POM Aachen 2024

Overview

Politics of the Machines
Lifelikeness & beyond
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The 4th POM Conference
RWTH Aachen University
KäteHamburger Kolleg:
Cultures of Research (c:o/re).
April 22-26, 2024

Life is in crisis. In society, this crisis has generated an uncertainty entangled with environmental injustices, health emergencies and the many faces of right-wing movements around the world – to mention some examples. Uncertainty might blurry the future and our capacity to make decisions, but it also opens up a space of possibilities. In this fragmented framework a new field for contingencies emerges. If we are unsure about what might be, alternative but unstable scenarios become possible. How does society react to those alternative scenarios? How are scientific and artistic communities responding to the various contingencies of the present?

In the wake of this era, we have been witnessing, in biomolecular research, the developments of programmable biosensors, synthetic biology and diverse biological entities that are aimed to be made programmable. These advancements amount to the crisis of life. These new phenomena in life-research have, for example, transformed the way in which we think about organisms and how life has evolved and transformed on earth.
At the same time, the fields of life-like robotics and computational evolution, which produce artificial entities modeled after living organisms – like self-reproductive algorithms and artificial neural networks – have brought to light questions regarding the qualities defining what is life at all. Life is being redefined by the parameters of its artificial models, so we are forced to rethink the question: what is the logic of living? The borders between machines and biological systems are being negotiated across the sciences and the arts at large, and novel questions and modes of thinking are emerging from these ontological reorganizations. Faced with these situations, one cannot help pondering on the limits of the possible and the limits of life.
Nowadays, machines can perform as agents that respond to contingent scenarios, they act as if they were alive. If life enters the space of formal logic and probability, if it is modeled, engineered and designed, does it follow the laws of logical inference? It is not only the difference between the organic and the inorganic that gets blurry, but also the one between the natural and the animated as well as the boundaries between necessity and contingency. What kind of models of contingency can be brought about that are helpful to respond to the crisis of life? What must technologies and artistic practices that cooperate with the living look like? How does this change life itself?
In our times, social ecologies are steered following automated systems and models. Images of what the future of a warming planet might be are at the center of political decisions, and bodies in the street are demanding accountability to those who have been taking those decisions. What is the motivation for caring for life? Computational systems have become the basis for decisions on which forms of life are worth preserving, which ones have the right to have rights – as Hannah Arendt would put it – and what forms of life are purposeful to maintain and support. The care for life is found between environmental reactionary views on nature as the origin of place-based identities, and questions of locality and global solidarity; from colonialism to racial and economic justice. How can these models serve to respond to the needs of social groups, communities and the collective?
What effect has data on decisions on what lives we care for? On the one hand, biotechnology opens up spaces of possibility, on the other hand, it also holds the danger of new forms of control, which may be utilized in nation-state politics, for example, in the form of border control biometric technologies. Automated decisions are made over life and death in zones of war. Personal data is stored to keep the metabolic networks of capital flowing. Data is, however, at the same time, used for feminist aims and as a tool to identify urban spaces where harm and death are a threat. Communication technologies have shown to be crucial for marginalized groups for creating networks of care, support and self-defense. Thus, it seems that the same technological shifts that seem to serve necropolitical aims are the ones bringing about new forms of the collective.
With the overarching theme “Lifelikeness & Beyond” the Politics of the Machines conference organized by Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research at Aachen University seeks to bring together researchers and practitioners from a wide range of fields across the sciences, technology and the arts to develop imaginaries for possibilities that are still to be realized and new ideas of what the contingency of life is. The call also seeks to question what the limits between reality, fiction and imagination can be when we look for sources of action or new forms of collective action and of creating collectivities. What kind of imaginaries are needed to think of new forms of research and practice that effectively act as a counterbalance to the many crises of the present? What can we learn from a performed contingency about the community of the living and the non-living? How is the idea of contingency transformed when life and non-life are embedded within each other? PoM Aachen welcomes proposals for conference sub-tracks that look into transdisciplinary research at large in creating unrealized futures.

