Istanbul 2040: Speculative Design, Apocalypse Theology, and neo-Ottoman Steampunk

I will be presenting my work on Neo-Ottoman Steampunk at SLSA (Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts) meeting at Tempe Arizona (9-12 November 2017).  This year’s conference theme is “Out of Time” and my contribution will be part of a panel that I organized on Speculative Design.

Here is the abstract of my talk:

“Speculative Design offers a critical bridge between theory and practice towards our post-human imaginaries when activated around a critical dystopian narrative. This paper will look at the ways speculative design can be used to engage with questions on alternative pasts and futures and design fictions in relation to the neo-Ottoman steampunk genre. Neo-Ottoman steampunk emerged in the second half of the 90s almost in synchrony with the neo-Ottomanist discourse of Turkish conservative political parties. Among other cultural registers, nostalgia around a particular type of imagined Ottoman past was most significantly expressed in various literary works of Ihsan Oktay Anar. In his Kitab-ul Hiyel, Anar told unfortunate adventures of an Ottoman engineer through a series of fictional design failures of irrigation machines, clocks and various war machines. Similar nostalgic and futuristic literary and visual imaginaries have become increasingly popular in the last 20 years that could collectively be named as ‘neo-Ottoman steampunk.’ Speculative design is an essential part of these works whose scope of imagination is projected towards Middle Eastern pasts as well as futures. I will talk about these peculiar neo-Ottoman steampunk designs through a conversation between media archaeology, critical dystopia, and apocalypse theology.”

November 9, 2017       2:00-3:30        MU 236, Mojave


Transmediale Panel: Alternative Futurism: Middle-East Imaginaries

I will be in a panel with Bager Akbay, Morehshin Allahyari, Jussi Parikka and Ebru Yetişkin, titled Alternative Futurism: Middle-East Imaginaries, as part of  Transmediale 2017.
Here is the excerpt from the Transmediale program:
“This panel is a proposal for a speculative past that functions in the contemporary: imagine if technological knowledge, scientific apparatuses, key figures, and narratives defining the history of media, new forms of living, and subjectivity stemmed from a different time and geographical region. What if, as the steampunk movement devised a Victorian futurism, we place this speculation in media archaeologies of the Middle East? And through existing and imagined sources, fabricate an alternative archive for contemporary art and design, queer and feminist subjectivities, and political imaginaries? This conversation responds to current discussions in Gulf futurism, Arabfuturism, and political imaginaries of a Neo-Ottoman revival, situating technological histories and issues of cultural heritage in an alternative geopolitical horizon.”
Wed, 08.02.2017
Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus, Berlin

“Are We Human?” Seminar: A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs: Middle-East Pasts and Futurisms

Laura Marks, Jussi Parikka, Azadeh Emadi, and I are going to engage with the histories and speculative possibilities of the Middle-East. From artistic and design ideas to alternative histories and imaginary worlds, the talks in this seminar will reach out to engage with the idea of a media archaeology of Middle-East technology and science, and mobilize it as discussions and projects relevant for the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, “Are We Human?”


“Are We Human?” Workshop: Speculative Design, Baghdad 800 – Istanbul 2048

Jussi Parikka and I are organizing a speculative design workshop titled SPECULATIVE DESIGN, BAGHDAD 800 – ISTANBUL 2048, in collaboration with Istanbul Design Biennial, “Are We Human?”

The workshop is inviting artists and designers to engage with questions on alternative pasts and futures and design fictions in relation to the Islamic and Middle-East legacies of technology and design. As a point of reference, the workshop will use “A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Pasts: Middle-East Pasts and Futurisms” exhibition that features technical objects reflecting the legacy of mathematics, astronomy, architecture, technology and automata in the Middle East.

The workshop will discuss and try out methodologies and ideas towards such speculative design pieces. The outcome could be works of design and science fiction based on a “what if”: What if this legacy has been able to gather such momentum that the advanced technological age would have been branded by this alternative technological heritage? What if the computer age would have started already in 1200? How do we start thinking design differently with such a set of imaginary media, speculative design questions that also focus on alternative lineages of geopolitics?
Through a speculation of an alternative past and alternative future of technological society and a geopolitical situation, this workshop would seek to draw conceptual inspiration from similar speculative sense in imaginary media and media archaeology; afro-futurism, alternative modernities and design fiction.

Workshop questions include:
○ How can we use that wider rich body of material as a basis for alternative ideas, approaches, geopolitics etc. in media/design.
○ How can we connect it to already existing topics such as Gulf Futurism, or Arab Futurism, media archaeology, or other sorts of ways where histories of technology and visual culture from that period to for example Ottoman periods can be also tweaked in relation to imaginary histories, designs and critical debates.
○ How can such design and artistic work contribute to a different set of an understanding of contemporary culture of technology?

“Are We Human?” Exhibit: A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs

A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs exhibit will serve as the reference point to a seminar and a workshop I co-organized with Jussi Parikka, as part of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, “Are We Human?” in November 2016.

