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, guest speakers and electrically infused drinks. The talk will take place on Tuesday 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.
Curator and writer Huib Haye Van der Werf has made three poetic video-supplements to Kneebone’s exhibition. Van der Werf explains:
Our smart-technologies contain systems that we do not understand, yet fully rely upon. These systems remain invisible behind their sheaths of minimal design and user friendly glassy surfaces. While the software for these technologies is seems readily adaptive to our consumer needs, the different hardware necessary to make these systems operate are unknown to us. Their mineral origins lay under our feet, yet we do not know their source. They have been mined, and touched. Then transformed and inserted, and made inconspicuous. Present only in their elemental function. Used up, until returned to the earth again as refuse, at the end of their periodic cycle.
Huib Haye Van der Werf (born in 1976 in Belgium, lives and works in Maastricht) has been head of the artistic program for the Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht since 2013. From 2012-2013 he was partner/curator for TAAK and from 2011 until July 2012 curator for the Foundation for Art in Public Space (SKOR). From 2008 until 2011 he was curator for the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi) in Rotterdam. From 2005 until 2008 he was adviser on visual arts for the Chief Government Architect and was responsible for realizing projects under the percentage-ruling for visual arts for government buildings.