When the world is at war, we just keep dancing

I am currently developing a piece of performance/storytelling work based on my research on conflict minerals and our digital devices. Below is an synopsis I wrote for a work-in-progress performance presented at an independent arts space in Singapore in Dec 2018.

“A war machine is raging in the depths of Congo, in the border zones with Rwanda and Uganda, brimming with militia activity and cycles of violence that seem to escape the radar of the international news cycle. The fact is simple: there is blood on your hands, in your smartphone, pulsing through the tantalum, tin, and tungsten, conflict minerals sourced from Africa. In the past decades, the market for rare earths and metals has grown exponentially for the production of digital devices, fuelling unrest in the region. At the foothills of live volcano Mt. Nyiragongo, livelihoods are disrupted and destroyed as territories ripe for extraction are seized under militia activity. In the midst of violence and the circuitries of mineral trade, a ritualistic dance attempts to calm the quiet rumblings of the volcano.

The world enjoys internet connectivity thanks to the mineral ores; the ores are rich thanks to the geological processes of lava and molten rock from Nyiragongo. Using Jussi Parikka’s concept of ‘medianatures’ in his work A Geology of Media (2015) as the starting point, this performance considers the deep time of our media networks and the implication of labouring bodies and of labouring earth, and contextualises the politics and poetics therein through the locale of Nyiragongo. To dance a ritual for the volcano, to trace networks of connectivity, to mourn the violence committed for our digital world: the work turns to the materiality of the body and of the earth, and invites the audience to tune into the polyrhythms underneath our smart devices: from the rhythm of earth’s core to the rhythm of dance, from the rhythm of war, to the rhythm of technological progress.”

PhD Project

My PhD research is currently being developed into a monograph for publication. The version that was submitted for the examination is currently available open-access at Utrecht University’s depository.

Time and Biopower in the Age of Algorithms

Technological advances can cause a rupture from past forms of experience. The invention of the clock instilled a new sense of time-consciousness, and provided the technological tools to manage schedules and exert control over labour. This has been examined in light of plantation labour in times of American slavery (Mark Smith) and in English factories during the Industrial Revolution (E. P. Thompson). The invention of clocks gave rise to a logic of quantification and measurement, a logic which has since been co-opted into a regime of control and management, signifying the onset of industrial capitalism, and a new method in disciplining of the other. This project maps the influence of past and current technologies on human perception of time and its biopolitical implications through what I term ‘techno-chrono-biopolitics’. If the invention of clock-time as a technology harnesses the standing-reserve of human bodies into labourers and inaugurated new types of bio-power, what does the invention and proliferation of algorithmic operations of 21st century media (Mark Hansen) today harness and challenge forth?

Just as the clock enabled quantification of time, data-crunching algorithms today enable abstraction of user input into a future-oriented, predictive regime of calculations, subjecting users to new rhythms such as push alerts, biometric data-tracking and statistics-based predictions. These new logics of quantification, tracking and counting create re-mediations of time-consciousness, as one which undercuts human participation and pre-mediates the future. The techno- and the chrono- provide an important orientation today from which we can observe how the biopolitical is expressed and reconfigurated through media inventions. Which bodies are most susceptible to the new logics of microtemporal algorithms? How does biopower express itself today from the assemblage of codes, apps and devices? From clock-use in colonisation and slavery to tracking algorithms on the Apple Watch, the project traces the onto-historical relations of how technology mediates time and inaugurates regimes of biopower.