the books that we will read, but it is not required as all texts will be provided digitally.
- There will be one 45-minute lecture video each week that you must watch before meeting together as a class.
- There will be approximately 2 hours of Teacher & 5 hours of TA support during the week based on student availability. Use this time to schedule one-on-ones to review any questions you might have about readings and assignments.
- In addition to online classes and one-on-ones, we will be using Slack for communication, Google calendar to stay organized, Calend.ly to schedule one-on-ones, and Zoom for class meetings and office hours. You do not need to create accounts on these services yet, we will send you information once you are accepted.
Is this class for me?
If this sounds like you, then YES!
- 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).
If this sounds like you, then this class may not be for you:
- If you want to learn to code or hone your computer skills.
- If you think Adam Smith was onto something.
- If you think the cloud is in the sky.
Meet the Teachers & Guests
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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