7 - 8 November 2019

On-Trade-Off at Digital Earth Talks

Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, UAE

Link: Digital Earth Talks

Date: 7 - 8 November 2019

Presentation by: Jean Katambayi Mukendi & Maarten Vanden Eynde (On-Trade-Off)

On-Trade-Off is an ongoing artistic research project that raises awareness of the environmental and economic implications of the extraction and processing of lithium, the main raw material needed for the global production of green energy. Initiated by Picha (Lubumbashi, DRC) and Enough Room for Space (Brussels, BE)


Digital Earth Talks

Digital Earth Talks brings together artists, scholars and designers from Africa, Europe and Asia to explore how technology influences not only interpersonal relationships but also contemporary geopolitics and our understanding of the world. Public presentations and discussions take place each afternoon from 2 pm (free, all welcome), preceded by a Knowledge Studio in the mornings (workshop, prior registration required). All talks will be held in English without translation.

Planet Earth is wrapped in a gigantic mesh of fibre-optic cables and electromagnetic waves. Its surface is drilled for resources that are extracted to generate energy for the mining of cryptocurrencies and the accumulation of data clouds. At the same time, algorithmic regimes regulate the movement of goods and people around the world,  generating, tracking and accumulating a mass of data so large that it is referred to as Earth’s ‘digital twin’. The existence of a physical planet and its ‘datafied’ counterpart generate a discrepancy between the reality on the ground and what is recorded and broadcasted. What forms of socio-political, economic, ecological and cultural frictions does this discrepancy generate? How do digital technologies shape the way we map and understand space in different regions around the world? How have diverse worldviews, shaped by social and spiritual concerns, affected the way technologies have been developed and implemented across the globe?

These and other questions are explored in a rich two-day programme of talks, screenings, panel discussions and performances. Confirmed speakers are James Bridle, Federico Campagna, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, Arianne Conty, Wael Eskandar, Vladan Joler, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Brendan McGetrick, Nanjala Nyabola, Nishant Shah and Maarten Vanden Eynde. Discussions are moderated by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Nadia Christidi, Nada Raza and Nishant Shah.

Digital Earth Talks is a collaboration between Digital Earth; a global research network of artists and scholars interrogating how 21st-century technology shapes geopolitics and Jameel Arts Centre; an independent institution dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art to the public and engaging communities through learning, research and commissions.

In addition to the public talks, Digital Earth Talks is hosting Digital Earth Knowledge Studio: a two-day workshop for anyone interested in exploring the question of what it means to be human in our digital present, and in thinking about the influence of the ‘Digital’ on all aspects of our lives. More information on how to register can be found here.


Thursday, November 7, 2019
Cosmologies: What Worlds Will We Produce?
Whether you call them foundational myths or worldviews, cosmologies are the universal narratives that different cultures created to explain the world around them: from mountains to outer space – all are tied together by cosmological stories. Among them, the birth of technology is narrated differently in Chinese, Arabic and Greek languages, among others, with radically different consequences. If Chinese cosmology created a medicine based on yin and yang, African divination systems pioneered the binary code, and Promethean myths made the industrial revolution as we know it possible, what do they hold for the future of digital technologies?

The geographical diversity of the participants at Digital Earth Talks allows us to re-think (or rather re-imagine) these deep narratives, investigating them but also creating new ones, making new connections between Africa and China, for instance, or the Gulf and India. In a world of global and regional (dis)connections, new cosmologies become about exchanges and flows.

10am – 1pm Knowledge Studio facilitated by Nishant Shah (pre-registration)

2pm – 4pm Old Worlds and New Beginnings
In their lectures Federico Campagna and Arianne Conty explore cosmologies that offer an opportunity for us to revisit our understanding of technology generating possibilities for new relations with it in the future. Building on old and alternate histories of knowledge and worldviews, these radical perspectives offer oppositions to present-day power relations and values entwined with technology. The session ends with a discussion moderated by Nada Raza.

4:20pm – 6:15pm Innovate in Critical Times?
In critical times, with the effects of the climate crisis upon us, and with water and food security futures projected to be at risk, what does it mean to innovate from within and for our interconnected communities? These questions are explored through the lectures of Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga and Brendan McGetrick; to propose renewed and expanded notions of design and innovation while also thinking of community-based knowledge. The session ends with a discussion moderated by Nishant Shah.

6:30pm – 7:30pm Film Programme and Short Presentations by Fellows


Friday, November 8, 2019
Cartographies: Look Back At The World!
The world does not look like the maps familiar to us. Digital technologies impacted not only the very process in which we create maps (through satellite imagery, GPS systems and user-adaptive cartography), but have become themselves a new variable in map-making, just like oceans and mountains. Through modern cartography, the world was remapped according to colonial logics, erasing and purposefully forgetting the realities on the ground – cloud platforms are just a different rendition of the same relations and materiality. As specific interests are hidden behind smooth interfaces, the social, political and ecological conditions of these new maps being charted are not acknowledged.

Together with speakers from different parts of the world, we rethink possibilities of map-making, from discursive storytelling to graphic representations, to understand how digital technologies shape and represent space in different regions around the world today.

10am – 1pm Knowledge Studio facilitated by Nishant Shah (pre-registration)

2pm – 4pm Not so Immaterial!
Digital futures offering abundant convenience, information at our fingertips and sustainable solutions are all dependent on invisible infrastructures and economies of rare mineral extraction, hazardous waste disposal and exploitative labour conditions. Researcher and artist Vladan Joler looks at the impact of Artificial Intelligence-based futures on labour and the earth; Digital Earth fellows Jean Katambayi Mukendi and Maarten Vanden Eynde through their art practice and collaboration, seek to make visible the mineral-material impact of e-mobility. The session ends with a discussion moderated by Nadia Christidi.

4:20pm – 6:15pm Data and IA new normal emerges, with our identities now being digitised to ease our ability to navigate the world. Our individuated presence in these worlds creates new meanings for being and belonging. How can individuals engage with data to enable a sense of active participation with the world and people around us? Nanjala Nyabola and Wael Eskandar investigate the effects of data abundance on our social fabrics, and consider possible responses. The session ends with a discussion moderated by Lawrence Abu Hamdan.

6:30pm – 7:30pm Other Intelligences
Humans, machines, plants, and animals: what do we have in common, and what might connect us further? As technology edges closer to sentience, we are just starting to notice all the other intelligence which surround us and challenge many of our ideas on how to live in the world. James Bridle will explore the connections between artificial intelligence, animal cognition and political possibility. Session ends with a Q&A moderated by Lawrence Abu Hamdan.

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