Instruments of the Black Gooey Universe
American Artist, Zainab Aliyu, Taylor Levy, Che-Wei Wang
January 21, 2024 to March 24, 2024
20 Jay St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Applications closed on
November 22, 2023
Instruments of the Black Gooey Universe is inspired by extracurricular connections between the long-running SFPC class “Dark Matters,” a critical theory class taught by American Artist & Zainab Aliyu that investigates the surveillance of Blackness and the construction of whiteness as “neutral” within high technology; and the course, “Poetic Hardware,” a hands-on electronics class taught by the collective CW&T (Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy). In this unique session, students will study and discuss critical theory with American & Zainab, as well as participate in physical computing demonstrations led by CW&T. Students will have the opportunity to bridge the concepts of both classes to imagine what possible instruments can exist within the “Black Gooey Universe”, a speculative space posited by American Artist where Blackness forms the foundation of virtual creation.
Images courtesy of teachers.
Course of Study
- 1/21 Orientation, 3 hrs — History of SFPC, community agreement, learning objectives, about the final project, meet the participants
- 1/28 Theory/Hardware, 4 hrs — We will be looking at the origin of computer interfaces and how they obscure reality, compared to a traditional model of ideology. Introduction to electronics as a material + medium for creative expression. Can we gain familiarity with a new medium by working in one that is familiar?
- 2/4 Theory, 3 hours — This discussion will focus on the origins of settler colonialism in the Western United States and the preface to modern-day Silicon Valley.
- 2/11 Theory/Hardware — This week begins with a critical reconsideration of computer design, and what a decolonial technology might look like. Learn to build a basic LED circuit using copper tape + through-hole components.
- 4 hrs; 2/18 Theory, 3 hrs — We will begin considering the origins of surveillance technology in the United States, and its roots in racial capitalism.
- 2/25 Theory/Hardware, 4 hrs — Building on the previous week, we will unpack how the body as data is related to the legacy of racial slavery. Discuss drawing as a way to understand. Early history of technology art. Introduce the relay + transistor and logic gates.
- 3/3 Theory, 3 hrs — We will learn about the origins of scientific racism as well as the evolution of Ancestral DNA tracing as a commercial phenomenon.
- 3/10 Theory/Hardware, 4 hrs — This week’s discussion is an overview of neoliberal economic practices in America, the normalization of debt, and the expansion of policing and incarceration. Introduce small building block applications of the transistor (calculator, sequencer synth). Begin discussions around the final project. Use the class time to break into small groups and have discussions about what people want to make. If there are technological constraints, what are those?
- 3/17 Theory, 3 hrs — 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.
- 3/24 Showcase — We will be sharing our work with the community through a public event.
What is expected of me?
- Participants should prepare to do 3-4 hours of reading per week, and to spend time working on hardware projects outside of class.
- 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.
- Introduction to electronics as a material + medium for creative expression.
- We will explore a pathway towards using electronics as a medium for creative expression? Unlike more traditional modes of expression, such as writing, music, drawing, electronics are not by necessity legible, intuitive, easy to use, or even at human scale.
- We will address electronics from a variety of perspectives as a way to relate it back to human expression.
- Materials will be provided.
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 a Nigerian-American artist and cultural worker living in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY). Her work contextualizes the cybernetic and temporal entanglement embedded within societal dynamics to understand how all socio-technological systems of control are interconnected, and how we are all materially implicated through time. She draws upon her body as a corporeal archive and site of ancestral memory to craft counter-narratives through sculpture, video, installation, built virtual environments, printed matter, archives, and community-participatory (un)learning. Zai is currently a co-director of the School for Poetic Computation, design director for the African Film Festival at the Film at Lincoln Center in NYC and a 2023-24 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow. Her work has been shown at Film at Lincoln Center (NYC), Museum of Modern Art Library (NYC), Miller ICA (Pittsburgh), the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (Hong Kong), Casa do Povo (São Paulo, Brazil), Aktuelle Architektur der Kulturimages (Murcia, Spain), Pocoapoco (Oaxaca, Mexico) among others.
Taylor Levy [pron. tey-ler] is an artist & designer with a penchant for taking things apart, understanding how they work, and then putting them back together in a way that exposes their inner workings.The results take on a variety of forms from low-tech electronic sculpture to high-tech software & other executions. She has work on view at The Leonardo Museum of Science and Technology and was a resident at Fabrica Interactive in Treviso, Italy. She is an alumna of MIT Media Lab, ITP at NYU, and Vassar College.
Che-Wei Wang [pron. sey-wey] is an artist, designer & architect with expertise in computational and generative design, fabrication technologies, electronics, CNC machining, and metal manufacturing. The results range from architecture & sculpture to interactive installations & mobile apps. He is the winner of the 2003 SOM fellowship and the Young Alumni Achievement Award from Pratt Institute. Che-Wei has taught courses on design, time, creative computing, and inflatables, at various institutions. He is an alumnus of MIT Media Lab, ITP at NYU, and Pratt Institute.
with Jeffrey Yoo Warren and Dri Chiu Tattersfield
January 20 - March 23, 2024 ·Online (Zoom) ·Applications open
Instruments of the Black Gooey Universe
with American Artist, Zainab Aliyu, Taylor Levy and Che-Wei Wang
January 21 - March 24, 2024 ·In-Person NYC ·Applications open
with Todd Anderson, Kayla Drzewicki and Tyler Yin
January 22 - March 28, 2024·Online (Zoom) ·Applications open
with Alice Yuan Zhang, Meghna Mahadevan and Oren Robinson
January 22 - March 28, 2024 ·Online (Zoom) ·Applications open
Interested in more learning opportunities at the School for Poetic Computation?
Join our newsletter to stay up to date on future sessions
and events, and
follow us on Instagram and Twitter.
Support our programming through scholarships.
Get in touch over email.