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New Museum's cultural incubator opens "Only Human" at Mana Contemporary
Only Human. Courtesy New Museum and NEW INC. Photo: Jesse Untracht-Oakner.

JERSEY CITY.- NEW INC, the New Museum’s cultural incubator, announces “Only Human,” an exhibition on view at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, which showcases the work of the first cohort of NEW INC artists participating in the artist-in-residency program at Nokia Bell Labs. Three former NEW INC members—Sougwen Chung, Lisa Park, and HAMMERSTEP (Jason Oremus and Garrett Coleman)—collaborated with Nokia Bell Labs researchers to produce new artistic projects inspired or enabled by Bell Labs technologies. As the culmination of this residency program, the exhibition brings together three projects that the artists created over the past year.

Nokia Bell Labs has a long and distinguished history of supporting the creation of new art by leveraging innovative technologies, beginning with the pioneering Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) program inaugurated in 1967. Bell Labs has recently reinvigorated the E.A.T. program as part of its mission to invent the future and to break down the communication and cultural barriers that exist between people by sharing senses, emotions, experience, cognition, and sentiments through new modes of communication.

Similarly, NEW INC has furthered the New Museum’s commitment to new art and new ideas as an incubator for creative entrepreneurs working at the intersection of art, design, and technology. The partnership between NEW INC and Nokia Bell Labs represents a leading collaboration fusing art and technology to change humanity.

Mana Contemporary has established itself around forward-thinking partnerships that explore unconventional dynamics in the arts. “Only Human” represents an ideal collaboration within Mana’s New Media Program.

The three projects in “Only Human” are focused on themes of human-computer collaboration and intersubjectivity, the nature of interpersonal relationships in a digitally mediated world, surveillance and power dynamics in a technocratic society, and the inevitable compromises that define our symbiotic relationship with technology. Each work strives to experiment with new artistic forms while also offering a speculative take on existing social structures and the potential implications of emerging technology.

Despite their strong focus on recent and future technologies, each of the three projects, at its core, ultimately strives to emphasize qualities that seem innately human: empathy, intuition, and unspoken forms of communication such as gesture, touch, rhythm, and motion. The works consider what distinguishes human nature from the tools that we create; they underscore that while these tools are inherently part of us, they are also a product of our own imaginations.

Omnia Per Omnia by Sougwen Chung
Sougwen Chung’s Omnia per Omnia reimagines the tradition of landscape painting as a collaboration between an artist, a robotic swarm, and the dynamic flow of a city. The work explores the poetics of human and machine, organic and synthetic, improvisational and computational modes of sensing.

Omnia per Omnia is being presented as a live performance alongside an exhibition of paintings and a short film. The work proposes the composite agency of artist and robotic swarm as speculation on new pluralities, and the beginnings of an art practice for the Anthropocene. It raises a number of questions: Are we beginning to imagine radical new intersubjectivities? What does it mean to collaborate with the spaces we inhabit, the tools we build? Where does “I” end and “we” begin? The work by Chung is made possible by the Nokia Bell Labs Motion Engine, which represents a new way to visually analyze complex natural and manmade systems. The Motion Engine acts as a visual mediator between Chung and the robotic swarm by breaking down the complexity of the city.

Blooming by Lisa Park
In an increasingly digital, globalized world, how do we maintain, prioritize, and reinforce the preciousness of physical contact and in-person interactions? Lisa Park’s Blooming is a metaphor for the importance of meaningful relationships in our lives, and specifically the importance of touch to create a deep sense of connection. Touch is one of the first senses we develop as an infant—we begin receiving tactile signals from the vibrations of our mother’s heartbeat—and it remains the most prominent form of communication throughout our lives. Research shows that touch is fundamental for communication, emotional and physical health, bonding, and overall well-being.

The installation, which takes the form of a life-size cherry blossom tree, responds to physical contact between two to four participants. When participants stand before the tree and hold hands or embrace, the tree will flourish in peak bloom; when they release, it will collapse into its pre-bloomed state. Cherry blossom viewing is a common tradition in East Asian cultures, with the lavish, short-lived blossoms serving as a reminder of life’s transience and preciousness. The tree also symbolizes social ties, continuance, and spiritual beauty.

Park’s work is augmented by advanced research at Nokia Bell Labs into sensor technology that enables the detection and determination of intimate contact between people.

INDIGO GREY: The Micah Grey Experiment by Hammerstep
“In the near future, society on the Eastern seaboard has fallen apart. New York City’s utopian Sixth Borough and its cutting-edge research facility, Borough Labs, are searching for solutions to the worldwide energy and humanitarian crises. Chief Engineer Micah Grey has discovered the presence of an indigo energy life force, demonstrated through the physical and extrasensory abilities of society’s most creative and innovative individuals. Heightened movement initiative is a core indicator of ‘Indigo abilities’— imperative for the development of Sixth Borough society. For the first time ever, Micah is holding a public event to recruit ‘Motion Thinkers’ to help fuel a revolutionary new ‘Indigo’ experiment, and you have been invited to participate.”

Hammerstep’s new work takes the form of a series of interactive tests for participants and a thirty-minute immersive and interactive theater performance.

Hammerstep’s original dance form acts as a coded language for the future, focusing on the symbolic potential of movement. Along their journey through Micah’s Indigo showcase, audience members will encounter interactive motion puzzles that they must solve in order to progress through the narrative. The performance plays out in a projection-mapped environment that responds to sensory input from both dancers and the audience.

Hammerstep utilizes Bell Labs’ pioneering network-controlled drone research, which enables precise tracking and control of drones with millisecond latency responsiveness to ensure the most dynamic interaction with the artists.

“Only Human” is the result of a partnership between New Museum’s NEW INC incubator and Nokia Bell Labs, which facilitates artist residencies and collaborations between artists and engineers. This work is carried out in the tradition of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a nonprofit organization originally co-founded by Bell Labs engineers, Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhaumer, and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman in the 1960s with the aim of encouraging cross-disciplinary work between the arts and sciences. To pay homage to this legendary organization and its work, the exhibition features two galleries of archival material documenting the origins and activities of E.A.T. from 1960–2001. The materials include “Story of E.A.T.,” a firsthand account containing images and text compiled and arranged by Klüver himself, as well as original films of the historic 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering performances, including performances by Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Deborah, Alex Hay, and more.

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