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Sweet Pea: Your Other Progeny (Last Session on 11 Mar 12pm)

Margaret Tan, Smart Apron, 2003. Courtesy of the artist.
The screenshot are from the film Ghost Cut: Some Clear Pixels Amongst Many Black Boxes (2021)—currently on view at the Singapore Biennale 2022 named Natasha —give us a glimpse of the human labor that goes into constructing, correcting, and annotating datasets used for ML and AI. The film tries to situate AI such that we consider it within its own abstraction and materiality. Courtesy the artist.
 Stephanie Dinkins, Not the Only One (NTOO), 2019. Photographed by and courtesy of the artist. A black woman with medium brown skin, brown eyes and a slight close-mouthed smile peers out at the viewer. Her hair is a short afro with twisted, uneven ends.  She wears a  v-neck top with a large floral pattern in teal and pink on a black background and a kimono collar.  The background of the scene is mottled olive green.

Sweet Pea: Your Progency is a series that features conversations between art and critical technoscience on intelligence, knowledge, and capacity. Each panel features artists and theorists who have troubled commonplace cultural investments in notions of intelligence, gender, sex and race as predictably inherited characteristics, by way of social questions of kinship, reproduction and labour. Across the hubs and labs of the university, spaces of interaction online and within the digital image, their work has traversed disciplines and forged uncommon kinships and collaborations. By bringing together technologies of machine and human intelligence with their symbolic, social and metaphoric worlds, these speakers weave together multiple feminisms on/offline, work between scientists and artists, relations of family and relationships with machines, entanglements between the living and (un)dead.

The title of this series cites Francis Galton’s 1875 growing of sweet peas to calculate the difference in weights between mother peas and their offspring, and his theorisations that variance between families nonetheless combined to produce a normally distributed population. Galton would subsequently substitute human characteristics for the use of sweet peas, producing eugenicist theories of human ancestral hereditary and earlier biometrical methods, which today traverse population sciences across technological, biological and social domains. Not only have sweet peas existed as a food source and subject for the development of technoscientific method, they have also since become an affectionate endearment, applied especially to young kin, offspring and companion pets. The storied life of sweet peas as subject and cultural metaphor arguably extends into the present, through advancements in technoscience and predictive temporalities, across smart technology and AI’s resuscitation of racial sciences of craniotomy and phrenology, the feminisation of digital assistance and companion robotics, fears of racial contamination and the unruliness of multiplicitous, indeterminate sex.

The work gathered here reflect strands of critical experimentalism in contemporary art in conjunction with technoscientific practise, while incorporating reflexive approaches to methods and machines, particularly with regards to their effects upon corporeal bodies and social identity, and enmeshment with population control across labour, welfare, health and security. Against the enclosure of futurity by cloned and coded pasts, these speakers have not shied away from machine and nonhuman forms of intelligence, but sought them out, while finding other ways to co-exist with other peoples, zombies, robots, and ancestors. Working beyond colonial dynamics of command and control, these speakers have given us other progenies, and offered them–and ourselves–other, more surprising futures.

For more information about each of the conversations under this programme, please visit the following links:

31 Jan, 9am (SGT): Cybercultures and Cyberfeminisms: Irina Aristarkhova, Maria Fernández, Mindy Seu, Margaret Tan (Talk)
25 Feb, 11am (SGT): Living and Undead Labour: A Conversation with David Bering-Porter & Aarti Sunder (Talk)
11 Mar, 11am (SGT): Binary Calculations and Inadequate to Assess Us: A Workshop with Stephanie Dinkins (Workshop)

This programme is curated by Jeannine Tang as part of the Singapore Biennale 2022 named Natasha, organised by the Singapore Art Museum, with support from SAM Residencies. Co-presented with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School, New York.

  • Jeannine Tang
  • Aarti Sunder
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