Alien Phenomenology - Opening Reception

Special Event
Gallery 6–8pm
  • Regular FREE


Free wine and beer at the opening reception, with artists in attendance!

The Made in NY Media Center by IFP is proud to present our June show, Alien Phenomenology, featuring work by Jessica Segall, MK Luff, Jack DiLaura, and Blake Marques Carrington.


Alien Phenomenology, or What It's Like to Be a Thing” is a 2012 book by philosopher Ian Bogost.  The book removes homo sapiens from the center of the universe and argues for  rigorous speculation about the inner lives of non-human actors.  Bat, cathode ray tube, snowflake, GPU, Ikea cabinet – “these are the labels we stick to the outsides of things.  They mark them with relevance, but they also occlude the richness of their infinite depths.”  These objects each possess their own event horizon, beyond which it is impossible for humans and other objects to interact or experience.  Nonetheless, human ethics would benefit from speculation about those infinite depths.


The four works in this exhibition may each be read in a multitude of ways, one being along the lines of alien phenomenology.  Each possesses a tension between self and other, in the spectra from human to animal, female to male, human to algorithm, and human to artifact.


Jessica Segall's multi-channel video “(un)common intimacy” features the artist swimming with real predator animals such as tigers and alligators.  The slow-motion underwater ballet of human and beast offers us a zoological take on the sublime – beauty that can kill – and creates a truly arresting image.  However, one should be cautious about a purely anthropocentric interpretation.  Contrary to the hierarchy present in circuses of ages past, Segall's video suggests a flattening of hierarchy, a becoming-animal and becoming-human in the intimate space of the encounter.


MK Luff's interactive sonic sculpture “Please Make Yourself Comfortable” invites visitors to sit down and relax on a giant, breast-shaped bean bag chair.  Object of sexual desire and object of maternal nurturing, the breast stands in for the discomfort women experience in the effort to please men.  Given recent legislation enacted by men over the terra incognita of women's bodies, one can imagine a dark side of alien phenomenology – a denial of subjectivity in the other and a desire to control that which one cannot understand or experience.    


Jack DiLaura's “Illusory Metric Analyzer” features vintage plotter machines that the artist hacked to output real-time stock market data in visual graphs.  The work highlights a zone where humans have already been kicked out of a decision-making role – that of hyperspeed algorithmic trading.  As author Yuval Noah Harari speculates, individual algorithms may one day become more powerful than Google or Amazon.  In that case, we can expect algorithms to treat homo sapiens no better than we have treated the so-called “lower forms”.  


Blake Marques Carrington's “A Mess That Encodes” is a real-time generative audiovisual piece created specifically for Made in NY's 27-screen video wall.  Dozens of 3D-scanned objects float by in cosmic orbit – an iron, an origami crane, a pair of glasses, a brick.  The  space artifacts function together as a grammar, with each object's labeled number adding up to form strings of data that control audio generated and streamed live.  In “Alien Phenomenology” Ian Bogost emphasizes that not only is the interiority of objects inaccessible to humans, it is also inaccessible to other objects.  With this process of encoding, Carrington speculates about the messages inside the digitally-scanned shells of artifacts.


The general activity of speculative forensics outlined in “Alien Phenomenology” is doomed to failure.  As philosopher of mind Thomas Nagel says, “I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat.  Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task.”  However, the activity seems urgent in this age where people are fortifying the borders between self and other.  Practicing speculative forensics allows us to dissolve the self into a flat ontology, to be an other among others.



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