If our understanding of complex technology as end-users is inadequate then how do we respond to its malfunction? When faced with a meandering cell-phone signal we might desperately wave our phone in the air to improve reception. We might blame a rainy day for unstable Wi-Fi, or perhaps a passerby for blocking its invisible path. The language we use to describe these occurrences suddenly imbues machines with a temperamental personality: drained batteries will suddenly “die”, an erratic phone becomes “possessed”, and a touch screen responds “crazily”. How might an engineer respond to malfunction by comparison? In his book Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension (2016), complexity scientist Samuel Arbesman talks about how technical systems such as infrastructure and computers have reached such a point of complexity that no single individual, either engineer or end-user, can claim full understanding. Supplanting the notion of the engineer as contemporary magician Arbesman says that the projection of meaning onto malfunction is “no longer an attitude reserved for laypeople, it occurs even among the developers of technology themselves.” He continues with an anecdote told by engineer Lee Felsenstein in which an engineering manager had to leave the room whenever a piece of software was being demonstrated; his presence alone seemingly caused things to malfunction. None of the engineers could find a logical solution to the problem and so instead resigned it to the realm of metaphysics.
For Curse of The Walking Techbane at Rib, Mathew Kneebone explores the metaphysical meanings attributed to malfunction and technical complexity. Works on show link human energy fields, magnetism, and auras with machines through video loops of homopolar motors, troubleshooting monologues, electro-photograms, 19th-century aura viewing fluids, dysfunctional prototypes, and musical lights.
With voice work performed by Abe Bernstein, Lisa Sniderman, Brian Vouglas, and Susannah Wood.
In collaboration with V2_, Rib will present an artist talk with Mathew Kneebone to discuss the research behind his upcoming exhibition Curse of The Walking Techbane. The evening will include a discussion of the artist’s research process, a skype conversation with guest speaker Samuel Arbesman and electrically infused drinks. The talk will take place on Monday 1st May at 7.30pm at V2_ Rotterdam.
Mathew Kneebone (1982) lives and works in San Francisco, California. He graduated from the Werkplaats Typografie in 2014 and in the same year was a resident at the Jan van Eyck Academie, the Netherlands. He explores the history of electrical innovation and the cultural mechanisms that end-users adopt to cope with its change. His research correlates technical-complexity, malfunction, and user-anxieties with mythology, superstition, and science fiction. This manifests through writing and drawing which informs the creation of his electronic installations and performances. He has given talks and workshops at the AA School, London UK (2011); Central Saint Martins, London UK (2016); Kunstverein, Amsterdam NL (2015); Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam NL (2015); and has recently shown work at De Fabriek, Eindhoven, NL (2017); Museum Dr. Guislain, BE (2017); Sitterwerk, St. Gallen, CH (2016); Typojanchi Biennial, Seoul, KR (2015–2016). His writing has been published in The Serving Library, OASE Journal for Architecture, and Luca School of Art amongst others.
Samuel Arbesman is a complexity scientist, whose work focuses on the nature of scientific and technological change. He is currently Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital, a venture capital firm investing in emerging science and technology ventures. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Boulder and Research Fellow at the Long Now Foundation.
Arbesman’s training is in complexity science, computational biology, and applied mathematics. His scientific research has been cited widely and has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His essays about science, mathematics, and technology have appeared in such places as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Wired, where he was previously a contributing writer, and he has been featured in The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010. Arbesman is the author of two award-winning books, Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension (Current/Penguin, 2016) and The Half-Life of Facts (Current/Penguin, 2012).
Previously, Arbesman was a Senior Scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. He completed a PhD in computational biology at Cornell University in 2008, and earned a BA in computer science and biology at Brandeis University in 2004.