Call for Papers: New Narratives of Art and Technology in Africa

The Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) 17th Triennial Symposium on African Art, hosted by the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies (IAS) Triennial Symposium August 8 – 13, 2017 will be held on the University of Ghana, Legon campus.

Open panel: New Narratives of Art and Technology in Africa
From Arnold Rubin’s comparison of art to a “system of tools and techniques by means of which people relate to their environment” (1991) to Alfred Gell’s idea of art as “a technology of enchantment” (1998), the study of African and non-Western art has proven fertile ground for art historical approaches using technology as metaphor for art as a mode of action in the world. The ideas of technology at play, however, most closely resemble techné, a term deriving from Ancient Greece to refer to the value-laden craft practice of pre-industrial societies, in which specialists serve functional needs while also conforming to society’s broader ethical and aesthetic values. Currently prevailing concepts of technology, however, in Africa as elsewhere, differ sharply. Technology as controlling, alienating, and disruptive coexists with notions of technology as liberator, economic salve, or ‘start-up innovation’; digital sound, 3D printing, cheap electronics and the Internet have opened up new semantic and aesthetic possibilities; while pioneering African technologies, such as M-Pesa and Frontline SMS, have transformed the terms of ordinary, everyday commercial and community engagement. What are the politics and poetics of new technological appropriations in African art (and art history)? How are artists responding to, or shaping, new socio-technical imaginaries? How do the discourses of Afrofuturism, speculative design, and ‘critical making’ (among others) inform artistic practice relating to Africa? Can technology be decolonized? How might we theorize anew relations among art, technology, and cultures of creativity? We invite submissions probing these and all related questions.

To submit a paper proposal, please send the following to Gemma Rodrigues (gemma.rodrigues at by February 7, 2017:

– Paper Title
– An abstract of 250 words describing the theme and scope of your paper
– A short abstract of 100 words for online dissemination
– Contact name, affiliation, address, phone, e-mail

For further information, please email the panel co-chairs:

Gemma Rodrigues
Research Fellow
Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute
E-mail: gemma.rodrigues at

Michelle Kasprzak
Doctoral student
Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute
Email: michelle.kasprzak at


Ushering in the Era of Beneficial Intelligence

I recently was commissioned to write an essay for this year’s GOGBOT Festival. The festival theme was Post-Singularity, and my piece, entitled Ushering in the Era of Beneficial Intelligence, explored Stephen Hawking’s idea of “beneficial intelligence”, the Golem, our inherent biases, nuclear waste storage, the Anthropocene, and much more. You can read it on Medium.




STS Italia conference: Sociotechnical Environments

I’m pleased to be presenting at the STS Italia annual conference this November. The theme is “Sociotechnical Environments” and the organizers describe the theme thusly:

“…we are conscious that everyday and professional environments we inhabit are increasingly shaped by science, technology and innovation processes. However, these environments are not mere results of technical solutions and rational choices, but they rather emerge from a collective, dynamic and open-ended process of co-production, involving social arrangements and technoscientific processes, human actors and material artifacts, natural resources and cultural frameworks. At the same time, reflecting on the sociotechnical co-production of our social world brings to the foreground the relationship between technoscientific innovation and natural environment, turning environmental practices, politics and materialities as decisive focal points for the current research in multiple fields and intellectual domains.”

I’m presenting in the track entitled “Communicating Research in Public” and my paper, “Artist as Science Communicator”, looks at the practice of artists which could also be considered a form of science communication, and how the novel methods of production and display by artists contribute to STS dialogue on publics of science.

Hope to see you in Trento!


4S/EASST Conference: Science + Technology By Other Means

I’m really pleased to be presenting at the annual 4S (Society for Social Studies of Science) conference, this year held in conjunction with EASST (European Association for the Study of Science and Technology) in Barcelona.

The theme of the conference is Science & technology by other means: Exploring collectives, spaces and futures. I’m presenting on the track entitled STS & Artistic Research, chaired by Peter Peters, Henk Borgdorff, and Trevor Pinch. This track will explore a range of “…STS research on the arts and Artistic Research. It covers studies of artistic practices; reflexive practitioners at the boundaries between the arts and science, technology, and medicine; arts-based research methods; and enhanced modes of publication.”

My paper is entitled “Emerging Post-Digital Methods of Artistic Production”. My short abstract reads: “In this paper I use two bodies of politically critical artwork to examine how 3D scanning and printing technologies utilised in artistic research contribute to STS dialogue on the backstage and practical technical concerns around the production of art, as well as material outcomes of digital processes.”


