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Eduardo Kac, Hullabaloo. Biotope, 19 × 23 inches as part of the Specimen of Secrecy about Marvelous Discoveries series (2006). Collection Alfredo Herzog da Silva, São Paulo. Photo Luke Batholomew Tan
Eduardo Kac, Hullabaloo. Biotope, 19 × 23 inches as part of the Specimen of Secrecy about Marvelous Discoveries series (2006). Collection Alfredo Herzog da Silva, São Paulo. Photo Luke Batholomew Tan

April 12, 2022, 5:00 pm

The event is free and open to the public. MIT will be observing all Covid-19 precautions

‘Microperformativity’ denotes a current trend both in performative art practices and theories of performativity to destabilize human scales – both spatial and temporal – as the dominant plane of reference and to emphasize biological and technological micro-agencies that, beyond the mesoscopic human body, relate the invisibility of the microscopic to the incomprehensibility of the macroscopic. Investigations into microperformativity redefine what art, philosophy and the technosciences actually consider a ‘body’ today, in times when performance art shifts towards generalized and pervasive performativity in art. Cross-fertilizing aesthetics, media, and performance theory, as well as science and technology studies, microperformativityhas been coined as a concept to describe and contextualize the recent attention paid to these other-than-human agencies, biological, and technical ones alike, which challenge and subvert the mesoscopic tradition within which human phenomenological considerations are, still, rooted. As such, the inclusion of ‘aliveness’ enlarges the scope of the evolving field of the ‘live arts’. Non-human agencies are being staged in relation to performative techno-scientific or algorithmic systems, thus addressing contemporary dynamics linking the organic and the machinic. Microperformative positions enquire how artistic methods can engage critically with technologies that exploit life on a microscopic and molecular level to merge bio- and digital media, including for global capitalization. How can performative art and discourses inform these processes to think biopolitics and necropolitics in relation to the dystopia of economy and the utopia of ecology alike?

The neologism microperformativity has progressively emerged from years’ long observation and epistemological scrutiny of how and why art since the 1990s has appropriated a large variety of increasingly available biotechnologies as performative media in order to literally, and materially, stage ‘aliveness’, including at microscopic scales in vivo and in vitro. From this perspective, microperformativity is intertwined with the concept of biomediality: It implies that such media indeed do not just serve to represent, control, transmit, store or process something with regard to which they are supposed to be indifferent (information, text or images, sound and so forth), but that they actually produce what they pretend to merely mediate: biomediality denotes the ensemble of all topical and functional enabling factors that arise as a result of technical manipulation or appropriation of living organisms or organic biological entities, elements and processes; but organisms – as the usual point of reference – are, or were, in the first instance, organized in a way to embody agency as a proxy of ‘aliveness’. Consequently, art in this field displaces the focus from its mesoscopic actions to its microscopic functions, from physical gestures to physiological processes, and from staged diegetic time to real performative time, even of an experimental setting in a Petri dish.

But notwithstanding the extraordinary range of possibilities that microperformativity offers for artistic research and research-based art, a main challenge remains: how are these displays, experimental set-ups, events and dramaturgies that convey co-corporeality with other than human agencies conceived to conceptually and materially engage indeed human observers and participants? And should these works then even be destined and limited – only – to a human audience in its mesoscopic bubble, easier to burst conceptually than aesthetically?

Following his lecture, Jens will be joined by Caroline A. Jones for conversation.

Jens Hauser is a Paris and Copenhagen based media studies scholar and art curator focusing on the interactions between art and technology. He’s currently a researcher at University of Copenhagen’s Medical Museion, a senior postdoc researcher at the Medical University Vienna, a distinguished affiliated faculty member at Michigan State University, where he co-directs the BRIDGE artist in residency program, an affiliated faculty member at Danube University Krems, a guest lecturer at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and at the University of Innsbruck, a guest professor at the Department of Arts and Sciences of Art at Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, and a researcher affiliated with École Polytechnique Paris-Saclay. Hauser has been the chair of the European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts’ 2018 conference in Copenhagen. At the intersection of media studies, art history and epistemology, he has developed an aesthetic and epistemological theory of biomediality as part of his PhD at Ruhr University Bochum, and also holds a degree in science and technology journalism from Université François Rabelais in Tours.

Caroline A. Jones is Professor in the History, Theory, and Criticism section, Department of Architecture, MIT.  She studies modern and contemporary art, focusing on its technological modes of production, distribution, and reception, and on its interface with science. She has also worked as a curator, recently in three exhibitions at MIT’s List Visual Art Center: Hans Haacke 1967 (2011); Video Trajectories(2007-08); and Sensorium (2006-07). Her exhibitions and/or films have been shown at NY MoMA, SF MoMA, the Hirshhorn DC, and the Hara Museum Tokyo, among other venues. Publications include Machine in the Studio (1996/98), Picturing Science, Producing Art (co-editor, 1998), Sensorium (editor2006), Eyesight Alone (2005/08), Experience (co-editor, 2016), and The Global Work of Art(2016). Caroline is currently researching patterns of occlusion and political contestation in what she calls “the anthropogenic image” of environmental disaster, in collaboration with historian of science Peter Galison.