‘We Have Always Been Posthuman’: What will shape The New Normal’s final year

Author: Ekaterina Motyakina

Strelka Institute has begun admissions for the last year of The New Normal speculative design think-tank. Strelka Mag outlines the upcoming year’s main themes.

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Mark Wigley, Beatriz Colomina, and Benjamin Bratton / Photo by Anna Kholina

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Photo by Anna Kholina

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Photo by Anna Kholina

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Photo by Anna Kholina

The New Normal is a three-year initiative launched by Strelka Institute two years ago with a focus on research and design for the city. The design think-tank explores the opportunities posed by emerging technologies for interdisciplinary urban design practices and gives a platform for the invention and articulation of a new discourse and new models.

The New Normal is led by Benjamin H. Bratton, a design theorist and author, Professor of Visual Arts, and Director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics at the University of California, San Diego, where he founded the school’s new Speculative Design undergraduate program. He is also a Professor of Digital Design at The European Graduate School and Visiting Faculty at SCI_Arc.

Apart from Bratton, The New Normal faculty also includes Liam Young, Keller Easterling, Ben Cerveny, Anastassia Smirnova, Metahaven studio, Lev Manovich, Etienne Turpin, Rival Strategy, Nathan Su, Gene Kogan, Julieta Aranda, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, and many others.

The beginning of the admission cycle was marked by a series of talks by Benjamin Bratton, architecture theorists Mark Wigley and Beatriz Colomina, and The New Normal alumni. Speaking at the event, Bratton explained what the title “We Have Always Been Posthuman” suggests. “Many of the apparently revolutionary technologies of the so-called fourth Industrial Revolution – AI, robotics synthetic biology machine vision, and so forth – demand a recalibration of our understanding of our relation to the world based on what they reveal that is not new but which has in fact always been true,” he explained.

“A Copernican shift in the philosophy of design is needed, one that begins with sometimes unsettling implications of 21st century circumstances and technologies, one that may shift the balance in different ways from experiences to outcomes, from users to systems, from aesthetics to access, from intuition to abstraction, from experience to ideals.”

While continuing to map The New Normal reality, the last year of the program offers to explore three new areas of research.


Algorithmic governance

Politics and technology are interwoven as means to remake the world by design: not only does technology express a political arrangement, but any polity emerges only within a technical milieu. Through different genres of computation such as smart grids, cloud platforms, mobile apps, smart cities, and the Internet of Things, automation can be seen not as so many species evolving on their own, but as forming a coherent whole. The research theme will look at ways that algorithmic governance shift our perspectives on political geography, sovereignty, citizenship, and regimes of rights, and how leverage is embedded in computational technologies.


Inverse Uncanny Valleys

The uncanny valley refers to the feeling of unease that people feel when confronted with something human-like but not quite human enough. When talking about the “Inverse Uncanny Valley,” we refer to seeing yourself from an outside robot perspective. This research theme looks at uncanny valleys on the individual, group, urban, and geopolitical scales. The obvious examples of humanoid robotics, deep fakes, camouflage, chatbots, machine vision, and so on are of central concern, but so are bigger stakes of post-anthropocenic design.


Human Exclusion Zones

This theme will explore the programmatic separation of the human and the non-human. Automation at the urban scale may mean opening the factory doors and generalizing its environmental motifs more widely. Bringing automated factory logics into the city means learning to live with or in Human Exclusion Zones (HEZ). The extreme of the human exclusion zone may set half the Earth’s surface aside for recovery, rewilding, remediation, repair, and return to other evolutionary selection pressures.

These themes are central to this year’s cycle of the experimental postgraduate program, which will run for five months with a group of 30 Russian and international researchers joining the design think-tank in Moscow.

The program is tuition free, and participants are provided with a monthly stipend. All courses and lectures are in English. The program will begin on January 30, 2019.

Learn more about the program, see final projects from the previous year, and submit your application at thenewnormal.strelka.com.

The deadline for applications is November 1, 2018.

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