Keynote speakers

Last updated Nov. 2023

Manuela Nadia - Photo by Nadia Rabhi

Manuela de Barros
Philosopher & Art Theorist

Manuela de Barros is a philosopher and art theorist. Assistant professor at the University of Paris 8, essayist and lecturer, her work focuses on the aesthetics of contemporary art and new media, the relationship between the arts, science and technology, and the biological, anthropological and environmental changes brought about by technoscience. She is the author of Magie et technologie (Éditions UV, Paris).
Hannah Landecker photo by Spencer Lowell

Hannah Landecker
Historian & Sociologist of the Life Sciences

Hannah Landecker is a historian and sociologist of the life sciences. She is the author of Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies (Harvard UP, 2007), and has written widely on microcinematography, antimicrobial resistance, metabolism and epigenetics, in work that follows out both the intended and unintended consequences of biotechnology for life in the contemporary world. She is jointly appointed across the Divisions of Life and Social Sciences at UCLA, where she is a Professor in the Sociology Department, and the Institute for Society and Genetics, an interdisciplinary unit at UCLA committed to cultivating research and pedagogy at the interface of biology and society. She is a member of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Future of Flourishing Program, co-director of the UCLA Center for Reproductive Science, Health and Education at UCLA, and a Senior Editor at BioSocieties.

Tracks
Based on a call for topics

Track 01

Holistic life of the machine – The machinic beyond – What is it like to be a machine?

Track 02

Artificial Entities, Contemporary Archetypes and Model Organisms

Track 03

Body Imaginations

Track 04

Organize!

Track 05

Models of Life – Models of Research

Track 06

Vulnerability and Caring: Perspectives and Challenges

Track 07

Shifting Cosmologies: More Than Human XR

Track 08

In/Different Imaginaries: Parasites and the Politics of Relations

Track 09

Worlds of Camouflage: Environment, Technique, Response-ability

Track 10

Environmental Attunement as a Strategy for Ecological Engagement

Track 11

Death, degrowth, and finitude in the age of the lifelike

Track 01

Holistic life of the machine – The machinic beyond – What is it like to be a machine?

Track Chairs
Erich Berger (University of Oulu)
Aurora Del Rio (Aalto University)
Katri Naukkarinen (Aalto University)

A machine is not a closed system with clear boundaries, but an entity that extends throughout space and time: in considering the needed resources to build and fuel a machine, it becomes evident how its ‘body’ extends beyond what is first perceived. Such resources, namely people, other machines and infrastructures are involved in building and maintaining the machine during its lifetime, as well as in the work and care to dismantle, decommission, and deal with its aftermath or, if abandoned, in handling the impact of an uncared afterlife.

Throughout this cycle and beyond its inherent machinic purpose, the machinic extends into a plethora of localities with a multitude of effects on life, landscapes, and potentials. Viewed in its entirety, it is now difficult to reduce a machine to its function alone as it presents characteristics alike to what we usually attribute to organisms. In light of these considerations, can one still state that the machine is non-living, or not alive? And what would define life, and lifelikeness, today?

As the machinic has expanded its substrate to silicon and DNA, the certainty of a clear statement that it is not alive collapses. But instead of looking for new boundaries and definitions of life to externalize the machinic, we would like to ask: What is it like to be a machine? And then again: Are we willing to allow the machine to tell its story?

Returning to a human perspective, a simplistic reduction of the machinic to its function further obscures what happens before and after this very function. This is not only to ask about when is the onset of the machinic of a machine and when it ceases, but to invite a host of new questions. Specifically, when novel machines adopt functions like reproduction and adaptation, the real shift from lifelikeness to ‘alive’ is finally made. It is within this very shift that this new machinic could paradoxically be showing scientific evidence of animist perspectives, and thus in a way closing the circle of objectification.

Furthermore: if one way of considering the machine’s birth is seeing it as a sort of prosthetic, or utensil handled as a way of enhancing what a body is capable of, this recent conversion of the machine into its own lively organism fosters a major shift in perspective when considering the ending of such a life. In its afterlife, indeed, the machine becomes a present remnant of its own past, moving into its ghostly life ready to produce and haunt its own spectral landscapes. Take for example the meltdown of Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. While the resulting fallout is still environmentally detectable in many of the exposed countries, this contamination will remain in need of multigenerational care: the ghost of the machine expands through time and space.

One can say that the machinic afterlife presents a way of re-enchanting technology, following Weber’s thoughts. But further questions are generated in considering the machinic relation to human politics and the course of action to undertake in certain situations. How should politics consider justice, care, and compassion when the scales of time go beyond our temporal comfort zones? And, how to care about the undesirable and the difficult? Is it possible to integrate or turn the undesirable into something lovable and acceptable, in order to welcome it? Or, beyond value judgments, is the machine to be looked at as a simple presence, not this generation’s problem to think about?

