Blog Post

Speculative Computing concepts in Art


Presentation – SpecLab Chapter 1.2: Speculative Computing: Basic Principles and Essential Distinctions  

 “With speculative computing, we moved beyond the instrumental, well-formed, and increasingly standardized business of digital humanities.”


Johanna Drucker, in her book SpecLab, presents a sharp critique of the field of digital humanities by presenting an alternative, speculative computing. She first discusses the theoretical inspirations from radical constructivism, codependent emergence, probability in quantum theory and Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics. Their goals here are ambitious, and she refers to them as “’post-Cartesian’, to indicate the leap from subject/object distinctions and the mind/body split to a conceptualization that escapes such binarisms. In a post-Cartesian frame, subjectivity is not opposed to objectivity but instead describes the codependent condition of situated knowledge production informed by poststructuralist and deconstructive criticism, second-generation systems theory, probabilistic approaches and radical constructivism.”


Drucker describes digital humanities as delimited by the principles of “calculation, computation, processing, classification and electronic communication.” She states that “this basic terminology is premised on the cultural authority of code and an engineering sensibility grounded in problem solving,” and is quick to critique this saying “but the code base of computational activity is full of ideological agendas, which go unquestioned because of the functional benefits that flow from its use.” She differentiates speculative computing from digital humanities saying “the digital humanities community has been concerned with the creation of digital tools in humanities contexts. The emphasis in speculative computing is instead the production of humanities tools in digital contexts.”


The following table lists the characteristics of speculative computing in comparison with digital humanities.




My question is, do we think these methods succeed in escaping Cartesian logic and the subject/object split? While I share Drucker’s commitment to developing methods for thought and art making that I would call decolonizing, I am not sure that the alternatives she chooses successfully escape the Cartesian system of thought. In particular, her method of logically explaining the project seems to be at least slightly untrue to her own stated aims.


What follows are a few examples of art projects which I think demonstrate some of the concepts behind speculative computing well, despite some of them being non-digital. 


Quantum interventions – Cyclonopedia



Quoting from The Transreal: Political Aesthetics of Crossing Realities


“While digital systems of computation rely on their ability to be compiled into binary code and Boolean logic, Reza Negarestani’s book Cyclonopedia imagines a theoretico-fictional numogrammatical system based on the geometry of a specific relic, the Cross of Akht. The cross is said to have “the ability to numerically grasp all the undercurrents and inconsistent events of the Earth as modes of narration... through Oil.”  Looking at the limits of the digital and technology writing that stays within the realm of the “real,” the Cross of Akht demonstrates how transreal aesthetics can facilitate the creation of entirely new models of computation outside of the confines of the rational. While the current digital systems that many people interact with on a daily basis are ultimately reduced to computations represented by a 0 or a 1, Negarestani’s book imagines a computational system that can represent nine numbers. The system derives from the artifact’s ability to fold across nine different points. Throughout this work of metafiction, with stories contained within stories, Negarestani develops imaginary systems of thought to grapple with the massive conflicts across the Middle East, whose sheer reality in terms of numbers of civilians killed, for example, is seemingly incomprehensible.”


Codependent Emergence – Lygia Clark, Dialogue: Glasses



Marina and Ulay - Rest Energy


Micha Cárdenas and Elle Mehrmand - technésexual 

technesexual / 3 minute excerpt from micha cardenas on Vimeo.


Abduction – Ricardo Dominguez, Mayan Technology

Ricardo Dominguez speaking at USC Visions and Voices - Mobile Voices of LA's Immigrants with Electronic Disturbance Theater from micha cardenas on Vimeo.


Heteroglossic Processes –


Lygia Clark, Baba antropofágica


Scalar book versioning





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