The ACT Studio Course, co-taught by Judith BarryNida Sinnokrot, and Catarina Burin, opens the possibility of examininwhat can be meant by the terms art, culture, and technology by considering what an art-culture-technology nexus can generate—imaginatively, historically, and in relation to the present—via examining forms, production, placement, and diffusion/distribution, in an effort to analyze these interrelationships and to experiment with what can be generated. Throughout the course, students probed the contemporary conditions of artists and cultural practitioners who position themselves as thinkers and as ethical beings.

ACT Studio is a meeting place allowing the sharing and presentation of ideas and projects that are being developed. This engaged study includes a variety of readings; exploring questions of theory and criticism; and examining works and practices. Students considered methods of investigation, display, and documentation, as well as explored modes and challenges of communication across disciplines. Students developed projects in which they organized research methods and goals, engaged in production, cultivated a context for their practice, and explored how to compellingly communicate, display, and document their work. Regular presentation and peer-critique sessions, as well as reviews involving ACT faculty and fellows and external guest reviewers, provided students with ample feedback as their projects developed.

ACT Class of 2020

Ryan Aasen
Luíza Bastos Lages
Rae Yuping Hsu
Matt Ledwidge
Casey Tang
Nancy Valladares


Ryan Aasen (SMACT ’20)

The Miami of the North

In 1975, a businessman named Casey Ramirez moved to Princeton, Minnesota, a small town one hour north of Minneapolis. While the UnitedStates was pushing austerity measures and facing back-to-back recessions, the city was putting its faith, and its budget, in two new shopping malls to revitalize the city’s economy. In 1981, after establishing himself in the town, Ramirez began spending a lot of money there. He expanded the town’s failing airport, donated cars to the police department, funded a new indoor hockey arena, moved into the mayor’s house, and planted palm trees in front of City Hall saying he wanted to make Princeton “the Miami of the North.” In 1984 he went to prison for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States. While the malls never created the economic expansion the city hoped for, the airport and hockey arena are still in use today.

Luiza Bastos Lages (SMACT ’20)

Colonial Present

A current personal urgency might intimately uncover my present contextuality; the fact that I am not there, but here. Having escaped triggered my need to embrace that there, even more than I already had.

There is something about not having your body embedded in the same articulation of the real as your loved ones. There is something about displacement.

The present work addresses the resurrection of authoritarianism in Brasil, that many consider to be only in the past, when in fact, it is a present and broad political project.

My tentative speculation is that this resurrection made possible the reaffirmation and profound intensification of neoliberal policies based within relations of imperialism.

In this work, I address imperialism as a process that unfolds from coloniality, as one of the many contemporary catastrophes that are born from a colonial past, as a refreshed mode of extraction of forms of life and erasure of modes of living.

My hypothesis is that the manipulation of the political landscape in Brasil in recent years, which allowed for the rise of an authoritarian alt-right government, is intimately related not only to the interests of a local dominant class, but also to transnational oligarchies. Thus, in my

understanding, the rise of authoritarian governments and the subsequent intensification of imperialism,  as in the case of Brasil, allows for the reproduction of capitalism in times of crisis and for the reinforced extraction and expropriation of forms of life from the global south, safeguarding them for a very few.

In an attempt to poetically address this hypothesis, I approach it through the lens of a water leakage, through traces left on everyday objects, through reflections over my own identity.

Rae Yuping Hsu (SMACT ’20)

Commoning Begins in the Gut

Ferment is possibly my favorite word in the English language. Collins Dictionary lists synonyms such as a state of unrest, agitation, turbulent change, commotion, tumult, turmoil, excitement. This brings to mind words like foment, political ferment, the act of fermenting one’s own food is a political gesture of reclaiming some agency in the capitalist logic of consumption and a practice of building together with communities of human and more- than-human others. With respect to historian Peter Linebaugh’s proposal that commoning begins in the kitchen “where production and reproduction meet,” I in turn propose that it begins in one’s gut, as a performance with a vibrant community of microbial agents.

Matt Ledwidge (SMACT ’20)

Counter-Planning the Perceptual Model

Technologies of computer simulation of human behavioral and perceptual experience are having an increasing impact within the fields of urban planning and architecture, for modeling everything from disaster evacuations to transit mobility, maximizing economic productivity, and tracing the impact of new development projects.

These technologies have roots in specific cultural, planning, and computational histories and raise challenging political questions around legibility and governance, while offering distinct opportunities for a particular kind of emergent representation and a new relation of aesthetic encounters in these spaces. In continuity with my past work at MIT, and as a component of the thesis, I am working the tools of computational perceptual urban modeling to generate sculptural form.

By perceptual modeling, I refer to frameworks through which the attention of an urban observer is understood as material, autonomous, and manipulable. Critical of these tools, I am rendering what the experience of spaces generated from these technologies might feel like, to direct attention to their alignment, misalignment, and the erasures of lived experiences. I see this project as a series of experiments to produce versions of inhabitable, contestable, interpretable objects for urban imagination generated through different and evolving criteria for how we might script and occupy the city.

Casey C Tang (SMACT ’20)


river curving through a woodland, a sunbeam on a fern, lead to a gradual unfolding of space and histories. A former military officer and indigenous language linguist can be heard describing what he sees in Passamaquamody, an endangered language from the North Eastern United States.

Gardeners meticulously maintain Murin-an, a 200-year old garden, created by political and military leader Yamagata Aritomo, one of the chief architects of modern Japan. He modeled the Japanese military and expansion systems after the Prussian military. He waged wars with nearby nations to transform Japan from an agricultural state to a modern industrial one. On the property is one of the first western-style houses and stoves in Japan. In the distance, animal calls can be heard from the nearby Kyoto City Zoo, established in 1903, the second oldest zoo in Japan.

Nancy Dayanne Valladares (SMACT ’20)

Botanical Ghosts

Lancetilla Botanical Gardens is a place of ghosts. I call specters those which leave imprints behind, but whose frequency cannot be sensed with  tools of quantification, or a scientific apparatus.

Botanical Ghosts traces the voyage of the Ackee tree or Blighia Sapida. Deeply entangled with the colonial landscape of the Caribbean, the Ackee tree’s story of botanical exchange unearths the crossing of non-human migrants and their submerged histories.

This project emerges from a desire to summon the specters that are buried beneath this former experimental station at Lancetilla, Honduras. It requires various acts of political necromancy and digging for clues beneath the roots of various species of plants.

It’s an invitation to tap into sensibilities towards the inanimate and the dead, and for the living things that are considered dead but maybe are not. Whose animacy has been obscured and undermined by structures of power and dispossession? Whose stories of displacement and migration do we privilege?