Track 02
Artificial Entities, Contemporary Archetypes and Model Organisms

Track Chairs
Laura Beloff (Aalto University)
Peter Friess (Independent Artist and Researcher)

In the contemporary epoch, the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence and its seamless integration into various facets of life have brought about a radical shift in our understanding of what it means to be alive. In parallel, the increasing intertwining of technology and the human has given rise to an opportunity to explore and redefine the concepts of lifelikeness, artificial and natural.

The proposed conference track aims to delve into the potential of artificial entities enriched with features and characteristics derived from our collective unconscious. On the one hand, these types of contemporary archetypes are understood as collectively-inherited, yet reinterpreted ideas spanning the Western world, the Global South and Asia. The challenge is to understand how these universally resonating concepts, which are embedded deep within our shared psyche, can be translated and integrated into artificial constructs?

On the other hand, inspired by similar genetic characteristics corresponding to human developments, in (Western) biology we have defined so-called model organisms, which are typically non-human species. These model species, such as the fruit fly, the zebrafish, the nematode C and the E.coli bacteria, among others, are expected to provide insights into the biological existence of other species, including humans. Can these equally be considered as archetypes and how?

The track calls for submission of paper presentations and performance-lectures that discuss the (re)emergence of archetypal models, symbols and mythologies that serve as the basis of our contemporary approaches to lifelikeness or unlikeness. In short, is it possible to identify key archetypal themes that persist in our world today, and can these diverse motifs be combined to create lifelike, emotionally resonant artificial entities?

This track explores emergent aspects that arise in the arts and sciences with the following questions:
-In what ways contemporary archetypes can inform and inspire the development of lifelike artificial entities?
-How can the inclusion of contemporary archetypes into the design of artificial entities contribute to a deeper understanding of the collective and global unconscious? Can they suggest alternatives to traditional notions of what it means to be alive?
-What could be new developments for artificial entities based on existing archetypal models and model organisms that could indicate avenues beyond the Anthropocene?

Track 03
Body Imaginations

Track Chairs
Kit Kuksenok

What artistic, practical, and speculative tools make care possible within complex biological systems? This track imagines mechanisms of care within the human body as a complex system.

Complex systems are difficult to computationally model or intuitively grasp, and are relevant to many different fields of study (see: Nicolis and Prigogine, 1989). The human body is implicated in many complex systems: interactions between body organs and pathways; interactions with microorganisms and pathogens; and interactions between human agents. These relationships include non-linearity and feedback loops, which can lead to emergent behaviors. Complex systems are difficult to understand or control directly, but can undergo regime shifts in response to sustained changes. Thus, care for such a system cannot include direct control.

This track asks for contributions that propose methods or mechanisms of care within the human body as a complex system. Potential questions to explore include: How do the proposed methods address the challenge of the body as a complex system – one that cannot be directly and reliably observed or controlled? How do the proposed methods explore non-linearity, feedback, or emergence within the body as a complex system?

Any proposed mechanism need not be technological in nature, but if it is, we are particularly interested in practices that domesticate technology (e.g. Mary Maggic); engage with medical knowledge through art (e.g. Šlesingerová et. al., 2017); empower self-understanding (Sanders, 2017); and support collaborative body knowledge-building (e.g. Satsia, Kuksenok, 2021). We invite contributions across and between and beyond disciplines, including, for example: self-experimentation and self-reflection; visual and performance art; speculative fiction and design. Reflections on the subject of mechanisms of bodily care may also reject methodological approaches, and address the human body in a different way entirely.

Contributors are asked to submit an abstract of 500-750 words for participation in a presentation of their work, and brief panel reflection. Images are welcome, and references and captions do not count toward the word limit; both academic and experimental presentation formats are welcome and will be accommodated depending on their specific needs. Exhibition or performance needs should be mentioned in the abstract, and are additional to panel participation. Prior to the event, the track chair will reach out to the invited participants with additional information on what to expect from the panel; these questions will reflect the specific composition of the track, and therefore depend on the submissions.

Track 04
Organize!

