Transformations of the Human Program (ToftH) Receives Recognition for Establishing a New Field

Mashinka Firunts Hakopian

Shawna X for Noema Magazine

In its second year, the Transformations of the Human (ToftH) Program is receiving widespread public and institutional acknowledgment for developing new models for research; new possibilities for educational platforms; and a new methodological approach that bridges philosophy, art, and technology. 

In Future Art Ecosystems, a publication of the Serpentine Gallery R&D Platform, curator and Serpentine Director Hans Ulrich Obrist identifies ToftH as an exemplary site where artists “begin to devise new approaches to advanced technologies.” Obrist recognizes the program and its Founding Director, Tobias Rees, for their singular approach to “plac[ing] teams of artists and philosophers into technological and scientific settings.”

Rees was also recently named as a recipient of the Fraunhofer-Bessel Research Award for his work in the development of a new field of inquiry. Distributed by the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung Foundation, the Award is conferred upon scholars “internationally recognized for their achievements” and “who in future are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements which will have a seminal influence on their discipline beyond their immediate field of work.” 

Leah Willemin for Noema Magazine (click for full-sized image)

Rees appeared on “At a Distance,” a podcast founded by Andrew Zuckerman and Spencer Bailey, to discuss building new fields and rethinking the future of education.

Exemplifying ToftH’s post-disciplinary approach, Tobias Rees (Noema’s Art + Philosophy Editor), and program Fellows contributed to the inaugural issue of Noema, the newly launched magazine of the Berggruen Institute. Read “From The Anthropocene To The Microbiocene,” by Rees; “Afro-now-ism,” by ToftH Artist Fellow Stephanie Dinkins; “AI Must Explain Itself” by ToftH Research Fellow Nicole Rigillo; and peruse the visual essay “Theatre-de-L’Inconnu” by ToftH Artist Fellow Mara Eagle. Also in this issue, Nathan Gardels interviews ToftH Senior Fellow Yuk Hui. Finally, in “The Myth of Self” Associate Editor and ToftH Associate Director, Tui Shaub, visits the studios of ToftH Artist Fellows Anicka Yi and Agnieszka Kurant to discuss how their practice intersects with the work of ToftH. Across these texts and interviews, ToftH contributions blur the traditional field-specific boundaries between philosophy, art, and technology.

In “Making Sense of the Unknown,” a text made possible by the Rockefeller Foundation, Berggruen Institute VP of Programs, Nils Gilman and ToftH Fellow Maya Indira Ganesh discuss how metaphors shape understandings of AI in the public imaginary. 

Exploring this new field in relation to contemporary art, Rees and ToftH Artist Fellow Anicka Yi have co-curated a ToftH special feature for Artforum, to be released in a forthcoming issue of the magazine. In their recently published Artforum editorial, “The Teachings of a Virus,” Rees and Yi propose that Covid-19 presents “an invitation to rethink the human and technology in terms of the nonhuman” — a task that requires the cross-sector input of thinkers spanning “philosophers, artists, [and] engineers.” 

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.