You joined FutureEverything with a very interesting background in digital arts and culture. Can you say a bit more about that, and what brought you here?
I joined FutureEverything in October 2018 to take up the role of the Creative Director. Before that, I had spent about ten years sharing my time between the V&A and Watermans working with digital art and design.
One of my V&A highlights was the annual Digital Design Weekend, which I initiated and curated, a big scale event and what became one of London’s major digital art and design festivals, bringing together over a hundred creative professionals to explore emerging technologies, share processes, initiate critical discussions and collaborate. Every September we would take over the Museum for a long weekend with pop up installations, labs, performances, talks and demos, all linked around a theme. I was also very lucky to be given space and time to create many other programmes, from cross-sector networking events and meetups, to talks, workshops, research and commissioning projects. At Watermans, I was responsible for curating the exhibition programme and an annual Digital Performance festival, exploring intersections in art, dance, sound, performance, science and more. I had a great time there and had a chance to work with many brilliant artists and commission work, including outdoor projects and site specific installations.
Maker culture is another field I’ve been involved in, being one of the organisers for London’s Mini Maker Faire (Elephant & Castle Mini Make Faire), initiating the Market Hack in Johannesburg as part of Fak’ugesi, involved in running the e-stitches meetup, as well as being a co-founder of the ongoing Maker Assembly with events running across the UK. I was fascinated by how making, tinkering and hacking could enable new ways to learn, exchange but also question and debate.
Since the beginning of my involvement in this sector, I have been interested in the role of art, artists and arts organisations in society and place, but also in how technology shapes us and the world around us. FutureEverything’s cross-disciplinary work, critical conversations, but also the focus on civic design and public realm were some of the things I found exciting about the organisation and which brought me here.
Could you tell us an artist or maker that everyone needs to know about?
That’s a difficult one as the list of creative people I admire is quite long 🙂
But if you haven’t come across the work of Nigerian-American artist Mimi Onuoha, I highly recommend checking it out. Mimi’s work brings together ethnographic research, but also datasets and code to explore power relationships, inequality and social critique. In her work she investigates ideas of quantification, algorithmic bias, suppression and exclusion.
A recent project, Us, Aggregated, which has been developed in three parts, explores algorithmically categorised images, and how people are defined by machine decision making systems, but it also questions ideas of power, control and agency in these decision making systems.
Continuing this thread, what are you most interested in at the moment when it comes to art and digital culture?
For a while now I’ve been interested in how algorithmic systems that, btw, are more and more embedded in society and our everyday life, have been affecting and altering the way we perceive ourselves, other people and living organisms, our immediate environment, but also the wider world. What has been happening is that everything around us we’ve been perceiving through an algorithmic filter without questioning who sets the rules or whether what comes out from the other side of this filter is truthful. So I’m interested in how we might adapt, react, accept or resist to these realities. For example it’s interesting to see how we often turn to technology thinking it’s a solution to everything. Just taking the current pandemic crisis as an example, we saw an influx of techno-solutionist approaches, from AI applications to extreme data collecting, but also tools for moving our lives and activities online and so on. Obviously that’s not to dismiss some of the great work being done (e.g. from repairing medical equipment to 3D printing parts, analysing patterns in how the virus spreads or the opportunities that online and digital tools can offer us while we try to keep going under lockdown), but we also can’t afford to get distracted or leave out important questions about privacy, surveillance, power or digital exclusions, for example. In this context, I’ve been interested in the role of art, design and critical tech at times of crisis. But also how art can enable systems of care and maintenance.
What are you reading or watching at the moment? Any recommendations?
I usually read more than one book at the same time – including different genres, which sounds a bit messy, but it’s quite fun and sometimes helps me connect ideas.
The past few weeks I’ve been reading Superhumanity: Post-labor, Psychopathology, Plasticity, published by MMCA and e-flux Architecture; A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain by Owen Hatherley; How to run a city like Amazon and other fables, edited by Mark Graham, Rob Kitchin, Shannon Mattern and Joe Shaw (a great and fun collection of speculative fiction pieces taking as a starting point a city/place governed or run by a tech company); Art After Money Money After Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization by Max Dovey (this is also brilliant and highly recommended); The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer by Jon Agar. A couple of weeks ago I also re-read Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut.
I am also a big fan of Japanese anime, so I’ve been watching on repeat from Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue of films, mainly from the 80s and 90s (My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke are some of my favourites) to Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Steamboy, Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and Paprika, and Evangelion.
Follow Irini on Twitter for more recent reads, critical thinking and creative recommendations!