The 2021 festival program involves four tracks connected to the main Uroboros theme Designing in Troubling Times that have been provoked and stewarded by diverse (groups of) Uroboros curators & friends. A brief description of each track lives below; the full festival program will be published in April 2021.

#1
Feral
Creative Practices

Stewarded by CreaTures

Feral: experimental, more-than-human, foraged & rummaged, regenerative, edible & compostable, un-following recipes, down-to-earth, slimy, rural & miscellaneous, forgotten, made invisible, stray but not lost, wilfully wild.

The Feral Creative Practices track proposes embodied, sensory-rich design and art experiments at the scale of our bodies as a starting point for co-creative inquiry into large-scale social and ecological issues. Leveraging everyday materials like soil, compost, edibles, and microbial cultures, these craft-full more-than-human experiments can be both mundane and surprising, grounding and exhilarating. All of them involve our bodies as familiar ‘places’ from where processes of thinking, imagining, reflection and action commonly unfold. Grounded in embodied and situated ideation, these experiments can serve as a relatable entry point for co-creative explorations of larger societal issues that are hard to grasp. The Feral track is committed to a speculative, open-ended mode of exchange, and does not aspire to provoke immediate solutions to any of these issues. Rather, it seeks to help unfold new social imaginaries and ‘arouse an appetite for what might be possible’ (Haraway, 2011), as the first humble step in supporting transformative change towards futures in which all creatures can flourish.

#2
Algorithmic Governance:
Between Chains, Bonds
and Contracts

Stewarded by Michal Kučerák & Denisa Kera

The track Algorithmic Governance: Between Chains, Bonds and Contracts asks, how do we form political and social structures in the age of algorithms, data, ledgers and other wonders of automation: How do we express, represent and embed legal, cultural and social norms into machine-readable code? How do we connect citizens with their platforms and data in a new type of social and algorithmic contract? RegTech, AI ethical guidelines, ex-ante and ex-post regulations, such as GDPR, but also regulatory sandboxes present some of the strategies on how to deliberate and negotiate our algorithmic futures. The COVID-19 pandemic uncovered our dependence on digital infrastructure. While the big data are getting bigger, the space for deliberation and decision making is shrinking and transforming into programmable and corporate-owned consensus mechanisms and algorithmic competition.

Blockchains are a central metaphor of this mega-infrastructure reducing governance, human bonds and contracts to algorithmic processes. How to reverse this enchantment with automation and algorithmic rituals to support genuine social action and agency in the design of public infrastructures? How to involve citizens in their future as stakeholders rather than users of services and clients? What new metaphors to use to navigate the troubling times? Blockchain as a technology is aimed to distribute power, control, information, data but it also increases surveillance and control. Instead of chains and contracts, we should rethink the value and shapes of social bonds, alliances, pledges and social engagement to question the limits and possibilities of algorithmic futures, quantification and automation.

#3
Shaping the Future
Synthetic Realities

Stewarded by Lenka Hámošová

The emerging field of synthetic media has attracted a lot of controversy in recent years, both as an exciting new frontier in creative human-machine experimentation and a disturbing leap forward towards the vanishing boundaries between real and fake; private and shared; captured and generated. Artists experimenting with neural networks, machine learning programmers, tech companies, and a handful of internet users with a peculiar interest in memes are experimenting with AI tools that have the power to visualize concepts outside of our material reality, often without fundamental critical reflection. Each month the media present a new AI-powered sensation, which is hailed as outlining the direction towards a new media ‘revolution’: the democratization of creativity – formerly solely a human vice – in favor of non-human agents. The concern is not that of the creatives losing their jobs, nor the inexecutable validation of truth, but the general agreement on the kind of future we are outlining for us here. Whether it’s the biased nature of datasets, the exclusivity of AI-forming community, or the commercialization and privatization of creative AI tools, these are factors shaping the future synthetic realities at the moment.

The track Shaping the Future Synthetic Realities invites critical reflection on the future shaped by algorithmic creativity within the complex mesh of unclear relationships. How do we position our creative practices within the race for artificial human assistants, commercial synthetic avatars, AI optimization, and personalized content generation? How can we engage creatively with such non-transparent and controversial tools? How can we deliberately engage in a creative dialogue with a system that might be deceitful by design? Can a critical artistic exploration bring a transformative value? In other words, can we become active players of the coming multiverse of synthetic realities?

Inspired by these questions, this festival section aims to gather experimental inquiries into the possible futures of synthetic realities. Through multiple formats, including workshops, debates, and talks, the section aims to support an imaginative environment for an inspiring exchange that can grow into further collaborative projects and initiatives.

#4
♛ Offsense Gambits ♕

Stewarded by Enrique Encinas

/ˈɒfsɛns/ adj. Away from sense. Challenging good sense or common sense. [Uroborian Dictionary]

/ˈɡambɪts/ noun.  A chess opening in which a player risks one or more pieces to gain an advantage in position. A remark intended to start a conversation or make a telling point. A calculated move. [Merrian-Webster Dictionary]

Welcome back to the ‘20s and its multiple breeds of eco-socio-political turmoil. A time when good sense conflates meanings with values with $ through techno-utopian fantasies, geo-political power struggles, capitalist wizardry or pandemic outbreaks. When logic and reason are enfeebled by design tactics that would stun a dadaist. When sensible design pixels contribute to images that are puzzling, absurd or hilarious. In the ‘20s, unintended consequences bloom day and night in global forests of complexity.

The track Offsense Gambits echoes, in the 2020’s, the 1920’s conviction that there is an urgent need for creative responses to the present moment besides those afforded by rationality and logic. It welcomes all creative work that un-takes things for granted or questions the sense of essence and the essence of sense. It provides a design space where creative practitioners can show, share, develop and celebrate their critical advances into the contested, the ambiguous, the absurd, the non-sensical or the humorous. 

Offsense Gambits is a co-creative journey to the borderlands of meaning. We invite single authors and collectives from any (multi – non – pluri -) disciplinary perspective to submit their exciting experimental and creative work. Accepted projects can take any form if they make (non) sense.  

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