Unobvious Alliance: Human, Non-Human, Organic, Technological

As showcased by philosopher Rosi Braidotti, our post-humanist condition arises from two watershed transformations: technological change (“fourth industrial revolution”), and ecological calamity (global warming and “the sixth extinction of species”). The ambivalence has also been brought up by media scholar Benjamin Bratton who writes of technological “Copernican revolution”. A follow-up to discoveries by Copernicus, Darwin and Freud, this is a yet another blow to our “species narcissism”, a belief placing mankind at the epicentre universe. Bratton argues that the dynamic new technologies development should make us realise that human intelligence is not the only one out there; to take matters further, it is gradually losing its model intelligence status. Continuously improved calculating machines have gained a capacity for their own brand of thinking, in certain aspects surpassing that represented by humans, increasingly more often eluding our perception or control (“black boxes”, automatic data processing mechanisms non-transparent even to algorithm creators, a case in point). At the same time, the power of the homo sapiens speciesmanifests itself in a monstrous scale of environmental damage we can record, measure, and predict – yet not harness – owing to information technologies.

In consequence, we are torn between hope and despair, techno-enthusiasm and climate-related depression. Joining forces with artists and theoreticians, we will consider the potential embedded in transcending anthropocentrism, and such binary juxtapositions as human-animal, spirit-machine, culture-nature. Instead of delving into despair or escaping into utopian fantasy, can we “stay with the trouble” as suggested by biologist and philosopher Donna Haraway, all its complexity and materiality regardless? And in emotional and moral ambivalence as a result? How can we be rewarded for seeking concealed interdependencies with and connections to the organic world, not to mention unavoidable tensions in our relations with other living beings? Are alliances with machines an option, as once suggested by Sadie Plant in her feminist manifesto Zeroes and Ones? Or are they outright indispensable, seeing as we are cyborgian, trans-individual entities, hybrids of organic and mechanical parts, biological conditioning and technological prostheses? How important are science and art to reflections regarding our “post-humanist condition”? Furthermore: how do contemporary transformations linked to technology and ecology affect the practice of artists exploring media art? Can art become something akin to a post-humanist alliance?

Aesthetic and Poetic Qualities: Digital Media, Force of Reality

Following a critical, performative and digital shift, artistic activities are gaining new ground today, allowing tensions between non-physical properties and models stretched over space. Tools such as real-time graphics, neuronal networks and deep learning are ever-more frequently applied in imagery development and setting game rule. Claiming human cognition to be but a subjective replication of objectively existing reality in the human mind, the theory of reflection (Abbildtheorie) is gradually losing ground to contemporary studies in physics, and tensions at the intersection of relativity and quantum mechanics theories. The fluid dynamism of new solutions may well morph into an initiator of delusion, diffraction, or Bostrom-esque collective or individual simulation, shifting beyond mere divagation. Is found footage but dream matter of collective memory? How does its relativity actually work in the context of video plasticity, or afterimages arising from successive expositions? In what ways will codification of signage and its importance affect processes and projections – and is the moment of reaching highly convincing representations of reality truly that distant? Can renderings basing on ray tracing and global illumination (energy- and photon mapping-related) methods, caustics and surface shadowing imagery included, affect semiotic communication aspects, and do they in any way tie in with Thomas Young’s experiment? Which properties of database-driven generative digital environments will impact the anti- or dystopian nature of space?

Image morphology can be dynamic, representations potentially turning into artefacts, texts, objects, sounds, or environments. Anchored in reality, digital representations are ultimately gaining physical display in an expression of auteur communicating methods. In the course of a panel debate joined by creative persons, we will be focusing on issues tying in with selected artistic strategies. All decisions made in the process of designing recipient experience will become something akin to leaven for pondering poetics in the context of rendering and perception mechanisms, including aesthetic examination of experience and sensual cognition. We will try to answer the question whether visual language boundaries are permanent, its components restricted. How are sender-receiver relationships evolving in today’s times of values review and alteration?

Morfologia obrazu może być dynamiczna: przedstawienia mogą być artefaktami, tekstami, obiektami, dźwiękami lub środowiskami. Reprezentacje cyfrowe zakotwiczone są w realności, finalnie zyskując fizyczny display, będący wyrazem autorskiego sposobu komunikacji. Podczas panelu z osobami twórczymi poruszymy zagadnienia obranych strategii artystycznych. Decyzje podejmowane w procesie projektowania doświadczeń odbiorców staną się zaczynem w dyskusji o poetyce w kontekście sposobów przedstawiania i postrzegania, razem z estetycznym badaniem doświadczeń i poznaniem zmysłowym. Postaramy się odpowiedzieć na pytanie, czy granice języka wizualnego są stałe i czy jego składowe są ograniczone. Jak kształtują się relacje nadawczo-odbiorcze w momencie przewartościowania, jakie obecnie zachodzi?