Track Chairs
Ana María Guzmán Olmos (c: o/re Aachen, RWTH University, University of Bonn)
Alexander Schubert

How does life organize? The 19th century saw the rise of the organism as the ultimate model to understand life, its structures, shapes, and generative principles. In german idealism, the motive of the organism was the motor not only for understanding life but also the structure of society, such that organic structures were involved in processes of the formation of institutions, ethical norms, artistic practices, and other expressions of sociality. The question remains, however, whether this organic model remained within the conceptual framework given by mechanisms. Nevertheless, organisms became more than the structure of organic life and were transformed into a specific logic. Philosopher of technology Ernst Kapp, for example, took this transformation to its extreme and took his theory of technology as organ-projection to explain the state.

After many critiques of the idea of the organism and the unfolding of the body without organs on the critical stage, this concept lost its power in explaining the social dimensions of life. However, in the fields of biology, chemistry, and computation, organisms have remained there and explanations of their structuring processes are as alive as they were in the 19th century. Thus, while philosophy was getting rid of the concept of the organism, computational theory, theoretical biology, and/or chemistry have been dealing, for example, with questions of causality, emergence, self-organization, and self-replication all the way long.

Cellular automata, pattern recognition technologies, and crystal formations are good examples of notions such as chaos and self-organization. They have been picked up by scholars and artists interested in swarm intelligence and non-human agency. Thereby inspiring ideas of bottom-up social organization: going from the local to the global, from the particular to the universal. But are larger forms of organization––such as political and social––build this way? Can we bottom-up explain how social systems are built? Would those systems be stable enough to sustain life? How are larger structures built from the particulars? The critique of the idea of the organism was directed to its prioritization of given finalities and static frameworks. But can we today think differently of the organism in light of new discussions on emergence, causality, and what constitutes the logic of the living? How are those notions entering the field of the social? While the 19th-century philosophers were focused on using the model of life for understanding the social, the arts, and logic, how are new notions of the organism entering our understanding of what it means to socially organize?

Track 05
Models of Life – Models of Research

Track Chairs
Gabriele Gramelsberger (Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research, RWTH Aachen University)

How does life enter the field of computation? Computational models are nowadays based on our models of life, as much as life is studied with those models. This has changed not only how life is understood, but also our forms of understanding. How research is done has been re-adjusted to make use of life as an agent to be researched on and of the research methods. Research is now confronted with biological elements programmed to act as self-sufficient, where new compositions of biological elements are steered to perform these actions as if they were programs. The entry of life within these fields of research has made profound changes in the ways we do research. How does science react to these changes in its objects of study that go hand in hand with a change in its methodologies?

One form to look at this is considering the shift from analytical techniques of research to synthetic ones (Gramelsberger, 2014). One example of this kind of development can be seen in synthetic biology, where design and engineering are central not only for the production of new biological elements and devices but to understanding how life is organized, how it operates, and what it is at all (Roosth, Helmreich; 2016). On the other hand, the changes in methodologies and models are narrated according to institutional and political constraints and frameworks (Roosth,
2017).

To understand the changes in the era of lifelike-research this panel looks both at the conceptual shifts in sciences after life has entered its models and methods and historical perspectives on these same shifts. What kind of research culture has given rise to lifelikeness as a concept? What kind of research culture emerges out of life entering computation? How are we to historicize the development of the appearance of life in computational sciences? We are interested in conceptual, methodological, and historical perspectives of lifelikeness research. Thus, we encourage researchers from these fields to submit a proposal for this track: from life sciences, philosophy of biology, philosophy and history of science, media studies, and STS. Other fields are as well welcomed if they are compatible with the concept of this track.

Track 06
Vulnerability and Caring: Perspectives and Challenges

Track Chairs
Jared Sonnicksen (RWTH Aachen University)
Torsten H. Voigt (RWTH Aachen University)

The ‘politics of machines’ in a societal-political sense extends further and deeper than matters of policy and regulation. Technological innovations – spanning from automation, artificial intelligence, biochemistry, genetics, and digitalization – may provide solutions to social problems, even ones related to the array of global challenges and crises. However, they also trigger and can exacerbate numerous issues of distribution – e.g. of resources, capacities and power – but also dignity, recognition and viability. While surely to different extents and degree, such questions and challenges cut across societies the world over.

As has been the case throughout the history of humanity, technological and scientific advancements, even when pursued with ‘good intentions’, likewise come with unintended consequences and destructive potentials, albeit the inverse proves oftentimes the case too. In light of increasing urgency of globalized challenges to humanity, it becomes all the more imperative to address questions at the interface of machines and communities – and this at multiple levels of scale – and caring for life under these new and challenging conditions. These sorts of questions and tasks, in turn, can only be approached suitably by interdisciplinary exchange and approaches.

