Operator: Ania Catherine & Dejha Ti
Technology shapes contemporary life, changing what it means to be human and participate in society, while affecting desires, our relationships, and our bodies. The question is: whose needs, interests, and worldview is it representing? It is a myth that innovation moves society in one inexorable direction. Instead, it provides solutions to problems we didn’t know we had, or that big tech itself constructed. Artists have always been and continue to be doing critical work challenging narratives of technological progress and the values and assumptions that underpin them. Make no mistake, digital art is contemporary art, since it deals directly with the pressing issues of our time by working on and through the very systems in which we are enfolded.
Unfortunately, the digital art stories that usually make it into mainstream discourse are sales of tokenised artworks for exorbitant amounts of money, speculative NFT markets, shiny public stunts, selfie museums, or ‘immersive dead artist’ experiences popping up in every city. In a less well-known (and less well-funded) corner of the digital art world, there are artists making critical, experimental, historically grounded, and socially motivated work with and about technology.
In this seminar, Ania Catherine and Dejha Ti of artist duo Operator begin by sharing their individual artistic and academic backgrounds prior to their collaborative practice. This will be followed by an overview of their Operator Rules for Art and Technology, created in 2019 as guard rails to avoid common traps when creating art with advanced technologies. They will then consider the motivations, conceptual frameworks, and technical processes–and the synergies between them–for three of their major works: On View (2019), Soft Evidence (2021), and Human Unreadable (2023). These works all take an experiential approach to explore different subjects: the entanglement of surveillance capitalism, art engagement and selfie culture, synthetic media and disinformation, and the tension between privacy and transparency in blockchain technology. The artists will close with their ideas and questions regarding how conceptual experiential art might play a more mainstream role in equipping the public to live in an age where tech companies have more power and knowledge than governments.
Ania Catherine (MSc London School of Economics and Political Science, BA Chapman University) and Dejha Ti (BA University of the Arts, Philadelphia) are an award-winning experiential artist duo who founded their collaborative practice, Operator, in 2016. The duo has been called “the two critical contemporary voices on digital art’s international stages” by Clot Magazine, with their expertises colliding in large-scale conceptual works recognisable for their signature nuanced integration of technology. Ti’s background as an immersive artist and human-computer interaction technologist, and Catherine’s as a choreographer and performance artist make for a uniquely medium non-allegiant output, bringing together environments, technology and the body. For their most recent work, Human Unreadable, the artists developed an on-chain generative choreography method.
Operator has been awarded The Lumen Prize (Immersive Environments), ADC Award (Gold Cube), S+T+ARTS Prize (Honorary Mention), and MediaFutures (EU Commission program). They’ve spoken and appeared in BBC Click, Bloomberg ART+TECHNOLOGY, Christie’s Art+Tech Summit, SCAD Museum of Art, Art Basel, MIT Open Doc Lab, HEK, Ars Electronica, ZKM, MEET Digital Culture Center, MoCDA, Universität für Angewandte Kunst (Vienna), Francisco Carolinum Museum, and CADAF. The duo are originally from LA and currently based in Madrid.