The project will be based on a speculative question:

What if… advanced media machines [were] born as part of Muslim culture? … What if the age of programmable machines and advanced technologies could be said to have started in the ‘Arab-Islamic Renaissance’ of 800-1200? … Automata mirror and deflect, distort and circulate as machines of imaginary and real extensions of the supposedly human. They also question how human practices can be automated in the uncanny lives of technological artefacts. Automata are machines that situate questions of the human and its others as part of a deep-time media archaeology of robots and automata, and alternative geographies of design culture. Ask what the human is, and you also implicitly ask: what is not human, what is just about human, and what is barely human.

tavus kusu
Peacock fountain with automated servants from al-Jazari, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices: Kitáb fí ma’rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya.(1206) MS Ahmet III 3472 in the Topkapi Palace Library, Istanbul

Exhibition: GLOBALE: Allah’s Automata|ZKM

I am happy to be part of a project curated by Siegfried Zielinski and Peter Weibel, Allah’s Automata exhibit as part of the GLOBALE series at ZKM.
Here is the excerpt from the program:
“The first Renaissance did not take place in Europe, but in Mesopotamia. Arabic-Islamic culture functioned – from a media-archaeological point of view – as a mediator between classical antiquity and the early Modern age in Europe. As part of the exhibiton »Exo-Evolution« and on the basis of outstanding examples, the exhibition explores the rich and fascinating world of the automata that were developed and built during the golden age of the Arabic-Islamic cultures, the period from the early 9th to the 13th century.

The machines to glorify God Almighty draw mainly on the traditions of Greek Alexandria and Byzantium. They introduced spectacular innovations, which did not emerge in Europe until the Modern era: permanent energy supply, universalism, and programmability. For the first time, four of the master manuscripts of automata construction from Baghdad, Northern Mesopotamia, and Andalusia are on show together: the al-Jāmic bayn al-cilm wa-’l-camal an-nāfic fī ṣinācat al-ḥiyal [Kompendium on the Theory and Practice of the Mechanical Arts] by Ibn al-Razzāz al-Jazarī (1206 CE), the Kitāb al-asrār fī natāʾij al-afkār [The Book of Secrets in the Results of Ideas] by the Andalusian engineer Aḥmad ibn Khalaf al-Murādī, the Kitāb al-ḥiyal [Book of Ingenious Devices] (about 830 CE) by the Banū Mūsā ibn Shākir and the treatise al-Āla allatī tuzammir bi-nafsihā [The Instrument Which Plays by Itself] (850 CE), a masterpiece of all modern programmable music automata.

Furthermore, the exhibition shows two reconstructions of legendary artifacts: Al-Jazarī’s masterpiece among his audiovisual automata, the so-called Elephant Clock – a spectacular object for hearing and seeing time –, and the programmable music automaton by the Banū Mūsā as a functioning mechatronic model.”

GLOBALE: Allah’s Automata
Artifacts of the Arab Islamic Renaissance (800–1200)
31.10.2015 – 04.09.2016, ZKM_Atrium 8+9, Karlsruhe

Elephant Clock with humanoid automata, from al-Jazari, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices: Kitáb fí ma’rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya. (1206) MS Ahmet III 3472 in the Topkapi Palace Library, Istanbul

Conversations with Tiziana Terranova, Laboro Ergo Sum, Amber Art Festival

Tiziana Terranova is in Istanbul for Amber Art Festival, 2015, giving a keynote speech on artists as workers:

“It is notoriously difficult to get artists to identify as workers – as the cultural identity of the artist is formed in a relationship of opposition and differentiation to work. What happens, however, when production becomes increasingly dependent on activities which used to refer to the field of art, such as the creation of affects, experiences, perceptions and sensations? How to account for the specific nature of art, once the latter mode of operation becomes central to economic valorization? The lecture explores how notions such as immaterial labor, social cooperation, bio-cognitive capitalism and biopolitical production foreground the question of the production of subjectivity as an existential and aesthetic process, through an account of work which does not start from the industrial model of physical expenditure, but with the labor of memory and attention.”

During her visit, we will also have a chance to have an interview with Terranova which will be translated in Turkish and published in Toplum ve Bilim, Volume 135, (2016) Issue: 1 Special Issue “Dijital Emek, Dijital Kültür” Eds. Ayhan Aytes, Ergin Bulut

Affective Automata: Postcolonial Algorithms of Affective Computing

I am invited to present my recent work on affective computing at Graduate Program in Media Studies at Pratt Institute, NY on November 18. In this project I aim to investigate new forms of affective computing in relation to the history of regulating social affect as part of the genealogy of the techniques for categorizing human subjects, or “making-up people” as Ian Hacking calls in relation to the role of the nineteenth century official statistics through which different kinds of human beings and human actions came into being, hand-in-hand with the invention of categories for labeling people and their behaviors. Within that genealogy, my research highlights how the coevolution of techniques of categorization and social regulation of affect is interwoven with figures of European “others;” Jews, Muslims, and natives from the colonies in order to legitimize media techniques used for extracting typologies for creating penal, medical and moral norms.

Education of Artificial Desire

As part of the 4S, Society for Social Studies of Science 2013, I will be in San Diego presenting my recent work on the cultural history of Affective Computing. My presentation titled, Education of Artificial Desire: Natural Language Algorithms and Crowdsourcing Sentiment Analysis, is based on my research on the use of crowdsourcing as a new form of division of cognitive labor and its use in sentiment analysis problems. The question that arises from this cluster of technologies is that how do we address formations of subjectivities in relation to algorithmic representation of affect that feeds on collective sentiment of networked crowds.