This track aspires to bring together contributions that interrogate technological innovations and machines – broadly conceived – and their complex relation with life, living and caring. We particularly welcome approaches that analyze these topics from a socio-political perspective and with a special focus on vulnerabilities and caring. Potential contributions could include, but are not limited to the following questions and concerns, e.g.
– whether or not we impose or continue to impose the ‘concern to care’ on non-living things and machines;
– the sustainability of life and definitions of life and what it means to be human;
further challenges or dilemmas technological innovation and change regarding understandings of autonomy vs. dependency;
– whether variegated innovations to improve capabilities in turn raise new standards, expectations, and similar on humans and personhood as well as lead to potential or already detectable new forms of exclusion, marginalization, among others;
– whether specifically democratic-theoretical perspectives help us to adequately problematize or cope with, or rather complicate the questions at end;
At the same time, as an overarching interest, we also want to probe to what extent the perspective of vulnerability is useful to analyze politics of the machines in the 21st century.

This track is open to various kinds of contributions from different interdisciplinary perspectives. In addition to individual paper proposals, we welcome proposals for panels (can be closed or open); podium/round-table discussion (conventional format, or a more ‘flipped’ version, with panelists prompting questions for audience discussion); as well as other formats such as posters, exhibits among others.

Track 07

Shifting Cosmologies: More Than Human XR

Track Chairs
Benjamin Bacon (Duke Kunshan University, the Design, Technology and Radical Media Labs (DTRM))
Vivian Xu
(DePaul University, the Design, Technology and Radical Media Labs (DTRM))
Boris Debackere (LUCA School of Arts, V2_ Lab for the Unstable Media)

Shifting Cosmologies: More Than Human XR track instigates a discursive conversation about reality media and the machines and technologies that define it. In the present reality we live in today, crises are marked by tensions between the interpersonal, socio-political, local, and global. These entanglements are often complex and range from the micro to macro scale, circumscribed by human and other-than-human agents and their place in a largely anthropocentric system. From this built-in anthropocentric bias evolves outcomes and scenarios with real and perceived calamities manifesting in complex problems that are seemingly unresolvable. Within this context, we consider how Extended Reality may be used as a theoretical framework and navigational toolkit to facilitate the social dreaming of alternate futures in reimagining our shifting cosmologies. In doing so, we pivot from an anthropocentric reality to one encompassing ecocentrism worlds beyond the human experience. By gazing back at the human from the viewpoint of the other, we uncover new perspectives.

This track calls on researchers, practitioners, and scholars to consider reality media within the digital sphere, biosphere, ecosphere, and geosphere to critique the limitations of current XR technologies and practices. We seek novel interventions within reality media that present actionable approaches to non-anthropocentric utopias through (1) papers, (2) workshops and (3) hybrid presentations that embrace XR technology for knowledge creation and transfer. Through the track, we incite ideas and concepts that can be developed into guides toward a future all-inclusive and ethical practice of immersive technology. The foundation for this work was developed by the XResearch Cluster, a collaborative research cluster between V2_Lab for the Unstable Media and the Design, Technology, and Radical Media Lab. We hope to generate sustained conversations about non-human-centric XR at the intersection of philosophy, creative practice, sciences, and technology.

Track 08

In/Different Imaginaries: Parasites and the Politics of Relations

Track Chairs
Laura Beloff (Aalto University, Helsinki)
Morten Søndergaard
(Aalborg University)

The parasite is a concept that we have inherited from biology, but it is also addressed in humanism and philosophy. For example, philosopher Michel Serres writes that the parasite can be seen in relations between different entities and that it is the parasite which produces noise in these relationships. However, with time this noise will be gradually integrated and become an integral part of the system. Serres also proposes that parasitism is key to evolutionary changes and to our formed relationship with the surrounding world, in which relations are enabling, for example,mutation.

Typically, parasites are associated with terms such as undesirable and disgusting, and they are commonly seen to be located outside technology, media and also professional art practices. It seems that increasingly, we are subjected to growing expectations of canceling out noise and the ‘parasitical’. These can be seen as darker sides of the bio/technical lives. One can ask who decides what is accepted and what is not? There is always a relationality of practices; causes and effects from what is done. The parasite acts on existing communication, be it biological, informational or social – in following Stephen Crocker’s division to the three categories. The parasite locates itself in the circuit between a point of transmission and reception. The parasite does not act directly either on the sender or the receiver. It acts on the relation that joins different entities.

