‘Digital Ecologies II: Fiction Machines’ – Michelle Atherton presents her ‘Repository of Irrational Gestures’ at symposium at Bath Spa University

Image courtesy of Michelle Atherton - Digital Ecologies Symposium, Bath Spa University banner

Digital Ecologies II: Fiction Machines

Senior Fine Art Lecturer Michelle Atherton presented her research project The Repository of Irrational Gestures (RIGs) in the form of a performance lecture at the Digital Ecologies II Symposium: Fiction Machines, hosted by The Centre for Media Research at Bath Spa University on Tuesday 16 July 2019.

In the introduction to his book Fiction as Method (2017) Jon K Shaw identifies a fictional place called Null Island, a fiction that is located at a point in the centre of the earth where no one can travel to, set amongst the lava.

‘From this unreal centre the machines can tag our photos to map our memories and images onto the material world, can align our satellites to coordinate and connect us across the planet. Whenever we perform one of these actions, we pass through this fiction. We are transported home via the fictional island.’ Jon K Shaw

Our vision of the earth and of each other is increasingly filtered through the operations of a complex assemblage of networked computational writing machines and, as Shaw implies, these exist at the centre of our world and our daily experience. As a result the planet itself is increasingly becoming computational, Nigel Thrift describes how the ‘real’ as we know it is the result of multiple simultaneous ‘writing machines’ using a continuous looping process of algorithms.

Humans now exist within complex informational spaces that produce affects, simulate, analyse and respond to user and environmental data. Within these conditions fiction and reality become increasingly blurred, machine and human voices difficult to distinguish.

These machines allow for the generation of complex webs of fabulation which exist in a plethora of contexts from corporate identities to labyrinthine brand stories, to political propaganda and the operations of the derivatives market.

Furthermore our understanding of the ecological is itself increasingly filtered through multiple layers of networked technologies, sensors, algorithms and data visualisations. Jennifer Gabrys discusses the notion of ‘planetary scale computerisation’ and how this leads to the generation of ‘new living conditions, subjectivities, and imaginaries’ (Gabrys, 2016).

Image courtesy of Michelle Atherton - Digital Ecologies Symposium, Bath Spa University

Within this context new fictional strategies within creative practice emerge as important weapons for critique, intervention, speculation and change. As Simon O’Sullivan notes: fiction can be used not as a matter of ‘make believe’ but rather in a Ranciere sense of forging the real to better approximate historical and contemporary experience. 

In the symposium we ask how fictional methods are being employed to rethink and renegotiate our relationship with current and future technologies; how such methods can be used from activist and political perspectives; how they can address and critique post-truth conditions; how they can reveal forgotten histories and non-human perspectives; and how they can be used to speculate on, and design, new futures.

As Benjamin Bratton notes: ‘Our shared design project will require both different relationships to machines (carbon based machines and otherwise) and a more promiscuous figurative imagination.

Keynote speakers included Professor Simon O’Sullivan, Professor of Art, Theory and practice, Goldsmiths College and Dr Tony David-Sampson, Reader in Digital Media Culture and Communication, University of East London.

Other participating artist and academics were Ami Clarke, Jennet Thomas, Rod Dickinson, Charlie Tweed, Andy Weir, Harry Meadows, Ada Hao, Ramon Bloomberg, Bjørn erik Haugen, Hugh Frost, Garfield Benjamin, John Wild, Alberto Micali, Maud Craigie, Michelle Atherton, Rebecca Smith, Stephanie Moran and Alex Hogan, Teodora Fartan and Mikey Georgeson. 

Digital Ecologies II: Fiction Machines
Bath Spa University
Tuesday 16 July 2019, 9AM – 5PM

Michelle Atherton is an artist working with images and temporal states, that is researching particular moments or sets of conditions in our collective histories. The aim of the work is to probe these entanglements and the complexities that surround us. All her work is image-based, holding a long-standing fascination with the fact that images appear to be all front. Part of the research investigates the potency of the image in its rhetorical and ambiguous forms; and our encounters with it. The work often incorporates video, photography, sound, collage and writing. The work cultivates a type of image-dissonance, through a series of after or pre-images. Her artwork and research has been supported by the Arts Council UK and the Arts and Humanities Research Council and shown throughout Europe in variety of contexts including galleries and museums, festivals, and conferences, and via publication.