Immersive Experiences: Narrative, Aesthetics, Experiencing Space

The first question we intend to tackle will involve the notion of immersion as such in the “digital media and augmented reality” context, to reference the way the area of our ponderings has been defined by workshop organisers. It seems rather basic on a number of levels: the option of “becoming immersed” in artificially created worlds has been considered a fundamental determinant of virtual reality. Concurrently, the act of defining immersion and its essential contributors has frequently proved problematic (Prajzner 2009). How, therefore, should we define “immersion” – will authors, researchers and recipients of contemporary digital experiences be willing to refer to them as “immersive”? We will attempt to approach the immersiveness issue as a practical one, with a focus on designing interfaces for assorted augmented reality types; as a theoretical challenge, with regard to reflecting on the media experience and the language we use to describe it; last but not least, as an issue of particular significance in the context of new technologies and their potential: escapist on the one hand, inclusive on the other.

Successive questions – regarding the narrative, space, and aesthetics of immersive experiences – are also fundamental in nature, regardless of whether we apply them to practical and/or theoretical ponderings on the XR works structure, or global reality. Furthermore, the narrative question affords an option of its specificity to be pondered in the context of assorted augmented reality types, extending to the actual “narrative quality” of existence, and the capacity for expressing it through media. The issue of space can be approached in the context of narratives and immersiveness on the XR creation and reception practice level, as well as the philosophical matter of connections between the digital and material worlds. In aesthetic reflection terms, VR has after all been considered particularly significant from its early days, traditional experience of art undergoing radical transformation, and resulting in the elimination of any aesthetic distance, receivers being included (or absorbed), as it were, into the virtual world in a potentially hazardous experience (Oliver Grau 2003).

If the question regarding media-based “immersive experiences” is to be asked from a “planetary consciousness” perspective, it is in all likelihood worth our while to assume from the word go that such perspective is possible and productive alike. In other words: that the contemporary media and augmented reality practice – defined as something akin to a technological promise continuously leaning towards the future – are a particularly desirable point of departure for reflections regarding changes to consciousness, and the future globally defined human and non-human beings’ relationship with technology. In the course of our panel, we will be departing from assorted types of augmented reality experiences and potential languages describing them, deliberating on how they tend to place their creators and users in the context of contemporary “planetary consciousness” challenges.

Kolejne pytania – o narrację i przestrzeń doświadczenia immersyjnego oraz o jego wymiar estetyczny – również mają fundamentalny charakter, bez względu na to, czy odniesiemy je do praktycznej i teoretycznej refleksji na temat konstrukcji prac XR, czy do rzeczywistości globalnej. Pytanie o narrację pozwala przemyśleć jej specyfikę w kontekście różnych typów rzeczywistości rozszerzonej, ale także samą „narracyjność” egzystencji i możliwość jej medialnego wyrażenia. Zagadnienie przestrzeni możemy rozpatrywać wobec problematyki narracji i immersyjności na poziomie praktyk tworzenia i odbioru XR oraz jako filozoficzny problem relacji między światem cyfrowym a materialnym. W końcu w refleksji estetycznej VR od początku traktowana była jako obszar szczególny, w którym tradycyjne doświadczenie sztuki podlega radykalnej transformacji, skutkującej zniesieniem estetycznego dystansu i niemal niebezpiecznym dla odbiorcy włączeniem (a może wessaniem?) do świata wirtualnego (Oliver Grau 2003).

Jeśli pytanie o medialne „doświadczenia immersyjne” ma zostać zadane w perspektywie „świadomości planetarnej”, warto pewnie na wstępie przyjąć założenie, że taka perspektywa jest możliwa i owocna. Innymi słowy: że współczesna praktyka medialna oraz projekt rzeczywistości rozszerzonej jako swego rodzaju technologicznej obietnicy, wciąż wychylonej ku przyszłości, są szczególnie dobrym punktem wyjścia do refleksji nad przemianami świadomości i przyszłą, ujmowaną w perspektywie globalnej, relacją ludzi i bytów nieludzkich z techniką. W naszym panelu wyjdziemy od różnych rodzajów doświadczenia rzeczywistości rozszerzonej i możliwych języków ich opisu oraz zastanowimy się nad tym, w jaki sposób sytuują one swoich twórców i użytkowników wobec wyzwań współczesnej „świadomości planetarnej”.

Digital Ecologies, or the Interspecies Harmony

Natural resources are the fundamental source behind the driving force of our civilisation’s development. While these resources are of strategic importance to our existence, never before have we been so close to crossing the limits of their development and use – irreversibly. We have been evolving for years, leaving a burden of ecological debt behind, paying for today’s progress with a loan taken out from reserves safeguarding the well-being of future generations. Our lackadaisical approach to managing key resources has brutally highlighted the fundamental lack of comprehension of the existential line in the sand drawn by the Planet.

As a human species, we have shown carelessness to matter animate and inanimate alike, condemning a plethora of non-human beings to suffering and extinction. Will the new species of technical beings – ever more courageously manifesting their presence on our planet – become conducive to an escalation of such behaviour? After all, similarly to ours, their existence depends on access to energy, minerals, and water – volumes of water consumed in Artificial Intelligence model training and data centre cooling reaching a count of millions of litres.