In this track we aim to investigate the concept of ‘parasitical’ as an image and imaginary of thinking and how it is intertwined into our contemporary bio/technical lives and concepts by addressing lifelikeness, questioning technological optimization and investigating noise as pressure for changes. In this way, it is possible to see the parasite as a ‘boundary object’ which may be studied and understood by many different disciplines. As such, there is a relation between the parasite and our understanding, cognitive recognition, and use of ‘lifelikeness’ in studies of biology, science and art.

We are inviting contributions that inquire into the relations between parasites and lifelikeness from diverse disciplines and perspectives. This may include conceptual and metaphoric uses of the parasite and parasitic; ways to display parasites as lifelike; artistic explorations addressing parasites; relationship between lifelikeness and technology through the parasitic; or other surprising viewpoints to the parasite.

Track 09

Worlds of Camouflage: Environment, Technique, Response-ability

Track Chairs
Donovan Stewart (Leuphana University Lüneburg, Leiden University), Lijuan Klassen (Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (LMU))

The “crisis of life” announced by the becoming “life-like” of technology invites reflections on the ambiguous relationship between life and technology, challenging the common divisions of nature and culture, history and material environments, and human and non-human forms of life. In this track, Worlds of Camouflage: Environment, Technique, Response-ability, we hope to approach these themes by rethinking camouflage in its different guises and registers, drawing out their philosophical, political, and ethical implications.

Rather than having one origin, the concept of camouflage has a convoluted history, interwoven between zoology, evolutionary theory, the arts, and military science (Shell, 2012). To take one example, during the First and Second World Wars, cubist artists and naturalist scientists were hired to develop technologies of deception. By means of photography and taxidermy, these engineers sought to demonstrate the “natural laws” according to which non-human beings blend in with their environments, performing experiments that would flatten bodies (including those of moths, ducks, and hares,) into two-dimensional representations that were staged against static backgrounds. Paired with a neo-Darwinian ideology which characterised the natural world as a violent competition between species, these experiments reduced multitudes of non-human techniques of imitation and environmental responsiveness to pre-determined genetic properties and instinctual mechanisms to be appropriated for warfare technologies (Haraway 2008; Margulis & Sagan, 1997). This militaristic understanding of camouflage dogmatically presupposed that human beings are autonomous agents, free to utilise technologies to master their ostensibly inert natural environments.

And yet, underlying and enabling this anthropocentric thinking of camouflage, there is already lurking a radically different configuration of the relations of the human, non-human and techniques. Imagine a soldier in a field covered in foliage and branches—where does the “technology” of camouflage end and the “nature” of an environment begin? Here, rather than being a mere instrument, camouflage already problematises the supposedly clear delineations of human/nature/technology, attesting instead to the specific forms of engagements-with and responses-to an environment, which itself is far from being an inert background, but a localised field of different forces in and against which any form of life is articulated (Deleuze, 2014; Simondon, 2020).

This question of camouflage as a matter of environmental response also arises in regard to non-human techniques. Octopuses, for example, can rapidly morph their body shapes and colours to produce eerily accurate imitations of coral reefs, kelp forests or sand plains (Hanlon, 2018). This dynamic camouflage, along with their remarkable intelligence, curiosity and skills, has helped render neo-Darwinian notions of animals as instinctual automatons untenable. Instead, octopuses’ camouflage presents a technique of a continuous negotiation of boundaries through which a self and environment take form, pushing us to rethink camouflage as a fascinating play between the organic and inorganic, a kind of responsiveness to locality that precedes any opposition of (non)human life and technique (Barad, 2007; Derrida, 2009, 2011, 2017; Haraway 2016; Hoffmeyer, 2008; Jackson, 2020).

In this way, we suggest that camouflage presents a particular mode of worlding—a responsive boundary negotiation that underpins any composition of locality—opening onto a myriad of questions: How can camouflage as ruse or sabotage be an emancipatory strategy for human and non-human survival, evading authoritarian surveillance regimes and systems of taxonomic order? How can we understand camouflage differently, as a form of expression or storytelling, where the non-human becomes an unreliable narrator? How do contemporary biomimetic technological developments have to be scrutinised in light of this thinking of camouflage? How does this question of non-human technique challenge the traditional binaries of human and non-human life, according to which access to history, community, and being are monopolised for humans alone? Finally, how does this question of camouflage complicate the very formulation of “life-likeness”?

