New Media Exhibition: Iterations as Habitats


Curator's Essay

Camp Mongo (plastic) by Francois Knoetze


As in past years, this year’s digital exhibition for FLEFF is organized around the concept of bringing together the festival’s theme of habitats with a term more widely associated with digitality than with environmentalism. Iterations and habitats fuse the computational and the biological to explore digital dimensions of our environments in ways that open to the effects of mining for rare minerals to power our mobile devices and the ways that computer networks are organized like hives of bees.

In ecological and environmental sciences, a habitat is where an organism lives. Different organisms—animal, plant, and bacterium—cohabitate and share habitats, though sometimes one species will consume most of the resources in a multispecies habitat. Human animals often destroy the natural habitats of other species, causing migrations and adaptations, yet human animals often cast their accidental cohabitants as an invasive species. Habitats exist in flux. The Antropocene recognizes that ecosystems that have existed for centuries and form the habitats of a multitude of species can suddenly be annihilated by the interventions of this single species.

In mathematics and computational sciences, iterations are repetitions of a function, statement, application, software, or hardware that include minor a mutation, thereby working successively and incrementally closer to solutions of problems. Iterations can be recursive or fractal, self-similar or mirrored, not unlike patterns in nature. Simulations become environments for artificial life, much like physical environments for synthetic life. From the vantage of environmentalism, notions of improvement and progress, however, demand critical evaluation, particularly in terms of modelling for genetically modified organisms, neoliberal economic policies, and “democratic” elections, though such notions can expand our understanding of life.

This year’s exhibition examines projects that work between these two assumptions to think through digital media about our online and offline habitats and our online and offline cohabitants. Francois Knoetze’s Cape Mongo was selected for the exhibition prize for its five mythical “trash creatures,” recycled from consumer waste, who journey through modern Cape Town where they reveal competing forces within multiracial and multispecies habitats. Each video of Cape Mongo is composed of live performance and found footage and offers a different iteration of Knoetze’s critical analysis of Cape Town.

Other projects selected for the exhibit include ones that imagine habitats shared by biological and computational organisms. Chiara Passa’s Extemporary land art on google earth from Live Architectures animates Google Earth, so that digital objects become akin to vibrant matter. Ben Grosser’s Computers Watching Movies speculates on how the world is seen by computers, were we to share a couch and stream a video with them. The project reconfigures media reception theory for a posthuman moment.

The exhibit also includes projects that turn to imbalances based on gender, race, and religion as part of our social habitat. Shazia Javed’s Can You Hear Me? restages and reframes the question of whether the voices of Muslim women can be heard above the noise of assumptions about them based on their clothing. Comparably, Leah Shafer’s Declaration of Sentiments: Wesleyan Chapel restages and reframes the reading of the mid-nineteenth–century Declaration of Sentiments that announced the right to rights for women in the United States—something that has come under increasing attack in the twenty-first century.

Banu Colak’s The New Empire is a poetic examination on tensions between our geopolitical and natural habitats that focuses on the erosions and formations of nation-states. Mauro Ceolin’s Spore’s Ytubesoundscape and His Wildlife recombines the sounds of artificial creatures from the multiplayer game Spore that users have uploaded to YouTube. Finally, Kuesti Fraun’s ultra-short video Capacities takes a humorous look at our human capacity to create vast amounts of waste and our human incapacity to deal with it.

Collectively, the projects convey a sense of the variations of approaches to thinking about habitats, not a singular, constant, independent, and habitual, but as multiple, unstable, contingent, and sometimes estranging. They also speculate on ways to imagine anew habitats through different iterations of possibility.


Iterations of Habitats is curated by Dale Hudson of New York University Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates/United States) with Claudia Costa Pederson of Wichita State University (United States).