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Johanna Bruckner

'The role of art involves strategies and formats for living with toxicity in its social-material manifestations' (Johanna Bruckner)

Johanna Bruckner (*1984, Vienna) is a visual artist dealing with pressing issues of our time, human and post-human affective relationships, or labour conditions within a "Digital capitalism" (Daniel Schiller). 

Her video works and performances inhabit a liminal realm, transgressing the outermost reaches of language to find new possibilities for human and posthuman affective relationships, or corporealities of transition, such as in one of her latest works, Crushpad Climax. She is widely exhibited: 57th Venice Biennale, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, Kunstverein Hamburger Bahnhof, and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt.

She has studied Fine Arts, Cultural Studies and Social Anthropology in Vienna, Berlin, New York, Stockholm and Hamburg. In 2021, she received the re:humanism prize for Art & Artificial Intelligence and in 2020, the recognition award for Fine Arts of Lower Austria. Her work was awarded by numerous grants, most recently, she received the Hamburg Stipendium for Fine Arts (2016), and was a fellow at Sommerakademie Paul Klee (2017-19). Bruckner teaches at the Zurich University of the Arts.


Can art and culture enhance social change and what role could artists and their work in particular play in this? Could one even consider a leading role?

JOHANNA BRUCKNER: My practice responds to technological, social-economic and bio-technical developments within the planet's global dynamics. I question the human body in the face of its increasing penetration and appropriation by technology and AI systems, allowing for nuanced, queer, and science fiction-led perspectives. 

I believe that humanity’s pressing requirement is a social and political order that responds to the corporeal techno-scientific practices beyond the constraints of hegemonic institutions, capital and nation and the appropriation of life into the geopolitical biological apparatus. The role of art in the contemporary moment involves finding strategies and formats for living with toxicity in its social-material manifestations. In fact, no equal systems of technology-led transformations of our corporealities yet exist. Thus, the onus is on the art world to create worlds in which future libidinal orders and languages can find a place to affirm non-human networks as joint temporalities.

It is important to unsettle how technologies, such as AI and other algorithm-based systems determine our lives and movement. And how they extract data from our bodies in laboratories. For example, in one of my recent works, Molecular Sex, I feature a bot that is trained by data sets that reject our feelings turning into code and sold on apps: sex is not one of sex as design. The bot in my work is a sex bot that aims at a transversal, experience and understanding of the world, beyond normative, white supremacy; while liberating normative technology-led world views of intimate relations and oppressive ordering schemes. It questions how the boundaries between humans and non humans are drawn and what social implications it has. 

The bodies in my work don’t end where we think to see them ending. These corporealities, such as the bots in my video, are bodies of multiplicities, as they are diffracting across space, time, and realities. Their embodiment is their situational embedment in the environment as well as their interaction with it, as an embodied cognition in transition. They reach into the unbounded space of betweens, where they are fragile decomposing forces, constantly surfacing elsewhere. These corporealities, a trans-body-ness, passes the limits of the human and artificial body. Mutating and metamorphosing beyond their boundaries, they serve the basis to destabilise ordering system, such as sexual and gender identities, and form new material-social affinities. Other systems than the known ones, and our access to them, emerge. 



In the face of the radical upheavals and crises that characterise our time, may we even dare to hope for a better future? And what effect could 'narrative' have on the process of shaping this future?

JB: My video installation Molecular Sex presents a fictional sex bot that mutates into various entities during the video and unsettles the normative order of sexual identities and genders. To examine these ideas, this bot performs both as and with a brittle star, a deep-sea brainless animal, which belongs to the class of the starfish, whose body is a metamorphosing optical and sensual system. As an animal without a brain, being and knowing, materiality and intelligibility, substance and form collapse into one another. I used this collapse of binary structures inherent in this animal in order to draw a blueprint for an AI whose data scapes are born out of its disorientation, its dynamic specificity, as it regenerates and autonomizes its optics and other sensualities, continually reworking its geometry, topology, and bodily boundaries. That means, its technological sensual body is one that comes into existence though the machine in itself; and which constitutes any human interaction with it. Moreover, this bot performs as a Wolbachia bacteria, which trades genes with different species, blurring the boundaries between self and other, while bending the genders of their host bodies.

Its plastic body is chemically linked to the very plastics that, in their molecular texture, set the conditions for sexual indifferences. The plastification of our world, which includes our organs and bodies, encourages that, instead of simple sex chromosome data – usually XX or XY – in the future there would be dozens of sex-related genes. This so-called queer understanding of a technology-led, and thus, prosthetic body is important for a differentiated and challenged understanding of our human relationship and access to technology and AI. 