We invite paper submissions and experimental engagements in line with, but not limited to, the suggested themes that may take the form of theoretical reflections, artistic presentations, performative interventions or the like.

Track 10

Environmental Attunement as a Strategy for Ecological Engagement

Track Chairs
Sebastián Lomelí (Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the UNAM (Mexico))
Juan Duarte (Aalto University)

Environmental Attunement can be traced back to its genealogical roots in Romanticism. The concept revolves around the idea that the appreciation of natural beauty and the sublime serves as a metaphorical bridge that allows individuals to retrace their steps from the trappings of civilization to the pristine realms of untamed Nature. This sentimentally charged alignment between the human essence and the natural world fosters a profound comprehension of Nature as an integrated, living entity, wherein humankind assumes the role of its most marvelous creation. Such an interpretation of the aesthetics of Nature provides the foundational theoretical framework for 19th-century landscape painting and the intellectual discipline of romantic geography.

Contemporary critical theorists have offered a scathing critique of the aforementioned aesthetics of Nature, denouncing it for perpetuating an ideological discourse they assert to be deeply problematic. Their contention lies in the argument that this aesthetic framework perpetuates the notion of a pristine or Edenic Nature while also inadvertently upholding colonialist ideologies. Scholars akin to William Cronon emphasize the significance of the individualistic and assertively masculine experience exemplified by explorers and tourists who venture into the natural world intending to elucidate a vision of reconciliation with Nature.

Notwithstanding the critical perspectives brought to bear on Environmental Attunement, it remains a pivotal intellectual underpinning in the evolution of ecological thought throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Central to this paradigm shift is the profound emphasis placed on the concept of a “sense of place” and the intrinsic connection to the Earth, which collectively encapsulate a novel sensibility regarding the environment. However, it is worth noting that scholars such as Donna Haraway and Ursula K. Heise were quick to voice their reservations concerning this framework, particularly highlighting its omission of the vital scientific and technological dimensions inherent in the human-nature interface.

In an era dominated by the Anthropocene epoch, characterized by unprecedented human impact on Earth’s systems, the contemporary understanding of the environment has evolved to necessitate the integration of scientific and technological advancements. Concepts like computer science, satellite data, climate associations, and the efforts of environmental activists have become indispensable in comprehending the intricacies and complexities of our relationship with the Earth.

Attunement, as a concept, facilitates the capacity of both living organisms and machines to transcend boundaries imposed by various environments, enabling them to empathetically engage with the dynamics of climate change and the temporal aspects of the natural world. This overarching theme serves as a catalyst, fostering collaborative endeavors at the intersection of art and science, aiming to achieve a harmonious fusion of the natural and artificial domains. This fusion is predicated upon aesthetic principles grounded in the notions of harmony, consonance, and resonance, where perception and action coalesce.

These fundamental elements can illuminate novel pathways for the embodiment and mediation of ecological relationships with entities beyond the scope of humanity. This track aims to delve into the intricate strategies for embodying and mediating ecological connections with the diverse spectrum of more-than-human agents that coexist within our ecological milieus.

Track 11

Death, degrowth, and finitude in the age of the lifelike

Track Chairs
Diego Maranan (University of the Philippines/SEADS)
Angelo Vermeulen (Delft University of Technology / SEADS)
Amy Holt (SEADS)
Ulrike Kuchner (University of Nottingham/SEADS)
Pieter Steyaert (University of Antwerp/SEADS)

Death arises from the gradual accrual of damage and errors in the intricate operational code governing life, leading to the permanent cessation of all biological functions needed to sustain an organism. All living entities eventually grow old and die. To what extent, then, is this true for (or desirable in) the lifelike?

The question opens a field of inquiry spanning multiple disciplines. Consider the imaginaries that we develop for lifelike agents, machines, and systems. Should death be programmed into such technologies? What can the processes, conventions, rituals, and technologies typically associated with death teach us about the design of lifelike agents and systems? Should artificial life emulate and adapt to the organic cycle of life and death by incorporating self-limiting mechanisms and transformational phases that lead to the ecological benefits of death? Or can we envision alternative pathways where lifelike agents evolve without a predetermined endpoint?