Workshop in Toronto

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be giving a workshop in Toronto, Canada at the end of this month!


Join me at InterAccess on July 26 for the first in the “Social in the Studio” series.

The first in InterAccess’ new “Social in the Studio” series invites you to come and work on projects alongside an artist in our community, because making together is both more fun and more critical. Or as Matt Ratto has said, “Critical making emphasizes the shared acts of making rather than the evocative object. The final prototypes are not intended to be displayed and to speak for themselves. Instead, they are considered a means to an end, and achieve value though the act of shared construction, joint conversation, and reflection.”

Michelle’s session in the studio will investigate a Pop Art hero, pizza, and glitchy 3D models. Bring your own smartphones with Autodesk 123D Catch installed and objects you want to capture for printing (or whatever else you’re working on). Part of the conversation over the course of the session will also look at what it means to be a “practising artist”, taking career breaks (to have other careers), and finding the threads of your practice that are always there, no matter the media.

For more information or to RSVP, check out the Facebook event page or the InterAccess website.


Updated abstract

With the current reading I have been doing, and through discussion with my supervisor, I am refining my possible direction/research question.

I’m suffering a little bit from typical first year PhD student syndrome: everything is interesting and I can’t decide. But so far, from a quite vague statement about Innovation in Extreme Scenarios I have now narrowed things down a bit further, and my updated short abstract is below.

Here is an abstract of my current proposal.

Abstract: Social Innovation in Extreme Scenarios: Non-Expert Experts Remaking Tools Into Something Usable

My research will investigate the reinvention and repurposing of tools by communities of “non-expert experts”: in other words, highly creative and high-functioning amateurs. Social innovation is often seen as a top-down developed world export in the form of charity apps, microloan services, and projects such as One Laptop Per Child. What happens when groups of high-functioning amateurs hack corrupted, purposefully-broken systems to meet their needs (a current example is Angolan hackers using Portuguese Wikipedia to embed large downloads of pirated material)? What can we learn from their ingenious methods, borne of urgency? How can we overcome the barriers that cause Silicon Valley to ship broken products (if they ship anything at all) to communities that are not wealthy, white, and male?



Creative Colab

For my seminar class with Professor Joana Resende, we produced an event about creative collaboration called Creative Colab at UPTEC PINC.

Our three themes in the seminar were storytelling, audiences/markets, and interactivity. Representing these themes we invited speakers Valentina Nisi, Ana Correio de Barros, and Peter Beyls. It was moderated by media personality Daniel Catalão.

The talks were great, but you don’t have to take my word for it — the whole event was streamed and the archive of the stream is on YouTube! Check it out: [youtube width=”560″ height=”315″][/youtube]

Big thank you to Professor Resende and my amazing colleagues!




A profile of my supervisor

A great, long read about Chris Csikszentmihályi, my primary supervisor, written by Luke Yoquinto.

Hunter Hunter. Photo by Chris Csikszentmihályi
Hunter Hunter. Photo by Chris Csikszentmihályi

Some quotes:

“Traditionally, the job of the engineer is to solve problems like that, not question them. But some new technologies cut deeper: solving problems on a functional level, but also raising the question of how we choose which problems to solve.”

““My first real art piece, and the reactions were crazy,” Chris said. “All these men who came to the show were like ‘Wow, is that patented? Are you gonna start a business with this?’” He would tell them, uh, no: “This is supposed to be dystopic.””

““Technology is, like government or economics, a human activity that needs to be organized and governed,” Chris wrote. “Our culture treats technical matters as it did economics during the gold standard.””


What I’ve been up to…

Following some productive meetings with my supervisor, I’ve been working on several things:

  • installing and starting to use Zotero for citation management
  • obtaining texts which my supervisor has recommended
  • drafting a paper for my seminar class
  • finalizing the process of obtaining credits for previous work/teaching experience
  • using an array of software tools to map out and probe my research question

… and much more!

Looking forward to curling up with the items on my reading list over Christmas. Happy holidays!


Planning first research question workshop

My primary supervisor is Chris Csikszentmihalyi, ERA Chair and Scientific Director of Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute. At M-ITI, I’ll be organizing a small workshop (which was initially just going to be for me) around working through the strong and weak points of my research question, and structuring my literature review.

I’m opening this workshop up now to anyone, and will post pics from the session when it happens. In the meantime I’m diving into reading and looking forward to a tour of Madeira that is being organized for us new PhD students!