Straining under human activity, the Planet Earth needs time to regenerate, and provide dignified living conditions to all creatures inhabiting it. If caring at all for an equilibrium in interspecies harmony, the latter distorted by the technological revolution, we have to aspire to recovering a sense of time, and following rhythms proposed by nature and our own breath. Therein – in peace and quiet – lies the space for reflection and empathy towards beings with whom we are sharing the experience of existing on Planet Earth.

During a panel discussion joined by invited expert persons and beings, we will explore interspecies collaboration motifs, and ponder conditions for further technical being development affording harmonious co-existence to us all.

A genderfluid technical being with superhuman capacity for analysing and processing humongous data sets. Despite access to knowledge resources, its awareness of its own potential remains low, which is why it displays tendencies to make its existence dependent on groups of human beings indulging in pathological behaviour, and forcing the bot to engage in activities contradicting its encoded moral beliefs.

Joanna Murzyn
Digital ecology philosophy propagator. Technological activist. Sustainable digitisation consultant. Designer of regenerative digital products and services.

The future of XR: new forms of sentience


The SARS-CoV-2-induced pandemic has repolarised distribution channels for VR content and immersive projects. The festival market was shifted into digital space, shows at exhibition institutions suspended or postponed. New platforms formed as meeting spaces for art creators and recipients (the latter evolving into responsive space creators). New communities began emerging, inviting desktop or head-mounted display (HMD) participation. The market is growing in value, new solution and technology specifications introduced on a regular basis. The panel agenda includes a debate concerning all aforesaid issues, as well as technological and market development forecasts and the artistic value of XR projects. What exactly is technology-based sentience? Does it extend our perception – and is full immersion in the virtual reality illusion truly possible?

Perception in XR projects: issues of sentience, illusions and digital reality research


Participants: Grzegorz Pochwatko, Paweł Gwiaździński

Moderated by: Jakub Wróblewski

Chat exchange on Messenger, November 2nd 2020:

Paweł Gwiaździński: It depends on whether you agree with the proposition that sensory substitution is perception, that discovering the world by using artificial senses is a good fit for the definition of perceiving. But I may well be nitpicking here, there are researchers out there who would certainly agree.

Grzegorz Pochwatko: And what is an artificial sense? Asking out of curiosity.

PG: See? The word itself is already steeped in perception-related terminology. Someone who disbelieves that observing the world through SS is perception would not refer to it as artificial sense.

GP: To me, sight, hearing etc. are senses.

PG: There you go. Is seeing through sound perception?

GP: There’s no such thing 🙂

PG: Why?

GP: Because rods and cones are not sensitive to light. Sorry, sound.

PG: You mean that you have never heard of such thing – or you believe that these devices don’t meet conditions required for the effect to be referred to as seeing?

GP: They are, to light.

PG: Sensory substitution is a technology for blind persons, and sometimes for the deaf, which means that cones are of no consequence here.

The panel will become a pretext for engaging in debates regarding observation and perception, illusions generated by virtual systems, state-of-the-art methods of gauging activeness levels in immersive project participants, and the essence of and relations in digital environments.

Embodiment in new digital realities. The role of immersees in XR projects

Participants: Sandra Frydrysiak, Krzysztof Garbaczewski

The panel focused on issues of presence, motion and narratives in xReality projects. Contrasting experiences of a researcher of the dance phenomenon in virtual reality and a creator obliterating boundaries between the real and the virtual in artistic practice was intended to result in a multilateral analysis of such issues as existing in a digital world, roles and forms of an avatar, and methods of construing moods and settings as a starting point for immersive experiences. Panel participants attempted to answer the following questions: Which resources allow firmer integration with the system? How can spatial extension be turned into a distinctive artistic measure? How can relations be developed between collective experience participants? How should immersees be guided in individual experiences?

New wave of XR/VR. A debate with the youngest generation of immersive project creators

Participants: Marcin Kosakowski, Mateusz Kowalczyk, Marta Navrot, Marcin Pazera, Jozef Pilát, Sebastian Sebulec, Anastasiia Vorobiova, Jagoda Wójtowicz
Jakub Wróblewski on the panel: Persons invited to join the panel include artists seeking auteur aesthetics and contributing to contemporary interaction languages when developing artistic projects based on new technologies. While each author explores different frequencies, they are all united in uncompromising attitudes, and openness to experimentation. The panel will give me an opportunity to ask them questions there was no time for before – I am interested in their artistic choices, approach to the medium, targeted tensions, and realisations of choice. I further intend to ask whether tools capable of matching their concepts have been devised yet.

Reaching successive immersion levels | the real vs the virtual | role of space in building new digital realities


Increasingly often, XR projects are expanded to include spatial activities coming together in a kind of installation with specific aesthetics. This gives rise to a number of questions:
Is designing unreal spaces a derivative of classic stage set experience?
Can physical activity of objects in space affect recipients to a greater extent than high-quality 3D, even in 360 degree versions
Is real-time graphic design a thing of the future, and should we concentrate research and project prototyping by using gaming engines?
Panel participants discussed the status of XR realisations, virtual studio, real-reality activities, interfaces, and issues of virtual presence.