Attempting to define death might be less important than understanding its potential function in the context of the lifelike. After all, death, renewal, adaptation, and evolution are inextricably intertwined in living systems. Far from being a mere endpoint, death assumes a profound role in biological existence. It clears the way for new generations, ensuring the survival of the fittest and adaptation to changing environments. Death can also confer meaning along with finitude; after all, ‘what exists, exists so that it can be lost and become precious,’ as Lisel Mueller writes. Consider as well other phenomena that attend death, such as cognitive decline and memory loss. In the digital sphere, forgetting is often a deliberate act—a means to safeguard privacy or maintain system efficiency. As we imbue lifelike agents with learning and memory capabilities, the act of forgetting takes on new dimensions. Is there an ethical imperative to allow lifelike systems to forget, just as humans do, to avoid the burden of eternal memory? How should artificial life forget?

Perhaps death is not inevitable. With growing insights into the mechanisms of ageing, reproduction, and death in humans and other organisms (such as naked mole rats and microanimals like rotifera), humans are increasingly capable of extending lifespans of engineered cells and organisms much longer than what was previously believed possible. Biological engineering thus takes us closer to pre-programmed immortality (or near-immortality), with the potential to completely rewire outrage and loss in the face of death.

Conversely, what roles can creative technologists, digital humanists, and new media artists play in designing for individual and collective decline? Consider, for instance, the ethical implications of death and lifelikeness in artificially sustained biological functioning, as in the case of a human on life support; can they still be considered alive? If not, who should have the ultimate authority to decide whether to keep a body functioning when it’s no longer capable of sustaining itself? How could technology-mediated memory contribute to that which has ceased to exist, living on in a state of impermanence? Might new technologies summon forth new forms of hauntology, nostalgic yearning, or mourning? As boundaries between the organic and inorganic become murkier, humans might be forced to reframe the processes and experiences of dying. Could behavioural innovations or new social technologies help support such shifts in perspective?

In this track, we invite submissions of scientific and artistic research and practice, and hybrid versions thereof, that embrace such questions. We welcome contributions from (but not limited to) creative technologists, anthropologists, digital humanists, new media artists, speculative designers, biohackers, and transdisciplinary researchers who explore senescence, obsolescence, decay, degrowth, deterioration, disintegration, decomposition, forgetting, mortality, and finitude in the age of artificial life and programmable biology.

Important Dates
Submission

04.12.2023 Abstracts Submission Deadline
18.12.2023 New Abstract Submission Deadline
20.01.2024
Notifications of Acceptance

Conference

22.04.2024-26.04.2024
POM Aachen – lifelikness & beyond

For Authors and Reviewers

All kind of formats are welcomed. i.e.Papers, Lecture-Performances, Artistic Interventions, Workshops…etc.
Applicants are invited to submit a 500-word abstract under one of the 11 conference tracks by 04.12.2023. Submissions without a track selection will be assigned to an appropriate track by the conference organizers.

Following acceptance of the abstract, and after the conference has taken place, authors are requested to submit their full paper (max. 4000 words including references). The announcement for a call for papers will be made accordingly.

All submissions will undergo double blind peer-review and accepted papers will be presented in the conference programme.

All participation in POM AAchen will be free of charge, however, please keep in mind that we cannot provide financial support.

Practical infromation

Discover all the essential details for your upcoming event in Aachen! From venue locations to transportation tips, and recommendations for food and accommodation. 

Committee

POM Aachen 2024

Dr. Laura Beloff
Associate Professor of Visual Culture and Artistic Practices – Aalto University

Dr. Morten Søndergaard
Associate Professor / MediaAC Academic Director
School of Communication, Music, Art & Technology – Aalborg University
Prof. Gabriele Gramelsberger
Director of c:o/re
Chair for Theory of Science and Technology
RWTH Aachen University

Prof. Stefan Böschen
Director of c:o/re
Chair for Society and Technology
RWTH Aachen University

Dr. Hassan Choubassi
Associate Professor/Director
Institute of Visual Communication
The International University of Beirut

Ana Maria Guzmán Olmos
Research Associate at c:o/re
Local Coordinator of POM Aachen
RWTH Aachen University

Joe Elias
Associate Director
Institute of Visual Communication
The International University of Beirut