Arts / Data / Events

The projects from these 3 Eyebeam fellows are all really interesting

We caught up with a handful of artists Saturday night. They're each using technology to better understand the biases of data collection, the meaning of witchcraft and the reclamation of Middle Eastern artifacts.

At the Eyebeam reception, Oct. 8, 2016. (Photo by Tyler Woods)

Saturday night, avant-tech arts institution Eyebeam celebrated its new class of research fellows, throwing a party in its Industry City headquarters, which brought out many from Brooklyn’s creative class.
The research residency offers five artists a little more than $30,000 to work for 9-12 months to “pursue creative research into the annual focus, and help Eyebeam redefine the meaning of technology.”
All five artists were in attendance Saturday and we caught up with three of them.
Here’s what they said:

Macon Reed

Macon Reed hides from the party to work. (Photo by Tyler Woods)

Macon Reed hides from the party to work. (Photo by Tyler Woods)

I work more with social technology and social systems, so thinking about projects that I can use to bring people together to have conversations or change the way they’re having relationships. Eyebeam is really cool that way, in that technology can mean a lot of different things. Right now, this is for a show coming up at BRIC, I’m going to be in the Brooklyn Biennial on Nov. 9.
I read this book, Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, that just kind of blew my mind about this 300-year period in Europe when we were transitioning from feudalism to capitalism. A bunch of different events happened, like the bubonic plague, which left people in a position where they needed more bodies to labor. Women came under this huge pressure to make babies. One thing led to another and over this 300-year period, thousands and thousands of women were killed as witches. I was thinking about that and I was like, “What is it they were killing?” These women weren’t actually witches, but they represented a system of logic that didn’t exist under the capitalist paradigm.
Witch trials are still happening, and they happen when there are huge paradigm shifts around economics. In Nigeria in the ’90s and early 2000s there were actually witch hunts there as things were shifting economically. So I’m thinking about what the witch actually represents.
These sculptures, this is all cardboard, some of it’s wood. This is basically the setup for all these events we’ll have in the space. I’m such a nerd about this but Silvia is actually going to be at the event. We’ll have people who identify as actual witches and midwives and much more.

Mimi Onuoha

Mimi Onuoha explains "dark data."

Mimi Onuoha explains “dark data.” (Photo by Tyler Woods)

I do a lot of work around data collection. There are all these ethical, cultural, computational, political decisions made around the collection of data. I’m really interested into what goes into that moment of data collection. I’ve been working on missing data sets. The most common example was civilians killed by the police. There was a lot of data around crime, around policing, but nothing about civilians killed by the police. Now it’s no longer missing and there’s a lot of data around it but you can start to think: why wasn’t it there? Because the people with the resources to collect it didn’t have the incentive to do so.
The other thing I’m interested in is how sometimes it’s better not to collect anything. If you’re an undocumented migrant, it’s much better not to be seen, even though that might hurt you in some ways. Like, if you’re working in a restaurant you might get exploited more easily, but at the same time the very act of being undocumented in this country in this particular time is in itself very dangerous. Being able to be counted and trapped isn’t very good for you.
I would love to be able to condense [the research] into something that’s like, “Here, if you have questions about this you can go here.” I don’t know what the medium will be but it will be kind of like a toolkit, but not like a GitHub toolkit. I want to do some art, too. I want to do some data visualization about what data there is and what data’s missing.
I think we’re getting to a moment where people are starting to realize that data collection comes from people and reflects biases which is great but I hope that it doesn’t become a fallback, like, “Now that we’ve acknowledged that, OK we’re done.”
I’m not really coming at it from, “Here’s how we fix it.” I don’t want the message to be, “We’re missing data let’s collect more, that’ll fix it.” I don’t think it will at all.

Morehshin Allahyari 

(Declined a photo.)
I’m creating an archive of dark goddesses and mythical female figures from the Middle East. The idea is that I’ll do one year of research and archiving and then create a project between that and fiction, like rewriting narratives from these old myths.
The idea is that through these acts of archiving and refiguring I’ll be able to take over the power of cultural heritage. For instance, you see ISIS destroying artifacts and taking ownership through that, and then these Silicon Valley people recreating these artifacts being destroyed, which is very popular right now. Between them taking over power through these acts of recreation, it’s sort of a common act of colonialism, and then removing the context around it. “Oh look, we are the Westerners becoming saviors of the world.” Between ISIS destruction and Silicon Valley ideology reclaiming it through reconstruction, I’m devising a third method which is that these female fictional figures will take over the power of the history.
We’ll have an opening at Transfer Gallery on the 22nd of October where I will do a narrative on video and then an archive that will be available at the gallery in a reading room that will be added to.

Companies: Eyebeam / TRANSFER Gallery / Industry City
Series: Brooklyn

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