Writer Karen Barad understands the world as inseparable entanglements because the particles that shape the world and its surroundings touch each other in 'intra-acting' molecular processes. In this regard, our sensible mind is in continuous intra-action with our environment as such. The micro-agencies that shape these connections disorder, cut, and preempt reified orders towards a multiple, diffracted and situational understanding of our nature and its surroundings. The recognition of the brittle star may help us understanding how our interwoven-ness with our environment can shape non-binary, non-oppressive orders. It is an understanding of and participation in networked realities equal to technological transformation, through which we are moving toward entangled forms of intra-participation. It is the onus on us to queer our access to technology. 


What might be the impulses of a transdisciplinary dialogue between art, culture and other disciplines that would have the power to catalyse social transformation? Which fields of expertise and practice could be fruitful for your own work?

JB: To give another example, the principal element in work Crush Pad Lava is the net porn data that becomes lost, and/or fails because it is outside the spectrum of the usable. I understand net pornography in terms of its affectively interwoven corporeality, formed between sensation, technology and labour within the internet. Aggregating these 'non-existentdata, this collage of moving images envisions the potential of digital failure as a refusal to submit to contemporary 'dataveillance' society, while at the same time, it proposes the conditions for trans-corporeal experiences and their infrastructures. Their bodies are no longer inserted into the production process as mechanical human engines forced to move to the rhythm of the machine, the Internet. Rather, these bodies are born of an assemblage of data crumbs, cybernetic rupture, as material-semiotic-social assemblages.

The intimate body today is the seat of political and technological struggle. I am working on a transversal posthuman perspective that corresponds to the corporeal techno-scientific practices and confronts the appropriation of affect into the geopolitical biological apparatus: towards one that plays with connecting being human with the environment and questions how boundaries are drawn between more than human and human. Where technology destabilises and unsettles our access and use of it; by whom and for whom. Our attunement to the Brittle star and Wolbachia may help us articulating such joint temporalities, in which living with toxicity and more than human orders bypasses the geopolitical apparatus of ubiquitous nanotechnological violence. It invents systems whose technology-led transformations result in polymorphic corporealities and cyber-rhythmic spaces. 

The poetic body constellations in my work stand for the multitude of precarious bodies whose pleasures represent the raw material of intimate-cognitive capitalism. In doing so, my  work proposes that we urgently destabilise the boundaries of intimacy and let them respond to each other in multiplying ways. In this way, art can trigger imagination and lead to differentiated thinking structures, which alienates, and thus queers our access to technology. These visual-performative articulations render technology in their monstrous, incalculable glitchy ways; those that refuse and sneak out and dissipate into the unproductive. In this fugitive realm, the multiplicities of speculative corporealities can emerge and resurface back into the wold and nature. As unknown and non-recognize-able natures. As alien, intersexual species newly to take form, shape, learning with and among us in shared and partial encounters. 



Assuming it would be possible to build a better world on the ruins of the old one - according to you, how could this new world look like? What do you wish personally for a better tomorrow?

JB: A world of queer social-material entanglements. Having escaped digital alienation. The sexual revolution in all its reforms, manifestations and materialisations has elevated us. And more are yet to come. On the planet of the sun. A colourful hole. In this unknown endeavour, which we cannot reflect linguistically, we finally understand what art should be able to do. These bodies bring to the surface the underlying micro-agencies that are enhanced in the affective machinic relationship between body, desire, and matter. We all need each other for this. 



It is often said that a distinctive skill of artists and creatives is to consistently seek the new and to always start from scratch on a blank piece of paper. When you begin a new project, what strategies or rituals do you personally use?

JB: To be able to materialise these thoughts mentioned above, imagination is a central instrument in my work to put forth new non-linear temporalities. I try to stimulate this by means of immersive, sonic, affricating aesthetic languages that can de-place and transposition the boundaries of the perceptual apparatus.

To physically create such hybrid scenarios, I usually work with several performers in temporary, specifically produced settings. Based on their research, the group develops dance scores that take the form of possible agency in dialogue with representative actors from society, politics and research. This interaction between the dancers, the environment and myself is to be understood as a mutating organism of multiple perspectives that give the emerging choreography its form, aesthetics and alienating semiotics. The bodies create affective languages that remain temporarily indeterminate as their movements are beyond the scope of societal surveillance mechanisms because they interrupt and disrupt algorithmic data patterns and financial flows through emergent body constellations in in-between-ness; as they occur as self-composed undertakings and rehearse compositional commitments. A body commitment in my work is conceptually linked to the amount of fuel tied to the volume of relational responsibilities that emerge between bodies. This added value, based on the body-driven accumulations of affect, generates a body commitment, or as I also call it, a body protocol. A multiplicity of these protocols create the data landscape of the aforementioned post-pornographic prostheses of the net corporealities, through which they are themselves in dissolution, as well as in constant quantum physical and biochemical recomposition.

The bodies in these performances function as allegories for our social systems as they propose social organisation beyond class boundaries and exclusions. The multiplicity of afferent bodily materials as sentient compositions offers space for the emergence of new demands on state and private sector organs through the collectivisation of semiotic-sentient-minds.  

The interview was conducted in June 2021.

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